The NFL is back. The first Monday Night Football matchup of 2020 will feature the New York Giants hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers at Metlife Stadium at 7:15 pm EST.
Both teams did not make the NFL Playoffs last year. Big Blue finished 4-12 and 3rd in the NFC East under former head coach Pat Shurmur. The Steel Curtain finished underwhelmingly at 8-8 to finish out 2019 in Mike Tomlin’s 13th season in the NFL.
Both teams will look to get back on the right track in 2020 and what a better way to do it than on primetime football.
The Pittsburgh Steelers is coming off its second season without a playoff birth. After Ben Roethlisberger missed the season with an elbow injury, backups Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges filled in.
Other than the defense uprising, the offense had one of the worst seasons, despite a top-tier offensive line. The Steelers finished 30th in total yards per game, 31st in passing yards per game, 29th in rushing yards per game, and 27th in points per game. Lingering injuries affected Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner, which did not help.
While Big Ben was gone, the team went 1-6 against above .500 teams. The tough losses lingered the team’s reputation league-wide.
The only real loss the Steelers suffered in the offseason was defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who departed for the Philadelphia Eagles. Other than that, the team signed former Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron and Chiefs guard Stefen Wisniewski and drafted Notre Dame wide receiver, Chase Claypool.
For Monday’s game, the Steelers will have to win to regain their impeccable reputation of winning, however, they do not always win the first few games. However, they have a good ability to go on winning streaks that save their season.
With Roethlisberger coming back, the hype is on. However, it does not just start with him. His targets will need to beat the Giants’ young cornerbacks such as Corey Ballentine and rookie Darnay Holmes. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner will need to remain healthy throughout the game to put up some gritty yards against a young and learning Giants’ defense.
Veteran right guard David DeCastro is unlikely to be active for Monday. Losing DeCastro will be big, but the depth is there for the Steelers’ offensive line. Zach Banner will start at right tackle with Matt Feiler moving to left guard, which means Stefen Wisniewski will replace DeCastro at right guard.
The chunk yardage plays have hurt the Giants in the past. The secondary is still developing and learning Patrick Graham’s multiple look schemes. Big Ben’s best solution will be finding his receivers open on a defense that gave up the 3rd most yards to wide receivers in 2019.
The Blitzburgh defense has not too much to worry about coming into Monday. Most of their mainstay players are healthy and ready to go.
Going after the quarterback with their extraordinary pass rushers with Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt on the edges and Cameron Heyward in the interior will be their main pathway to stopping the Giants’ potentially explosive offense.
Rookie Andrew Thomas will be making his first start lining up against Watt, which is not an easy task. The last time Watt shredded up a Giants tackle is when Ereck Flowers was the incumbent tackle in the 2017 preseason opener. Nick Gates will be playing his first NFL game at center across from Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. To add to that, Cameron Fleming will be making his first start at right tackle against the Steelers for the first time since 2017. That game he surrendered a sack to pass-rusher Bud Dupree.
Making the task easier will be stopping the run. The tackles may not be that influential towards the running game, as the guards will. Kevin Zeitler played against Pittsburgh twice a year for the first seven years of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, so he likely won’t have a tough time. Will Hernandez is trying to rebound after a tough 2019 season, where his run-block grade went from 60 to 45.7. So attacking him firsthand may limit Jason Garrett‘s options as an offensive coordinator. That is adding to the expected struggles by Nick Gates at his new position.
Setting the tone early on defense with a dominating pass rush will be the key to a Pittsburgh victory.
New York Giants
The New York Giants are coming off a 4-12 season under Pat Shurmur. The organization pulled an apple out of Bill Belichick’s coaching tree by hiring New England Patriots’ special teams’ coordinator and wide receivers coach Joe Judge to be the next head coach of the Giants.
Following his hire, Judge wiped out most of his coaching hires with the exception of special teams coach Thomas McGaughey, special teams assistant Tom Quinn, and wide receivers coach Tyke Tobert. He made some key coaches in teachers like former Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett, former offensive lineman Marc Colombo, former Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens, former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and others.
Dave Gettleman made some key acquisitions this offseason with the signings of Packers’ linebacker Blake Martinez and Panthers’ cornerback James Bradberry and the drafting of Georgia offensive lineman Andrew Thomas.
Heading into the season, the team had to the best they could with no minicamps at the facility, especially with a new staff and new systems. Other than creating scrimmages to help the players practice like they are in a game, Joe Judge has brought a no-nonsense mentality to the organization. He seems the first to do so since Tom Coughlin.
Going into Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Giants need to get on the right foot. That does not always mean winning. For the young players and newcomers, it means development.
They face a powerful Blitzburgh pass rush with linebackers like T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. The rebuilt offensive line with Nick Gates playing center, Andrew Thomas playing left tackle, and Cameron Fleming playing right tackle needs to show more good plays rather than bad.
Daniel Jones needs to be an effective passer and has to show better pocket awareness when being pressured. Golden Tate, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton need to stay healthy and be effective in the passing game. The offensive line will need to blow holes open for Saquon Barkley and if they do not, Barkley will have to create some yards to help the offense.
As far as the defense goes, they need to play better and show more advancements than last year. Big Ben Roethlisberger will look to target second-year player Corey Ballentine and rookie Darnay Holmes when they are on the field. In that time of need, the Giants front seven will need to put pressure on Roethlisberger and get past the Pittsburgh offensive line that ranked tenth in sacks given up last year. That includes Oshane Ximines, Lorenzo Carter, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, Kyler Fackrell, Markus Golden, Leonard Williams, and others.
When James Conner or any other Pittsburgh running back gets the ball, the Giants will have to do what they did towards the end of last year. Stop the run. Some of the reasons they signed Blake Martinez and Austin Johnson and franchised tagged Leonard Williams was their ability to stop the running back from obtaining first downs.
For all of the defense, Big Blue has to limit the big chunk plays given up. Whether Big Ben goes downfield or James Conner attempts to make a splash run in the middle of the field. Big chunk plays will need to be limited in order for this team to win.
Both teams will likely struggle on the first couple of drives knowing there were no preseason games. However, I have the Pittsburgh Steelers taking this win from the New York Giants.
My predicted score is 23-13. In my opinion, the Giants’ multiple looks on defense could get into Big Ben’s mind early but the chunk plays may get to the Giants’ young secondary.
I have the offensive line giving up at least three sacks. I predict Daniel Jones will have one fumble because of T.J. Watt’s ability to force the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. Saquon Barkley could run through some holes and get over 100 yards if made possible, but the pressure from the Blitzburgh pass-rush could affect the offense in a major way. The continuity of this offensive line will have to work one step at a time through the season, but Rome was not built in one day. Or in this case, one game.