Inside the NFL | Giants, Steelers deal with incompetence, disappointment
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 02:10
In a season in which the Denver Broncos are putting up offensive numbers that match a game of “NFL Blitz” and the Kansas City Chiefs have won their first five games with a small-handed quarterback and a big-bellied coach, it is still strange seeing the two teams that have won four of the past eight Super Bowls enter week six with the same win total as the Jacksonville Jaguars. At 0-4 and 0-5, respectively, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants already have their fans looking ahead to the draft in May.
Entering the season, the Steelers looked like they would continue their slide from a perennial contender to a team needing to rebuild. However, no one could have expected their effort to be this futile. Their aging defense, once one of the best in the NFL, has been anemic despite the resurgence of All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s system of uneven blitzes and complex coverage schemes was once a nightmare for offenses. This year, the Steelers have one of the least-threatening defenses in the league, averaging just one sack per game and forcing zero turnovers through their first four games, both last in the league.
While the defense has been disappointing, the offense has been downright incompetent. In the past, Ben Roethlisberger’s uncanny ability to prolong broken plays has led to both dazzling completions and head-shaking turnovers. This year has seen more of the latter, with Roethlisberger committing eight turnovers over four games.
The blame cannot be solely placed on Roethlisberger. His offensive line has been a weak spot, allowing 15 sacks, tied for fifth most in the league. The opening-week loss of center Maurkice Pouncey, the best player on the line, has given defenses a clear advantage against an overmatched unit. During their bye this week, they worked out left tackle Levi Brown in hopes to replace Mike Adams, who has done a poor job protecting Roethlisberger’s blindside. Even with promising rookie running back Le’Veon Bell likely to become a bigger part of the offense following the week off, the Steelers’ offense will continue to be dysfunctional as long as its injury-prone quarterback is paired with a leaky offensive line.
Over in New York, the Giants are experiencing similar problems. With Robert Griffin III coming off surgery, the Eagles learning Chip Kelly’s unique option offense and the Cowboys being the Cowboys, the Giants appeared to be in prime position for their typical roller coaster season followed by a deep playoff run. Instead, the Giants are hoping to win a game before Halloween.
Like the Steelers, their once-ferocious defense has averaged just one sack per game despite returning all their key players. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has struggled after undergoing off-season back surgery, lacking the explosiveness that had made him one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. On the opposite end, Justin Tuck has been ineffective all year, leading many to wonder whether his best days are behind him.
The lack of pass rush has exposed an already weak secondary to additional exploitation. Lacking a shutdown cornerback or an intimidating safety, the Giants have been continually torched by opposing quarterbacks, allowing the eighth-most passing yards in the league and the second-most passing touchdowns. With little help on the way, the Giants will have to make do with an aging and beat-up defense.
As bad as the defense has been, the offense has been completely dreadful. Eli Manning has done his best Blaine Gabbert impression with 12 interceptions against just eight touchdown passes. His completion percentage (53.7) and QB rating (65.8) both rank 32nd in the league, worse than any other starting quarterback. He has not looked confident in the pocket, often holding the ball too long even though he has a strong receiving corps and a system he trusts.
Historically, the Giants under coach Tom Coughlin have been best when they run the ball well. This year, their running game has been terrible. They have averaged a paltry 56.8 rush yards per game, last in the NFL. While a lot of that is the result of being behind in games, their yards per carry average is 27th in the league.
Andre Brown’s preseason leg injury placed him on injured reserve, allowing David Wilson a chance to seize the starting tailback role for himself. Wilson has squandered his chance, exhibiting an alarming fumbling problem. When he has held onto the ball, he has shown little of the breakaway speed that had Giants fans salivating over his potential. After scoring his first touchdown this week, he performed his signature celebratory backflip. He later left the game with a neck injury.
If the Giants and Steelers are unable to right the ship, their fans can at least find solace in one fact: This year’s draft class holds Jadeveon Clowney.