(NOT QUITE) GIANT STEPS

Sloppy Steelers still more than enough to best Giants

The score: Pittsburgh 24, New York Giants 14

The bottom line: We don’t think there’s any question the Steelers have enough talent to win Super Bowl 51, but whether they are a good enough TEAM to even get into the playoffs is yet to be seen. Sunday’s relatively easy 24-14 win over the 8-3 New York Giant typified both sides of the puzzling equation of the Steelers with a power-running game, an opportunistic defense, an emerging threat in the middle of the field and the most athletic receiver in football providing the positive notes amidst a sea of dumb penalties and dropped passes.

It was over when… The Steelers tried to let New York back in the game one final time midway through the fourth quarter with an Artie Burns penalty that nullified a long interception return, a third-down drop by Ladarius Green and a lazy penalty from Antonio Brown on a punt setting the Giants up at midfield to get within a score. One long pass to Odell Beckham Jr. had them knocking at the door but a poor pass from Eli Manning left his team with a 4th-and-9 from the 24 and Ricardo Matthews, signed in the offseason to upgrade a talent-poor defensive line, paid his biggest dividends of the year with a sack of Manning to seal the deal.

Play of the day: Pittsburgh was playing right into the Giants’ hands well into the second quarter, driving up and down the field but not scoring many points and leading, 5-0. New York looked to be going in for the go-ahead touchdown when Manning tried to feather a pass into his tight end inside the Steelers 10 but didn’t get it high enough and found Lawrence Timmons instead. His 58-yard return woke up the ghost of James Harrison in Super Bowl XLIII and set Pittsburgh up for a score that New York never recovered from.

Hot topics:

+ Ladarius Green is good and getting better every quarter. Perhaps the best thing about his breakout performance Sunday was not the six receptions and the 100 yards but the way he took and got up from several big hits along the way. Green’s ability to get down the middle of the field is exactly what Pittsburgh needs to allow all those RB flairs and WR screens to work to their full potential.

+ Bud Dupree is not good and, at least for Sunday, not getting better. Despite getting a healthy snap count, Dupree was a total non-factor as a pass rusher, barely able to get out of his stance or across the line of scrimmage on some plays. Yes, he’s just back from an injury, but he’s also the freshest (and one of the youngest) players on the field. To have zero impact — and we’re talking zero — is a real concern at this point in his career (which is now almost 50 percent of the way to Jarvis Jones Bust Status).

+ Was Eli Manning terrible (again) against the Steelers or is Pittsburgh’s young secondary getting better? Manning’s 195 yards passing was actually 70 yards BETTER than his output the last time these two teams played, but he threw a lot of key balls into the ground or behind guys. That said, both Sean Davis and Artie Burns seems to be involved in more and more positive plays and fewer and fewer negative ones.

+ It seems laughable to us that there are those (cough, Troy Aikman, cough) that think Manning (and Philip Rivers!) are in the same category as Roethlisberger. But go to the stats and Manning has thrown for more yards and more career touchdowns than Roethlisberger and has won the same number of Super Bowls. But that’s not what the eye test says.

+ The Ravens throttled Miami Sunday and now face New England without Gronk and likely without Julian Edelman, who injured an ankle late in the Patriots laugher over the pathetic Rams. It’s starting to look like the Steelers better plan on winning out.

+ After its terrible presidential prognosticating, we’re not sure we should reference the stats at fivethirtyeight.com again, but here goes: After Sunday’s games, the Steelers have 67 percent chance of making the playoffs, compared to the Ravens 40 percent chance. Take that with a grain of salt as the site also claims the Lions have a 5 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl compared to the Steelers 3 percent chance.

Zebra hunting:

+ We thought that was the best officiated game of the year by Terry McAulay’s crew, especially in terms of picking up the incorrect roughing flag on Mike Mitchell in the fourth quarter and also not getting caught up in Beckham Jr.’s crybaby act. All 12 penalties and 115 yards assessed against the Steelers seemed richly deserved to us.

Game mismanagement:

+ Dumb to go for a 2XP in the second quarter. Take the point early in the game. Lather. Rinse Repeat.

In the booth:

+ Seriously, what is up with Joe Buck’s appearance? You might remember Buck was hit with a mysterious nerve illness a few years ago that was somehow linked to hair replacement surgery gone bad. We’re wondering now if there’s not something medical behind his blotchy beard and orange-tinted skin. Scary.

+ Odell Beckham whining for pass interference on every incomplete pass is one thing, but Troy Aikman supporting Beckham’s case was ludicrous analysis in a vacuum. Officials were allowing contact on ALL receivers in the game, it’s just that those receivers weren’t making a spectacle of themselves.

And now a word from our sponsors: Love all the jew-ray commercials now that end with “available at Kay’s, Jared and Zales.” Subtle message: It’s all the same crap.

Sweet tweets:

+  @15MinutesBlog: It’s my first day as a Dolphins fan. Is it always this fun? (Blogger’s note: You could see that result coming from a mile away.)

+ @PatrickWelter: Steelers -6 at home vs. Giants. Everyone is waiting for the Steelers to click. I think they do it against the worst 8-3 team I’ve ever seen. (Blogger’s note: Steelers didn’t click but spot on about the Giants.)

Next week: The Steelers head to the shores of Lake Erie (always a great trip in December) for a conference showdown with their old friend Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills. The Bills went from blowing out the Raiders early Sunday to getting blown out by them by game’s end. Buffalo must win Sunday if it wants to remain in the AFC playoff picture.

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