By Matthew Marczi
The much-anticipated debut of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell was put on hold for at least another game, as head coach Mike Tomlin elected not to play him despite saying earlier in the week that he would see snaps with the first team. Tomlin said that he did not see enough from Bell’s sore left knee in the team’s last two practices to play him tonight.
Also among those not playing included rookies Nick Williams and Terry Hawthorne, as well as cornerbacks Cortez Allen and DeMarcus Van Dyke.
The Steelers received the ball first, with Reggie Dunn awaiting the kick, but the anticipation was for naught, as the kick went out of the back of the end zone. His one return later in the half resulted in a jarring hit after a short return—a Welcome to the NFL moment.
Things got started on the ground for the Steelers, as Isaac Redman took the first two carries of the game. On third down, Ben Roethlisberger found fullback Will Johnson for the first down, who is continuing where he left off last year.
Free agent signing LaRod Stephens-Howling then took two carries, though the second was negated by a holding penalty on Marcus Gilbert. Roethlisberger’s pass on the subsequent 2nd and 16 was batted down by linebacker Jacquian Williams, and the third down play ended up as a sack, with left guard Ramon Foster being bested for the stop.
The defense was put under duress early following a blocked punt deep in their own territory. The block came after safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith missed his assignment, which was preceeded by a punt negated by penalty.
Ziggy Hood was able to register the stop on a first down run, however, and Josh Victorian had coverage on an overthrown pass in the end zone on second down. Ike Taylor was in on the coverage on a quick pass from Eli Manning that fell incomplete, and the Steelers defense was able to hold the Giants offense to a field goal in their first test.
The Steelers continued to feed Stephens-Howling on their second drive, and he was able to display some of the shiftiness and elusiveness that they sought when they brought him in. His running continued to fuel that second drive, during which he also demonstrated an ability to generate yards after contact by converting a third and one.
The second half of the drive, however, was plagued with miscommunication, which resulted in Roethlisberger twice resorting to calling a timeout. After a wobbling pass into the end zone was caught out of bounds on second down by Antonio Brown, a third down pass to Emmanuel Sanders fell a yard short of the first. The Steelers faked a fourth down attempt to draw the Giants offside, but ultimately settled for a delay of game penalty and a field goal by Shaun Suisham to tie the game.
Troy Polamalu flashed his old instincts on the Giants’ next drive, playing up at the line on the second play and getting to the back in short order after a one yard gain; however, the effort was wasted after Rueben Randle was able to avoid the Steelers’ safeties for the first down on the next play. Soon after, Victor Cruz was able to slip under a nice ball downfield past William Gay and safety help that seemed to overcommit upfield for a long 57-yard touchdown.
On the first play with Bruce Gradkowski under center, Johnson showed good awareness by dodging the rusher and making himself available, which resulted in a 9-yard pass. Jonathan Dwyer got his first significant action thereafter, with a strong 11-yard run, followed by a 2-yard loss.
Rookie Markus Wheaton saw his first ball on the next play, making a nice diving effort for a first down; however, upon challenge, the ruling on the field of a catch was overturned, losing possession after he was out of bounds. A nice look for Dwyer downfield came up short, resulting in the second punt of the night.
Robert Golden read David Carr’s first pass of the night right off the bat and was in position to intercept it, but was unable to haul it in. Carr followed it up with a 20-yard completion to tight end Brandon Myers. Two plays later, however, Jarvis Jones was able to easily recover a fumble that Andre Brown simply put on the ground unprovoked in a statistic that will look much more impressive on paper than on tape.
The Steelers this time did go for it on fourth down on the subsequent drive, with Wheaton coming down with a nice catch for the conversion after Gradkowski was flushed out of the pocket. Suisham, however, was ultimately asked to convert a 41-yard attempt, which he did with ease.
On their next offensive possession, Wheaton got an opportunity to show his versatility, running the ball for a first down. Otherwise, however, the second string offensive line consisting of Guy Whimper, Chris Hubbard, John Malecki, Justin Cheadle, and Kelvin Beachum from left to right had its issues run blocking, and on third down Gradkowski underthrew rookie receiver Justin Brown deep downfield.
Rookie Vince Williams was afforded some earlier playing time than anticipated, and showed well for himself, after Stevenson Sylvester was the victim of some friendly fire, having his ankle twisted—after making a strong special teams tackle—by Wheaton.
Jason Worilds, who earlier registered the team’s first sack on a third down, was called for roughing the passer on the final drive of the half that put the Giants in field goal range. He was flagged once again for unnecessary roughness, which resulted in him being pulled in favor of Chris Carter, though the Giants had to settle for a field goal to take a 13-6 halftime lead.