The Pittsburgh Steelers will open their 2020 regular season on the road Monday night against the New York Giants in what is a game the visiting team is expected to win. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their first win of 2020.
Stay On Saquon – Giants running back Saquon Barkley will likely be leaned on heavily Monday night by new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. After all, the Giants offensive line doesn’t match up well against the Steelers defensive front in the pass protection department and so the last thing they’ll want is quarterback Daniel Jones dropping back more than 28 times in the game if at all possible. Barkley is one of the NFL’s few multi-purpose running backs that can do it all. He can break off quadruple explosive play runs every play and he is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield. The Steelers defense must focus on Barkley throughout the game. Keeping the Giants running back limited to a run success rate of 46 percent won’t be easy. It also won’t be easy to keep him from garnering 100 or more total yards of offense. If Barkley winds up producing 125 or more yards from scrimmage Monday night, the Giants mind wind up winning the contest.
Test Danny Dimes’ Ball Security – Giants quarterback Daniel Jones fumbled a league high 18 times as a rookie. With this year’s offseason programs being heavily truncated, Jones probably hasn’t had much time to work on putting good ball security practices in place. Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has become a master of dislodging footballs from quarterbacks and he should get three or four chances to do that Monday night against Giants. Watt has a favorable matchup in Giants tackle Cameron Fleming and the same goes for fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who will be facing a rookie tackle Monday night in the form of Andrew Thomas.
Return Of 2018 Conner – The Steelers offense will have running back James Conner as their feature back to start the season and the University of Pittsburgh product is reportedly now back to full health. The Steelers sorely need the 2018 version of Conner back starting Monday night. That 2018 version of Conner not only registered an acceptable successful run rate two seasons ago, he also caught 55 passes on his way to Pro Bowl recognition. The more the Steelers can lean on Conner Monday night, the easier the transition back it will be for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers running game was miserable in most of their 2019 games and that can’ happen again in 2020. The Giants, strong defensive line and all, should be able to be run on Monday night. Their inside linebackers aren’t great, so the Steelers offense needs to take advantage of that.
Red Better To The Letter – In 2018, the Steelers offense posted the best red zine percentage in the NFL of 73.47. However, without Roethlisberger most of last season the offense finished dead last at 35.00%. That’s quite a swing. The Steelers added two prominent red zone weapons during the offseason in veteran tight end Eric Ebron and rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool. Both players are huge targets and thus both should make life a bit easier inside the red zone for Roethlisberger. Conner being back healthy again should also boost the Steelers red zone offense. The Steelers offense figures to have at least three or four possessions that enter the red zone Monday and if that’s the case, the unit better case most of them in. If they don’t, the Giants will remain in the game from start to finish.
No Small Fields For The Giants – The worst thing that can happen Monday night for the Steelers is for their offense or special team units to put the defense in impossible situations. The Giants offense must be forced to work on long fields throughout the game. A turnover by the Steelers that allows the Giants a short field is a recipe for disaster and especially in a Week 1 game that has a possibility of being low scoring due to rust by both teams.