Sideline View: Steelers-Giants hit parade

Craig Wolfley worked the sideline Sunday and reports on the ups and downs of the Steelers' pressure and protection schemes, as well as the sideline tryouts for the doomed long-snapper position.

Maybe the final score wasn't very satisfying, but the hitting was. On the sidelines the scores rung up on the smack-u-lator were at a mega standard. Not only could the vibration of the hits be felt on the sidelines, but I could hear the hits, even though my headset was near max volume.

Early on, the offensive line manned up and got after it. Those are some fearsome pass-rushing mutants wearing the Giants uniform, and Kiwanuka, Tuck, Cofield and Robbins brought their big boy pads. Barry Cofield in particular has such a huge keester -- maybe three axe handles wide – that he was extremely difficult to root out. He burrows down like a tick on a hound. Yet Justin Hartwig and either Chris Kemoeatu or Darnell Stapleton on the double-team got decent movement.

The Giants threatened a lot of "A" gap blitzes, just like the Eagles, and the Steelers countered with quick, three-step drop passes. At times, the Steelers used gap calls, and at other times Mewelde Moore jumped up to take on the blitzers. I counted "Four Mississippi" at least four times on those three-steppers, so Ben's gotta get the ball out quicker. When you drop only three steps, the ball should be out of the quarterback's hand when his rear foot hits the ground on the third step. And it wasn't.

Heath Miller had two big catches in the first half. When the Giants blitzed the A gaps, they had nobody in the middle, and Heath settled there in the first quarter; smart stuff. That's why Moore had that 32-yard scamper on the first drive. Once he reached the second level, it was lean and green all the way to the end zone. The Giants wised up and began dropping into zone coverage after faking the blitz, and that took away the middle.

Defensively, the Steelers came after the Giants. Brandon Jacobs is as bone-crunching as advertised, and Ryan Clark got a mush-full on a 13-yard Jacobs run to start the second quarter. Five shots (including an offside penalty) at pay dirt from the Steelers 2-yard line by the Giants produced zippo. Credit the two rocks of Gibraltar on the inside. Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke piled up bodies like they were stacking cordwood. That was as good a defensive stand as has played out in Heinz Field in a long time.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Aaron Smith is the best two-way defensive lineman in the NFL. He plays the run like PennDot guards the turnpike. Nobody rides for free. On a screen play in the second half, Smith read it and got downfield to make the hit after the Giants' back hurdled James Farrior. Reading the screen requires a defender to know formation, tendency, and how it's set up. The man over you gives you all the info you need. Smith read Giants offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie like a dime store novel.

As for stopping the Steelers' ends, I didn't think it could be done. Going into this game I thought James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley would whip the Giants' offensive tackles. But David Diehl and McKenzie were up to the task -- tip of the hat to them on this day. What really surprised me was that the Steelers couldn't get home on their twist stunts with Woodley and Harrison crashing the blind sides of the Giants guards and the defensive tackles looping around behind them. The Giants short set with their guards (stayed on the line of scrimmage), meanwhile the tackles bailed out quickly (backed up). Normally this sets up the guard to be picked by the defensive end, but that never materialized.

Back to protection, Willie Colon must learn how to protect against the uppercut. When a pass-rusher throws an outside shoulder uppercut, and you're locked in on the chest plate of the rusher with both hands, you have to take your inside hand off and punch the guy's hip. And then work your own hip laterally thus widening the man. Just hanging on with both hands will get you called for holding all night long, especially with an experienced guy like Justin Tuck working the officials like legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, who was at the game as a guest of Dick LeBeau.

I got to believe Hampton is still being hampered by that groin pull. He was a step slow on playing moving laterally, and he admits he's not his normal explosive self. Fortunately, a lot of the action was straight at him and he handled it well.

Nate Washington continues to improve. The way he turned the Giants cornerback on that 65-yard touchdown catch-and-run was a thing of beauty. Spun him around like a merry-go-round, he did. Ditto the 53-yarder that got called back. We can expect more quality play from this young man.

Nobody pays any attention to the long snapper until he goes down. I once was tried out as a deep-snapper during my career. I had as much success as James Harrison. To get that ball back belt high, in a tight spiral, 15 yards deep in about 1.1 seconds every time, in sunshine, rain, cold weather, high pressure settings, is truly an unappreciated skill set. It looked like tryouts on the sidelines. First James Harrison, then Darnell Stapleton, James Farrior, and two or three other guys.

Mitch Berger toughened it up to punt. The guess is he pulled his hamstring of his plant leg at the end of the second quarter. Normally, kickers hit the field during halftime ahead of the rest of the guys. Berger came out with only two minutes to warm up with a hot patch on his left leg, and he couldn't even run to cover the punts. Still, he stroked 'em as well as he could. Kudos.

Finally, does anybody know Mike Schneck's phone number?


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