If Rashad Jennings is your second-leading receiver and has as many catches (6) as rushing attempts (6 for 19 yards), you’ve probably drawn up a blueprint for failure. As fate would have it, that’s actually what the Giants did in dropping a 24-14 contest to Pittsburgh, snapping their six-game win streak and announcing to the rest of the NFL that they’re not yet Super Bowl contenders.
The beginning of the game played out like a bad joke. I’d said previously that the Giants needed to stop opening games with dives up the middle and swing passes with Jennings. So what did they do on the first two plays? *Sigh*
Sure, Eli Manning made a heady move on the third play, shoveling to Jennings as the pocket collapsed, with Jennings running 20 yards. Little did we know that was going to be the Giants second-longest play of the day and Manning’s last great individual effort. Let’s face it, Eli (24 of 39 for 195 yards, two TDs and two INTs) was awful and seemed incapable of looking to anyone but Odell Beckham (10 catches for 100 yards).
As you’d expect, Beckham led the Giants in targets (16). What you wouldn’t expect (or hope for) is that he’d have twice as many targets as the next most-targeted receiver (Sterling Shepard, 8) or that Victor Cruz would have zero targets or that you’d throw in the direction of Larry Donnell (yeah, he’s apparently back in the mix) down near the goal line.
That pass (which, if completed, would have put the Giants ahead 6-5 in, uh, the second inning) was intercepted by Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons and returned 58 yards to the Giants’ 40 yard line, extinguishing a 12-play drive. Three plays later, Ben Roethlisberger (24 of 36, 289 yards, two TDs, one INT) threw to the back of the end zone, where Antonio Brown made a balletic 22-yard touchdown grab to put Pittsburgh ahead 11-0.
After Brown scored, the camera panned to the Giants’ sideline where Beckham was smiling widely, acting of course as if the game were all about the two of them.
But really, can you blame him? Manning seemed unwilling to look elsewhere. The offensive game plan was predictable and largely uninspired. The defense, meanwhile, played relatively well. Yes, the defense gave up 118 yards on the ground to Le’Veon Bell –- the first 100-yard rusher the squad has allowed all year. And yes, Landon Collins made perhaps his first big gaffe of the season in letting Steelers tight end Ladarius Green slip past him for a 20-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, which put Pittsburgh up 21-7.
But the defense was put on its heels early thanks to the Giants’ offense: a holding penalty in the end zone on the Human Stickum Ereck Flowers (who leads the league in holding penalties) negated a first down pass to Beckham and instead gave the Steelers a 2-0 lead; then the Manning-toward-Donnell disaster flipped the field on the Giants.
Frankly, if it weren’t for individual efforts by Olivier Vernon (two sacks) and Eli Apple (an INT and a fumble recovery), the Giants would have gotten beaten much worse.
The Giants (8-4) are now three full games behind Dallas, whom they will face next Sunday in a game that has already been flexed to the evening slot on NBC. Hopefully this game against Pittsburgh served as a wake-up call (particularly to the coaches and Eli Manning). Get somebody other than Beckham involved. And for heaven’s sake, stop opening the game by trying to establish Rashad Jennings!