Who: Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)
When: Monday, September 14 at 7:15 PM ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Broadcast team: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit
Spread: Steelers (-5.5)
I've never been happier to write an article in my life.
After a long offseason of questions and uncertainty around the upcoming season, we are less than a week away from Steelers football. Pittsburgh travels to MetLife Stadium to face a Giants team led by Saquon Barkley and a young Daniel Jones with a full year under his belt.
Rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas looks to steady a Giants offensive line under heavy criticism in the last few years. However, big things are expected out of left guard Will Hernandez, and right guard Kevin Zeitler was a nice addition to the team last season.
Tight End Evan Engram provides a valuable athletic profile at the tight end position, a common mismatch for any linebacker/defensive back. Although the Steelers defended the tight end position fairly well (gave up an average of 4 receptions/41 yards to the position in 2019), Engram will still need to be a crucial focal point in the defensive gameplan.
The Giants possess a trio of solid pass-catchers, with Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton as targets for Jones to throw to on Monday night. New York was one of six teams last season to accrue 30+ passing touchdowns, so don't doubt their ability to throw the ball despite Saquon's strong presence coming out of the backfield.
Defensively, the Giants believe they may finally have a strong defense to match their stars on the offensive side of the ball. Playing a 3-4 base defense similar to the Steelers, first-round picks Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence align at defensive end while Dalvin Tomlinson anchors the middle at nose tackle. Fresh off a three-year, $30 million deal in free agency, linebacker Blake Martinez headlines New York's linebacking corps.
As for the secondary, the Giants will be without former first-round pick DeAndre Baker, as the former Georgia Bulldog is currently serving a suspension for off-field issues. New York welcomes recently signed Logan Ryan to pair with Jabrill Peppers at the back end of the defense. The Giants allowed 264.1 yards per game through the air last season, and a healthy Ben Roethlisberger looks to test the secondary often on Monday night.
Although the Steelers are favored, the Giants offer an interesting match-up. Can Jones show he's taking the next steps to becoming New York's franchise quarterback? How much of a workload will Barkley see on Monday night? What match-ups will decide the opener?
Jackson Thompson, Sports Illustrated's digital reporter for Giants Country, took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions surrounding New York and the match-up that lies ahead. For more Giants news and updates, follow Jackson on Twitter @Jacksonbht.
Donnie- Daniel Jones enters his second season in the NFL. What are the early reports surrounding Jones from training camp, and what does New York need to see from him in 2020?
Jackson- As a passer, Jones has looked on and off during training camp this year. His performance has been somewhat disappointing, only due to how great he looked in his first training camp as a rookie last season. However, while the passing hasn't been great, his presence as a leader is night and day compared to last year. Since this is the Giants' first training camp without Eli Manning since 2004, Jones has really taken the initiative to take command as the leader of the offense and it's clear that his teammates respect him.
The other thing that has stood out about Jones is his physique. He added about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and it shows. The Giants are hoping that this will lead to him cutting down on his fumbles and getting a little more zip on his passes. Cutting down on the fumbles is the biggest thing that the Giants need to see out of Jones this year, but he did have one in the Giants' second scrimmage, but we will just have to see once the regular season kicks off.
Donnie- Saquon Barkley, for my money, is the best running back in football. Facing a stout Steelers front seven, how do you believe the Giants will utilize Barkley on Monday night?
Jackson- The Giants are going to use Barkley every way they can without overusing him. Barkley will obviously get the lion's share of the Giants' carries out of the backfield but he will also be used as a receiver, whether it be out of the backfield or even lined up out wide or in the slot. New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had a lot of success with running backs from his time in Dallas and he has typically built the running game around the running back's skill set.
But don't expect Barkley to be on the field for every snap. Barkley represents a big investment for the organization and they are going to try and give him as many plays off as necessary to keep him healthy and durable for the long term, especially since he suffered an ankle injury last year. Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman will be a featured part of the Giants' offense as well.
Donnie- Pittsburgh has led the league in sacks the last three seasons. With an offensive line that's been re-shuffled in the offseason, what's the level of concern of the Giants' big men upfront heading into week one?
Jackson- To put it plainly, there is a lot of concern around the Giants' offensive line heading into Week 1, especially with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree coming to town. Rookie Andrew Thomas will be slotted in at left tackle. He's shown promise at camp, but has still been knocked around by the Giants' edge rushers his fair share, which is concerning given that the Giants' edge rushers are not at the same level as Watt and Dupree.
Meanwhile, veteran journeyman Cameron Fleming is projected to be the Giants' starting right tackle. His experience and history with Garrett should help him fit into the rotation but he is certainly not a world-beater at offensive tackle and could see his own struggles against the Steelers pass rush.
Donnie- The Steelers' offense features talented players at each position. In your opinion, which player or skill group do you think will cause the most problems for the Giants defense?
Jackson- JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington could definitely have a field day for the Steelers in Week 1. The Giants cornerbacks have been a situation that has seemed to just devolve over the course of the offseason and into training camp. The Giants have James Bradberry, who is a solid number one corner and should hold his own against JuJu, but if the Steelers mix up their offensive formations then the rest of the Giants' secondary might not be able to handle the speed.
Corey Ballentine, Darnay Holmes and Isaac Yiadom, whom the team just traded for last week, are all unproven corners and are expected to fill a big role for the Giants' defense this year, and Pittsburgh's offense will be a huge test right off the bat.
Donnie- Who are some under the radar guys on the Giants you think can make a big impact in this game?
Jackson- Tight end Kaden Smith and safety Julian Love are my under-the-radar candidates to make an impact for the Giants in this game. Garrett had a tendency of running multiple tight-end sets in Dallas, and the Giants' starting tight end Evan Engram is expected to eat up a lot of attention by opposing defenses which could leave Smith with a lot of opportunities to get open for passes.
Meanwhile, Love flashed coverage skills after filling in as a rookie toward the end of last season and the Giants are going to be counting on big contributions from their safeties to make a difference in coverage.
Donnie- Pick one position battle/match-up you believe can decide Monday night's game
Jackson- The position battle that will decide Monday Night's game is going to be Andrew Thomas and Cameron Fleming vs T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. The Giants' offense has a lot of firepower and matches up well with the Steeler's defense from a skill position perspective. But the story of the Giants' defense for the last several years, dating back to when they had OBJ, was the fact that they couldn't take advantage of their offensive weapons due to a lack of protection.
The passing potential is there for the Giants but Watt and Dupree can shut it down in a hurry, and I'm guessing he'll be pinning his ears back against a rookie left tackle. The Giants will probably lean on the run as much as possible to keep the defense honest and ensure Jones has some time to breathe, but with the scoring potential that the Steelers offense brings the Giants are going to have to open up the passing game at some point and they will need Thomas and Fleming to step up and give Jones time in the pocket.