The Steelers are heading to New Jersey on Monday to face the New York Giants for their first game of the 2020 season. The Giants have an entirely new coaching staff, and are a young team, but boast some talented players that can give the Steelers trouble. How does their team look and matchup against the Steelers’ very talented team?
The Giants Schemes
This is a bit of a question mark as it stands since there is no definite film out there for how Joe Judge will mix his own schematic ideas with that of coordinators Jason Garrett and Patrick Graham, but there are some basic ideas that can be developed from the schemes.
For Garrett, it is a variation of the Air Coryell offense. In other words, that means this first and foremost a vertical offense that wants to push the ball down the field. The thing that makes Garrett’s offense scheme so dangerous is how he uses his tight ends. The tight ends in the Garrett scheme are seam busters, but they have ad-libbing schematic freedom. He does this with his signature play aptly named Y-Option.
Jason Witten was great running this while in Dallas. The tight end reads the coverage and decides on one of four routes — a flag route, dig route, double move up and go, and a curl route. It gives the schematic and route flexibility with great spacing across the board. Garrett likes to run a lot of levels concepts to really give his quarterbacks natural progressions at all levels of the field.
However, still at the heart of his offense, it is one that wants to push the ball. Sometimes, that will require Garrett to run some rhythm-based routes. The slant route is an effective staple of the Garrett scheme. As of recent, RPOs have been used heavily in the scheme. Garrett likes to really stress linebackers and put them in binds against a talented running back in the run game or pushing the ball vertically. Linebackers’ true skills are always tested against a Garrett-based scheme.
The running scheme has a lot of guard interaction. So Garrett likes what is called “G Action”. Pulling guards that will lead Saquon Barkley are very likely to be seen on Monday. Outside of that, Garrett really loves zone runs. It will test the Steelers linebackers ability to sift through the trash and sift against those outside zone runs that will look to take advantage of Barkley’s elite athleticism.
As for the defense, this is a big question mark. Graham was the defensive coordinator with Brian Flores last season, but how much of that scheme was actually Graham and not Flores is remained to be seen. However, with some Patriots blood in him, it is without a doubt that there will be a lot of flexible fronts. Even and odd fronts as it pertains to the look the Giants are seeing will be key for them to stop the running game and get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger.
What that Patriots scheme likes to do is be flexible up front to help the back end with their assortment of responsibilities. The Patriots run some Nick Saban ideas, including lots of Cover 3 shells and quarters. The point being is that Graham, if he is like other Belichick disciples, will have a flexible scheme that executes whatever he wants based on the matchup. Cornerbacks may be playing safeties and so forth. It is a multiples look defense that is meant to play with the quarterback’s eyes, while the front is meant to close in on the running game by slanting more than any other defense In the NFL.
Key Players to Watch
RB Saquon Barkley
Barkley, the former Penn State running back, is going to be enemy number one on Monday. Mike Tomlin noted that as such earlier in the week when talking of the threat that Barkley possesses. One of the best running backs in the NFL, Barkley is built like a brick house. He has incredible contact balance and body control for any football player of his size. Add in the fact that he is an absurd athlete by any given scale and there is a threat here. Barkley is a solid pass protector and a huge threat in the passing game with soft hands and surprisingly good route running. He will threaten the linebackers to key in on him, and it may cause the Steelers to shift their schematic decisions.
QB Daniel Jones
The young Duke product is coming off a promising rookie season. His mental reads were sporadic, however, and it leads to some questions of if he will be able to decipher this Steelers defense. The Steelers were great at messing with the quarterback’s eyes last season by disguising their coverages. Jones threw the fifth most interceptable passes in the NFL with 29 last season because of mental lapses. He throws some really pretty balls and is coming along with his development, but his decision making, especially under pressure, could lead to some disastrous consequences for the Giants.
CB James Bradberry
Bradberry was the big free agent signing of the offseason for the Giants. It made sense given their holes at cornerback and now that last year’s first round pick in DeAndre Baker has been released, Bradberry will offer some much needed comfort for the Giants secondary. It is yet to be known if Bradberry will shadow JuJu Smith-Schuster or just play one side of the field, but his last year in Carolina showcased a physical player with great feet and discipline. If the Steelers want to beat Bradberry, it will not be easy.
DL Dexter Lawrence
Coming off a rookie season where he flashed his athleticism and traits, Lawrence is going to be a guy to watch as an interior penetrator for the Giants. He has the juice to run through guys, even as a nose tackle, but the with the front Graham may employ, it is possible Lawrence may see some matchups against Stefen Wisniewski with David DeCastro likely out. It depends on the jump Lawrence makes from year one to year two, but he is a fiery player that will be a problem for the Steelers with his tools.
Matchups to Watch
Corey Ballentine vs Steelers receivers
The Giants are inevitably going to have some questions at cornerback. Logan Ryan was signed, but it is unclear how he will be used on this defense. Whether that is as a slot corner, safety, or both. It makes sense that he would be signed by the Giants given his experience with the Patriots system. However, Ballentine will be the starter across from Bradberry. A second-year player out of Washburn, Ballentine is a lengthy cornerback with good ball skills and great physical tools that was thrown into the fire last year. He did surrender four touchdowns and 351 yards on 35 targets. This is a mismatch the Steelers can exploit, no question.
Andrew Thomas and Cameron Fleming vs Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt
This is the biggest question mark for the Giants on Monday. They have a problem at tackle naturally, even if Thomas pans out, but in Thomas’ first game, he will be facing a very talented pass rusher in Dupree. However, Fleming is the real one at risk here. Facing a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Watt is going to be a very dangerous matchup for him. This could get bad quickly. Jones has been prone to fumbles, with 18 fumbles last year. If Watt and Dupree are getting consistent pressure there is a good chance Jones may cough up the ball to catastrophic consequences.
Center J.C. Hassenauer Officially Signs with Steelers
Center J.C. Hassenauer has officially signed his new one-year deal with the Steelers.
This deal was initially reported last week and confirmed by Hassenauer’s agent, but has now been announced by the Steelers.
An exclusive right free agent, Hassenauer was almost a lock to return to Pittsburgh in 2021. His new deal with the Steelers is worth $780,000.
Hassenauer proved a vital piece along the Steelers’ offensive line a season ago, seeing action in 15 games and making four starts. He was on the field for 23% of the team’s offensive stats, while also appearing on 50 special teams plays.
Prior to Pittsburgh, Hassenauer signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2018, spending the first seven weeks of the season on their practice squad.
He played for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football in 2019.
Mic Drop: JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Free Agency is About Business, Not Personal
Ever since the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger decided the future Hall of Fame quarterback will return for the 2021 season with a restructured contract, the attention has shifted to free agent wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. On this episode of Mic Drop on Pittsburgh Sports Live, host Mike Asti explains why fans need to learn that not every JuJu take is a personal attack and why it’s best for the Steelers business if the franchise and the 24-year-old receiver part ways.
Steelers Scout Mark Bruener Shares Insight into Unique Draft Process
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of the NFL landscape, especially the scouting leading up to the NFL Draft, making an already unique, tedious process even more challenging.
Pittsburgh Steelers college scout Mark Bruener joined The Standard, the club’s behind-the-scenes web series, and provided some insight into the past year’s unprecedented scouting process.
The pandemic has presented Bruener with his fair share of challenges, but he has not allowed those circumstances to become excuses.
“My first approach was is I’m not going to make an excuse for the situation that I’m in,” Bruener said. “I’m going to figure out a way to do my job to the best of my ability and know that Kevin (Colbert) is not going to tolerate any excuses. And I needed to get my job done.”
Much like every aspect of our life over the past year, Bruener has had to resort to virtual discussions with coaches, as he was largely barred from scouting and meeting players at facilities.
“The ability for us to make contact with the schools, the individual coaches, all had to be done via Zoom,” Bruener said. “There was no personal interaction that we normally would get. And then you would follow up individually with the coaches to gain the information that you needed.”
Without those in-person evaluations, Bruener has had to watch on film more than ever before to ensure his assessments are accurate.
“But the bulk of my fall was spent in my office, watching film on my computer,” he said. “Instead of just watching three games on an athlete in particular to try to bring the evaluation, I tend to maybe watch five or six games, if that’s available. And because I can’t see that live look in some aspects.”
That being said, the virtually, at-home conditions have granted Bruener more flexibility in his scouting process than ever before.
“If you’re at a school, you have to get to the next school the next day. So you have to make sure that you get all that work done that day,” Bruener said. “Whereas now being home, you’re a little more flexible. So if you’re not able to finish that third game or fourth game by two o’clock, then you can get to it later on that evening.”
Bruener, who resides in Washington state, was able to attend a few games in person last college football season, but admits the atmosphere was bizarre at times.
“I went to a handful of games here in Seattle and in Oregon that I was allowed to attend, but it was so eerie Andy weird because there wasn’t any fans there.”
Selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft out of Washington, Bruener played 14 seasons at tight end. He spent the first nine seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, catching 137 passes for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Bruener began scouting for the Steelers organization in 2018.