To begin their 2017 preseason slate, the New York Giants will face the Pittsburgh Steelers at home Friday night. The opening preseason game often sees a number of backups play most of the contest. Some even start from the first snap. There is not always a lot to glean from the results. However, this game should be different.
Pittsburgh has a number of strengths that match up nicely with information we want to learn from New York’s performance. This won’t always be the case, but the Steelers offer a valuable preseason opponent.
First off, the Steelers’ strength is certainly on offense, and it’s probably the depth of their receiving weapons. That includes running back Le’Veon Bell, the best receiving back in the NFL, but the depth of pure wide receivers is rather astounding.
Pittsburgh has so many useful receivers that not all of them are going to make the active roster by the end of the month. Some will have to be jettisoned. Antonio Brown is obviously the crown jewel. But after him, there are at least five more guys worthy of a defense’s attention, and that doesn’t even include some possible undrafted free agents who could grow into a role.
Martavis Bryant is back; Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates are still waiting for their breakouts; Darrius Heyward-Bey is a speedy veteran; and 2017 rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster may end up being the best of the batch.
The reason it is so important for the Giants to face this unit is because one of the real question marks for New York is its cornerback depth. After its top three guys (who are arguably the best corner trio in football), no one is even assured of making the team. Those are the guys who need to be tested often this preseason. Against Pittsburgh, they certainly will be no matter how long the starters play.
The other interesting test Pitt poses is when NY has the ball. The Steelers’ defensive line was above average against the run last season and was a top-10 unit in stuffing runners at the line of scrimmage. With the addition of T.J. Watt in the front seven, that may even improve.
For New York, breaking consistent gains in the running game was a real issue in 2016. It also looks like it could be the weakness of the offense again in 2017. Testing Big Blue against a front like Pittsburgh will be important, both to see how the offensive linemen perform, as well as the rotation running backs.
The final score of this preseason game won’t matter. What will is how these specific groups perform for the Giants. We can learn a lot by seeing them tested against a strong opponent in those competing departments.