It's no secret that the New York Giants are vulnerable through the air defensively, but lately, there have also been cracks in the armor in spots where the Giants have traditionally atoned for their struggles in the secondary.
Last week we established that the passing game has been off, and that's definitely still the case. But this week, the run defense had a ton of trouble against a shorthanded Pittsburgh running game that usually doesn't inspire a lot of fear in opposing defenses.
Isaac Redman entered Sunday's game averaging only 2.5 yards per carry, but with Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer hurt and Chris Rainey going down early, Redman received a career-high 26 carries against the Giants, gaining a career-high 147 yards. That's 5.7 yards per carry, which is more than twice his average from the first five games he played this season.
Before taking a look at a few of Redman's key runs to determine what went wrong from the Giants' perspective, it should be noted that the front seven is shorthanded. Middle linebacker Chase Blackburn was sidelined against Pittsburgh, as were quality run-defending linebackers Jacquian Williams and Keith Rivers.
As a result, Mark Herzlich was thrust into a starting role with little support. That was surely a factor Sunday, but this run defense fared OK without Rivers and Blackburn even on the roster for all or much of 2011. Those injuries alone don't explain why they've given up over 150 rushing yards in two of their last three games and why they were embarrassed on the ground when it mattered most against Pittsburgh.
The first killer play they allowed didn't result in any points, but it cost them dearly in the early field position battle, and it had little or nothing to do with those injuries. On the Redman run, the Steelers were working from the edge of their own end zone. With Mathias Kiwanuka at the line and Herzlich biting left to fill another gap, Michael Boley was responsible for plugging the hole Mike Pouncey and Willie Colon planned on opening up for Redman.
But Pouncey completely manhandled Boley and Redman sprung through that hole with ease, picking up 11 yards to give his offense room to work and a fresh set of downs.
Boley's had a tough season, especially against the run, which is odd because he was solid in run defense in 2011.
Later in the first quarter, they again gave up a huge gain to Redman on the first play of a drive. This time, they were again manhandled in the trenches as Redman appeared to hit the same hole. But both Herzlich and Boley played this one poorly.
The positioning was again looking promising off the bat...
But Boley either guessed wrong or was doing what he was assigned. Regardless, it indicates he either had no instincts or failed to utilize good instincts, biting left. Herzlich simply over-committed, throwing himself into the fullback rather than displaying some patience. He essentially ran right past Redman in the other direction. It was a rookie mistake from an inexperienced linebacker.
That would result in a 17-yard gain as Pittsburgh marched down the field for the game's first touchdown.
On an 11-yard gain later in the second quarter, they again appeared to have the right look...
But what was surprising about this was that Herzlich didn't try cheating to the strong side, instead rushing the trenches like a bat out of hell yet again. As a result, he removed himself from the play and opened up a hole for Redman.
Boley might have been able to help out, but he was again being dominated, this time by Colon.
Those types of plays forced the Giants to key on the run, but Redman was still consistently pushing for four or five yards at a time. They were simply outmatched, and it all made Ben Roethlisberger's job easier.
The final two back-breaking Redman runs came with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and they were arguably the difference. The first was on a 3rd-and-2 with the Giants trying to hold in the red zone and protect a three-point lead. A stop on this play and they're still tied in the worst-case scenario.
This time, the play looked to be going right and Boley bit hard along with Herzlich...
As a result, Boley was out of position in a big way when Redman cut it back up the middle. Both linebackers were again lost in the trenches and Redman just had to squeeze by Osi Umenyiora for the first down, bringing the Steelers to the 1-yard line and setting up an eventual touchdown. That score would be the difference in the game.
And then the icing on the cake came when everybody on the planet knew the Steelers were likely running. The Giants needed a stop to stay in the game, and on 1st-and-10 Redman and that line embarrassed the front seven again.
This time it was poor tackling that did them in. This is what Redman was looking at before even reaching the line of scrimmage. I've circled Linval Joseph, who's in prime position to take him down before he gets anywhere.
But Redman would slip right through Joseph's hands and slide past Kiwanuka. That was enough for a positive gain, and with Max Starks dominating Jason Pierre-Paul, Redman was able to cruise to the next level of the defense for a game-clinching 28-yard gain.
The Steelers' offensive line did a fantastic job in this game, and the Giants weren't 100 percent. It might not have been as bad under different circumstances, but it's not as though Redman's considered to be a very good back. I'm not overly concerned about this run defense, but it is a bit worrisome that they weren't able to come through time and again Sunday.
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