The New York Giants are going against a battle-tested Ben Roethlisberger, but he might not be operating at full speed yet.
The New York Giants head into their season opener on Monday night decisive underdogs against the Pittsburgh Steelers and for good reason. For one they have one of the best defenses in the league and led the NFL in sacks last season with 54.
The Steelers also have one of the best head coaches in the league in Mike Tomlin, whereas Giants head coach Joe Judge will be making his head coaching debut.
However, there is one factor that bodes well for a Giants upset, and that’s the fact that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t played in a year.
In the Steelers’ Week 2 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 15, Roethlisberger suffered an injury to his right elbow that would require season-ending elbow surgery. When he takes the field on Monday night it will be a day shy of a full year since he’s played in a game.
As we know there were no offseason workout programs or preseason games to help players prepare for the upcoming season. While most veterans, especially quarterbacks, would have sat most of the preseason anyway since it’s been a year since Roethlisberger played, it was likely he was going to see some game action.
Roethlisberger is entering his 17th season in the league and has faced every defense imaginable. But even a veteran like him could be rusty after not playing for a year.
Although he’s certainly watched film of New York’s defense from last season, that might not be as helpful as one would imagine. The Giants have a new defensive coordinator in Patrick Graham and several new defensive starters.
Blake Martinez, James Bradberry, and Logan Ryan are just a few of the new faces on the revamped defense. Graham will look to pressure Roethlisberger with the front seven and throw out confusing looks in the secondary.
When a player hasn’t played in a long time, it can take them a while to catch up to the speed of the game. If the Giants are able to apply pressure early, then can force Roethlisberger into a mistake and create scoring opportunities for Daniel Jones and the offense.
It’s also worth noting that Pittsburgh’s offensive line is going to look different in Week 1 due to offseason departures and injuries.
Five-time Pro Bowl G David DeCastro not expected to play against NY Giants and will be replaced by newcomer Stefen Wisniewski. That means Steelers will begin the season with 3 players at new positions on the O-line – maybe not a good thing for Ben's first game back.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) September 8, 2020
To make Roethlisberger’s night even more difficult, expect the Giants to take away his best and most reliable receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster. Expect Smith-Schuster to be covered often by either Bradberry or Ryan, as they look to shut down Roethlisberger’s No. 1 target.
The Giants won’t have a true home-field advantage since fans won’t be in attendance. But Graham and his aggressive play-calling and versatile defenders could be all the Giants need to pull off the upset.
The Giants have not won a season opener since 2016 which was also the last time they had a winning season and made the playoffs. If the defense can rattle the rusty 38-year-old Roethlisberger, they stand an excellent chance for pulling off the upset and giving Joe Judge his first win as head coach.