BY TOM CANAVAN
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —
The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants are two of the NFL’s oldest and most storied franchises, and right now, two of the most successful.
The history lesson is simple.
Art Rooney founded the Steelers’ in 1933, eight years after Tim Mara got the Giants going. Their descendants still run them for the most part.
More important, these cornerstone organizations continue to show everyone how it’s done.
In the past seven seasons, the teams have combined to win four Super Bowls, with keys to those championships being two young quarterbacks taken in the first 11 picks of the 2004 draft – Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
Manning was taken No. 1 by San Diego and traded to New York. The Steelers gobbled up Roethlisberger with the 11th pick overall, and neither team has had reason to complain.
Manning and Roethlisberger will face off for only third time in their nine-year careers when the Giants (6-2) put their four-game winning streak on the line against the Steelers (4-3) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Giants captain Justin Tuck says the franchises have a lot in common.
“I think it comes down from the top,” the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end said. “You talk about the Rooneys, the Maras and the Tischs, and it’s kind of filters from the top. You have two franchise quarterbacks. You have teams that have been known for their defense. It’s two tough-minded franchises that know how to win football games. It’s not always flashy, and it’s not always what people want to see, but they are constantly in the mix, and that’s the similarities.”
Both teams are rounding into form after slow starts. The Steelers have won two in a row and trail the injury-ravaged Baltimore Ravens by a game in the AFC North.
The Giants have opened a 2 1⁄2 -game in the NFC East with their recent run and have a chance to run away with the division with Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington struggling.
This will definitely be an emotional game for the Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions. This game comes just six days after superstorm Sandy ravaged huge portions of the New York City metropolitan area and cities and counties along the New Jersey coastline, leaving many without power, lodging and food.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin thought of them this week.
“I think the devastation is part of our world,” Coughlin said. “Our players have gone through a little bit. I don’t know the extent of the damage of their homes, but I know the majority of them have been without power. That’s just a small sample of what’s going on in this part of the world. Hopefully, we can relieve some of that and give people a reason to have smiles on their faces for a few hours on Sunday afternoon.”
Manning and Roethlisberger will have a lot to say about who wins.
Both have been outstanding this season. Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,987 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has the highest quarterback rating on third downs (117.1). Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, has thrown for 2,301 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions and once again worked his fourth-quarter magic, rallying New York to wins three times.
Roethlisberger, who led the Steelers to the title after the 2005 and 2008 seasons, has followed Manning’s career, admitting that at first he wanted to show everyone that he was as good as the No.1 pick overall.
“I think as a guy that’s not picked No. 1 or anytime someone is picked ahead of you, you want to beat that guy out,’ Roethlisberger said. “But as I’ve gotten older, it’s more neat to see his success, to see him getting two Super Bowls because I think it just adds to the legacy of our draft class and all four quarterbacks, Matt Schaub, Philip (Rivers), myself and Eli that were drafted there. I hope that we can play well enough that one day they talk about us as maybe the best quarterback draft class of all-time.”
Manning doesn’t believe the two have a rivalry.
“They’re a talented team and they’re always good,” Manning said of the Steelers. “Great defense. Ben has done a great job making plays. They’ve been to three Super Bowls since we were drafted that year, so he’s a tremendous player. They have a good team and so we’ve got to make sure we are ready mentally to get ready for them because it’s not a team we play very often and we know they have good players.”
On offense, the Giants have to be prepared to face the Steelers’ pressure defense. They have seven veterans who know how to cover for each other and make plays.
For Manning, pressure defenses offer the opportunity to make big plays
“It’s a well-designed scheme,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. “They do a great job of seeing how you are protecting and they attack very intelligently, and then they mix it up. They are a very good package and you have to be at your best.”
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has rushed for 408 yards and six TDs in the last four games and if he’s effective then that can slow down the Steelers. On the outside, Giants receiver Victor Cruz’s 52 receptions are fourth best in the league and his seven TD catches are tied for first overall with James Jones of the Packers.
Defensively, the Steelers will have to stop defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. He has four sacks in past three games, and he returned an interception for a touchdown in the 29-24 win over Dallas last week. New York has forced 24 turnovers this season, including 16 interceptions.
“We’re going to give a lot of attention to the front four, really kind of front six, seven that they rotate in and linebackers because they’re the ones that create a lot of those turnovers with pressure on the quarterback,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know if they always get the credit for those turnovers, but a lot of times it’s because of them.”
Pittsburgh has found a running game in recent weeks with Jonathan Dwyer gaining more than 100 yards each game. Tight end Heath Miller continues to be one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets near goal line, catching six TD passes.
Whatever happens, Manning and Roethlisberger probably will make this one interesting at the end.
“The big thing is I think it’s a fair assessment to call both of them winners:” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Both guys have been to the big dance and delivered. That’s what this profession is about. That’s what that position, particularly, is about. That’s how they’ve managed. I think both guys have a keen understanding of that and are motivated by that.”