Monday Night Football kicks off tonight with the Pittsburgh Steelers facing the New York Giants, and new head coach Joe Judge. Ben Steele previews the action...
"The Steelers will be looking to attack New York through the air giving Roethlisberger plenty of opportunity to exploit a secondary that allowed 264 yards per game in 2019."
Steel curtain will trouble Jones
Quarterback Daniel Jones is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in New York, after taking over from Giants legend Eli Manning in Week 3 last season the former Duke signal caller put together an impressive rookie season. Jones starts his encore with a matchup that will really test his offseason progression.
The biggest knock against Jones last season was his struggles with turnovers. While his 12 interceptions was roughly in line with the average across starting QBs in 2019 it was fumbles where he really struggled. Only four players in NFL history have fumbled more often in a season than Daniel Jones did last term and facing a Pittsburgh Steelers defensive unit who led the league in sacks (with 54) and were the fourth best in the NFL against the pass I'm expecting there to be turnovers again tonight.
With Casey Heyward, Budd Dupree and T.J. Watt having the potential to hassle Jones all night and the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick in the defensive backfield I will be backing Pittsburgh's defence to force a turnover and return it for a touchdown at 10/3.
Returning Roethlisberger a huge help for Juju
At the start of the 2019 season the Pittsburgh Steelers looked set to take their traditional role as a contender for an AFC playoff spot. Unfortunately for Mike Tomlin's side, Ben Roethlisberger picked up an elbow injury that ended his season after just two games. Dragged along by their elite defensive unit the Steelers were still able to finish 8-8 but their offence was woeful, finishing 27th in points per game and 30th in yards per game.
Now back to full fitness, I expect Big Ben to galvanise the Pittsburgh offence and wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster in particular. Smith-Schuster's production dropped off a cliff after Roethlisberger's injury but he has a really good chance to get back to his best on Monday. When it comes to stopping the run the Giants are a solid outfit, and have consistently been able to keep opposing running backs under control, so the Steelers will be looking to attack New York through the air giving Roethlisberger plenty of opportunity to exploit a secondary that allowed 264 yards per game in 2019.
I'm expecting Roethlisberger to throw a couple of touchdowns on his return and Smith-Schuster will be his main target. So I will back Smith-Schuster to score a touchdown and Pittsburgh to win at 3.0.
Saquon sure to score
The centrepiece of the New York Giants offence is undoubtedly running back Saquon Barkley, the former 2nd overall draft pick has the ability to be one of the best runners in the league and has consistently shown that since his debut in 2018. While Pittsburgh's defence are a formidable opponent Barkley is not one to shy away from a challenge, putting up some of his best games against good defensive teams.
New Giants head coach Joe Judge hired former Dallas Cowboys HC Jason Garrett to be his offensive coordinator and that can only be a positive thing for Barkley. Garrett's time in Dallas was highlighted by the development of another elite running back, Zeke Elliott, and I don't see the 54-year-old moving away from an offensive style that relies on a multi-purpose running back. Barkley is arguably more versatile than Elliott and will be a great bet to find the endzone in the season opener. While scoring opportunities may be limited for New York their best chance of success is certainly through Saquon.