In a lot of ways, preparing for a game against one Manning is the same as preparing for a game against another.
Peyton has retired, and now Eli Manning is the only family member currently playing quarterback in the NFL, and he will be part of the 8-3 New York Giants team that will be in town for a 4:25 p.m. kickoff on Sunday at Heinz Field. And for all of their differences as players and brothers, there is at least one similarity.
"He's doing a great job of managing their offense," said Coach Mike Tomlin about Eli Manning's play to this point in the 2016 season. "They give him quite a bit of autonomy. He does a lot of communication at the line of scrimmage. He changes plays. I imagine he's got a lot of latitude in getting them into what they deem appropriate plays."
One of the iconic images of Peyton Manning had him at the line of scrimmage calling plays, changing plays, generally directing traffic in the typical manner of a field general. Now that Eli Manning and Giants Coach Ben McAdoo are in their third season working together, putting things in the hands of the quarterback is a regular part of that team's weekly offensive plan as well.
There is one deterrent, or maybe the better word would be impediment, to an offense that wants to do so much communicating at the line of scrimmage: crowd noise. And Tomlin wasn't shy about asking for help in that department.
"Steelers Nation has an opportunity to be a significant contributor to our efforts this week," said Tomlin. (The Giants) work almost exclusively out of the no-huddle offense, and they do it for several reasons. They have great continuity at quarterback with Eli Manning and with Coach (Ben) McAdoo, and that continuity provides opportunities for latitude, for Eli to get them in appropriate plays based on what he sees. To do that, you have to communicate, be it hand signals or more effectively, verbal communications. If a crowd is disruptive, it really makes that difficult."
The Giants will arrive later in the week with a six-game winning streak, and the strength of their offense has been Manning getting the ball to a trio of talented wide receivers – Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shepherd. Beckham has 65 catches for 915 yards and eight touchdowns, while the rookie Shepherd has 44 catches and five touchdowns. Cruz has 27 catches, but he leads the team with a 17.1 average on those.
"No question, Odell Beckham Jr., is his primary target and security blanket," said Tomlin, "but Eli has always done a good job of taking what defenses or schemes give him, as he has spread the ball around to a variety of people. You can just look at third downs for example. Beckham Jr. has 14 third-down catches. Sterling Shepard, their rookie, has 14 third-down catches. Victor Cruz, their experienced slot receiver, has nine third-down catches. That's just reflective of what (Eli) is willing to do, in terms of taking what defenses give him."
When the Giants offense is operating in its preferred mode, a lot of how Manning first deciphers a defense and then gets to the proper play happens at the line of scrimmage and doesn't come from plays being sent in from the sideline and then called in the huddle.
"Usually, working out of the no-huddle quells a crowd over time, and then at those significant moments as a game unfolds you're able to communicate," said Tomlin. "Hopefully, the crowd stays in the game. Hopefully, we do our job in terms of helping the crowd stay in the game so that's not a factor on Sunday."
The Steelers' prospects to extend their own winning streak to three on Sunday would be helped by the Giants having problems communicating, especially on offense.
"The comforts of Heinz Field have an opportunity to be a significant contributor to our efforts in that regard," said Tomlin. "I look forward to seeing Steelers Nation support us and support us in that way, because (Manning) does do quite a bit of communicating. He's good at it, though. He gets them in runs when they need to be in runs. He changes protection vs. pressure. He gets the ball to appropriate receivers."
Especially when the atmosphere inside the stadium allows him to communicate.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"From an injury standpoint as we move forward, Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) is still working, but he still can be characterized as week-to-week at this point. Le'Veon Bell (knee) is perking up. He's doing some good things. We'll see where his rehabilitation leads us this week, and if it leads us to practice we'll evaluate that practice. You guys know the procedure in terms of the evaluation of guys coming back, but he's been working extremely hard and I think he's starting to get some signs of some results of that work. That's encouraging.
"Some other guys who have experienced injuries have already worked in a partial capacity this week, and we'll let their participation be our guide in terms of their inclusion in our plan. Those guys are Xavier Grimble and Robert Golden."