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Next-Level Preview: Giants vs. Steelers

The Giants face the Pittsburgh Steelers this week at MetLife Stadium, the first regular season meeting between these two teams since Week 8 of the 2008 season.

In that game, the Giants prevailed, 21-14, on the strength of an Eli Manning touchdown pass to Kevin Boss and a strong performance by the defense. Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions and was sacked five times.

Together, the Giants and Steelers have combined to win four of the past seven Super Bowls. The Giants are coming off a thrilling 29-24 win over the Cowboys, which saw New York jump out to a 23-0 lead, give up 24 unanswered points and then come back to win in the fourth quarter with two Lawrence Tynes field goals. The Steelers, meanwhile, beat the Redskins, 27-12, due to Roethlisberger’s three touchdown passes.

Here are several areas to watch for Sunday:

Passing 11+ Yards Downfield | 2012 Season

>>1st in NFL• Manning has been one of the best quarterbacks this season on throws 11 or more yards downfield. Manning is second in the league in yards (1,230) and completions (50) on such throws. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers have been solid defending on throws downfield and are ranked first in the league in completions allowed (24), yards (509) and are one of only two teams that has yet to allow a touchdown (49ers).

Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks provide Manning with two elite targets when throwing deep. Manning has thrown 19 touchdowns on throws of 11 or more yards downfield over the last two seasons, the fifth-most in the league, and 12 of those touchdowns have been caught by Cruz or Nicks.

Roethlisberger Passing by No. of Pass Rushers | 2012 Season

>>1st in NFL• The key to slowing down Roethlisberger and the Steelers' potent passing attack is to send extra pressure, as Big Ben has a 42.0 QBR when defenses send five or more pass rushers. When defenses send four or fewer and Roethlisberger has time to throw, he has an 88.7 QBR, second highest in the league.

Although the Giants only send extra pass rushers on 28.2 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, their lowest rate over the past five seasons, they have been much more successful. They are holding quarterbacks to a 53.6 QBR and are averaging a sack every 10.5 dropbacks. With a standard pass rush, quarterbacks have a 76.8 QBR and are being sacked once every 19.8 dropbacks. Look for Perry Fewell to dial up the pressure Sunday and not give Roethlisberger time to hit his big-play receivers downfield.

4th Quarter, Past 2 Seasons

>>3rd in NFL• Another key to the game on Sunday is each quarterback’s performance in the fourth quarter as they have produced two very different outcomes.

Manning has thrown 20 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter over that span, more than any other player in the league. He has continued to improve with his fourth-quarter performance over the past three seasons, increasing his Total QBR from 34.6 in 2010 to 84.9 this season, which ranks fourth among qualified quarterbacks.