The Keystone State rivalry continues as the Eagles and Steelers meet for the 2nd time this calendar year, the first being a preseason match-up that featured several insights to the Eagles season to date. Michael Vick was injured (albeit a friendly fire injury), Bryce Brown got valuable reps, and the Eagles came from behind to steal a win. Unfortunately that game was meaningless in the standings and this time the Steelers will be at, or as close to, full strength as they have all season. James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, and Troy Polamalu are expected to rejoin the team this Sunday in what should be a great test for this Philadelphia Eagles team.
Words have already begun to fly as Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was quoted this week by a Washington Observer-Reporter calling out rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin,
“That’s the candy bar. He’s given up a lot of plays,” Brown said of Boykin.
While candy bar is certainly not the most common, nor known, insult it does clearly hint that Brown, Wallace, and any other Pittsburgh wide receiver will be looking to exploit a cornerback that has shown glimpses of talent but has also struggled mightily. For what it’s worth, at least Brown specified that Boykin would be a Snickers bar. Only 1-2 on the young season, the Steelers are coming off a bye week and prior to that a dramatic loss to the Oakland Raiders. Mike Tomlin is 0-1 against the Eagles, however he is 4-1 following a bye week, with all four the victories coming in the past four consecutive years. Tomlin and company will be looking to improve a running game that is uncharacteristically ranked 31st in the NFL in yards. This is clearly not your father’s Steelers offense and will be facing an Eagles defense that has been stout against the run. Of course, when mentioning stout defenses, the Eagles will be facing one of the best as they are currently top 5 in yards allowed and getting healthier.
Who Will Run For Pittsburgh? Rashard Mendenhall is expected to make his regular season debut this Sunday, however the amount he is used will be dependent upon his health, the flow of the game, and potentially the performance of his fellow backs Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey, and Isaac Redman. As already mentioned, the Steelers have struggled to run the ball early in the season and have gotten no more than 43 yards from a leading rusher in any of their games. And while Ben Roethlisberger looked comfortable in the preseason game against Philadelphia, the Eagles will surely be looking to pressure and frustrate Big Ben should the offense be one-dimensional.
Run, Run, and Run Some More: LeSean McCoy is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and showed the entire NFL on Sunday night that he can completely change a game. The Pittsburgh Steelers are giving up an average of 4.3 yards per rushing attempt and 101 yards per game. The only thing that could be holding McCoy back is the fickle play-calling of Andy Reid and Marty Morningwheg. The Eagles will need to take the pressure off Michael Vick by running the ball and keeping the offense as balanced as possible. Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel are tough on the defensive line and will be a challenge to run block against, but having King Dunlap back at left tackle should be a start.
Can The Eagles Pressure Ben Roethlisberger? In the one loss Mike Tomlin has had against the Eagles, his franchise quarterback was sacked eight times. The Eagles don’t have eight sacks all season. However, Roethlisberger has been sacked nine times already through three games. The Eagles front four, which was incredible a season ago, has struggled to get the same pressure they created last year. Trent Cole has been fairly silent with 1.5 sacks thus far. Jason Babin has gotten 2.5 sacks and both will need to pressure the Steelers tackles in order to assist their secondary. If there is a glimmer of hope, the Eagles got a stellar performance from Cullen Jenkins against the Giants after the first three games in which he was rarely mentioned. Jenkins is aware of the difficulty dealing with Roethlisberger however, and made a point to mention it this week.
“When you get a chance to get him, you’ve got to make sure you get him down,” Jenkins said. “He’s tough. It’s not an easy job … keep him from extending plays, try to help the back end out.”
Special Teams Are Special (In the WRONG Way): Disregard even the poor performance by the coverage unit against the Giants and you still have problems for Philadelphia. The punt coverage has been adequate at best, Damaris Johnson has not electrified the punt game, and the kickoff return game looks worse than when Reno Mahe was returning kicks. Bobby April was well known in Buffalo for putting one of the best special teams units in football on the field consistently, but here in Philadelphia April’s units have been atrocious. The Eagles will need to clean up this aspect of the team, particularly when Antonio Brown and Chris Rainey are returning punts and Rainey and Emmanuel Sanders are returning kick offs.