The Eagles have an interesting matchup when they go to Pittsburgh on Sunday to take on the Steelers. The team wears black and gold uniforms. They have some familiar faces. However, if you watch the games or look at the stats, this isn't the same Steelers that we've come to know over the years.
Right now, the team is just 1-2. Both losses came in tight games on the road so it isn't as the Steelers have fallen apart. They're just not playing up to the standard that has been set there over the course of many years. Injuries have played a major role in some of the struggles. When you think of that offense, you think of a power running game. The Steelers have totaled 195 rushing yards in their three games. The Eagles ran for 191 yards last week against the Giants. That should tell you the kind of problems the Pittsburgh rushing attack is having this year.
There is good news for them. Rashard Mendenhall is coming back to the lineup. They need his speed and running skills. Put on the tape and you will see an offensive line that doesn't get much push. They aren't opening big holes. Isaac Redman doesn't have the physical ability to run behind that line and make it work. That's why the Steelers are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry so far this year. Mendenhall is not 100 percent healthy, but if he is anywhere close he'll be a step up. He can turn nothing into something. He can turn a short gain into a long one. Pittsburgh doesn't have a run longer than 13 yards this year. Even when there have been good holes, the runners have not been able to exploit them.
While the running attack has been a mess, Ben Roethlisberger and the passing attack have been outstanding. Roethlisberger has a passer rating of 109.2. He is getting the ball to his weapons, receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown and they are making plays. They have combined for 35 catches and four touchdowns (in three games). Tight end Heath Miller is on pace to have the best season of his career. He already has four touchdown receptions and is a frequent target.
The Eagles defense leads the league in lowest completion percentage by opposing quarterbacks and lowest passer rating. Big Ben and the Steelers will need their A-game in order to get open and move the ball through the air on a consistent basis against
Pittsburgh won't totally abandon the run, even if they do struggle. The Eagles need to shut down the ground attack so that all the pressure is on Roethlisberger and the passing game. The pass rush needs to come up big in this game. Roethlisberger will hold the ball. He has been sacked nine times already this year. The question for Juan Castillo is whether he just rushes with four or if he blitzes to try and get some big plays. One thing I'm sure Castillo will stress to the whole defense is to not let up at all. Roethlisberger might look like he's about to go down, but he is so strong that he can shake off tacklers or throw the ball with multiple guys hanging off him. The defenders in coverage must play to the whistle. Let your guard down for a second and you can give up a big play.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.|
One constant in Pittsburgh over the last 40 years has been stifling defense. Even that has been shaky this year. The Steelers are just 21st in the league in points allowed. I'm sure legendary coordinator Dick LeBeau is utterly frustrated by the mediocre run defense. Normally, that is the foundation of their overall defense. They want to stop the run, get you into known passing situations and then blitz. That's just not happening this season. Teams are able to run the ball effectively and then use a good run/pass mix to keep the Steelers off-balance.
The stat sheet shows Pittsburgh as being third in the NFL in pass defense. That is a bit misleading. They faced a mediocre passing attack (Raiders) and a bad passing attack (Jets). Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 99.8 against the Steelers. That is shocking. The Steelers have only five sacks and just one interception. They simply aren't making plays.
All of this would be great news except that the defense has been without stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. They both return on Sunday. Those guys can be dominant players and big-time playmakers. The question is how healthy they'll be and whether they can step right into the lineup and play at a high level. Steelers fans sure hope they can.
The key for the Eagles is the play of the offensive line. It sure sounds like
Will the Eagles run the ball? The team lined up in the I-formation and had excellent success last week in the second half against the Giants. After watching some tape of the Steelers, I sure hope Reid does more of this. It will help the offensive line's confidence and it gets the ball in the hands of Shady McCoy, the Eagles’ best offensive player right now.
I am interested to see how the Steelers handle
Special teams could be big in this game. Rookie Chris Rainey isn't posting good numbers at kickoff returner. Much like our own Brandon Boykin, he looks like a rookie out there trying to adjust to the speed of NFL coverage units. Rainey does have explosive speed so the Eagles must get down the field, defeat blocks and converge on the ball. Punt returner Antonio Brown is a weapon when the ball is in his hands. New Eagle
I think the Eagles would beat the Steelers of the first three weeks. That team wasn't impressive. With Mendenhall, Harrison and Polamalu back, I don't know what to expect from them. This is the mystery Steelers. Nobody knows how this group is going to play.
The Steelers are incredibly hard to beat in Pittsburgh. Take them for granted because of the 1-2 record and iffy stats and this trip will not end well. The Eagles have yet to play a complete game and really show how good they can be. Do that this week and the team will improve to 4-1 with a win.