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Time To Make Strong Statement

Posted Oct 6, 2012

PITTSBURGH -- I've written this before, for years, and every Eagles team faces the challenge: Can this team win a big game on the road against a good opponent in a hostile environment? ...

You know the storylines, right? The Eagles offense has to learn from its mistakes from two weeks earlier in Arizona against a similar, aggressive scheme and have a productive, patient attack against a Steelers defense that says it has "figured out" quarterback Michael Vick.

The defense must slow a high-flying passing game featuring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who gives every team fits with his ability to keep plays alive in and out of the pocket, as well as deal with a struggling running game that gets a boost from standout back Rashard Mendenhall.

And, oh, the Eagles have to win at Heinz Field, which provides a defined home-field advantage for the Steelers, who just don't lose to NFC teams at home since 2001 (19-2-1).

It's a tall task.

And it's a task that the good teams, the really good teams, accomplish.

I don't know yet if the Eagles are a good team, much less a really good team. They're off to a 3-1 start, which is fine, and they begin October in first place in the NFC East. There are a lot of things to like about the Eagles, beginning with a defense that could be something special if it continues to improve.

There is a lot to prove, then, when kickoff comes around at 1 p.m. and the Steelers unleash their blitz against Michael Vick and the speedy Pittsburgh receivers test the Eagles' to-date impressive secondary and the young Eagles battle the elements (temperatures expected to be in the high 40s with drizzle) and the raucous crowd.

If you want to find out about your Eagles, following an emotional win last Sunday night, here's your chance.

The truth is, though, that we say the same thing every time the Eagles play. That's the beauty of 16 games. Every one of them means something. In the case of this game, how much the Eagles learned during their struggles offensively in Arizona will be displayed against Pittsburgh. Can center Dallas Reynolds and Vick team up to see the Steelers blitz and make adjustments? Can Demetress Bell at left tackle stave off a myriad of stunts and games and pressure the Steelers will apply off the edge? Is the game plan right to offset the Pittsburgh scheme and dictate to the Steelers, rather than the other way around?

I wrote prior to the Arizona game how important it was for the offense to get off to a good start and, well, it didn't happen. The Eagles were pretty lousy all the way through in that game and the offensive lack of balance was startling.

Does what the Eagles did last week, when they chipped away, chipped away, chipped away at the Giants defense with the power ground game and the stretch runs mean anything for this battle?

"We know we have to be patient," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin upon arriving in Pittsburgh, "and take our shots when we can."

Defensively, the Eagles must prepare for a Steelers offense that spreads things out and throws the football far more effectively than it has run it this year. Pittsburgh goes five-deep at wide receiver and all of the playmakers on this team are legit.

On special teams, the Eagles need to step up in every phase and win the battle of field position, or it's going to be a long, long day at Heinz Field.

This is a game that has so many things lined up against the Eagles. I love that feeling. In the golden days of the Andy Reid Era, the Eagles won games like this. They went into hostile environments and found ways to win. Not all the time, of course, but enough to win 11, 12 and in 2004 13 games a season. Is this Eagles team to be considered in the same category as the teams from 2001 to 2004 that won 11 games, 12, 12 and 13 games in those seasons?

You look back at those seasons and see that the Eagles won big games against good teams on the road outside of the division. That is what this game is all about, then: Beat a good team on the road, regardless of all of the reasons people think the Eagles can't win.

Not many folks outside the team believe the Eagles are going to win. It would be an eye-opening victory, one that the national perspective would certainly notice. To beat Pittsburgh, the Eagles have to play a great game. Do they have that in them one week after going the distance to turn back the Giants?

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