The 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers visit Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday and they bring with them a ground-it-out, efficient offense that bloodies the noses of defenses, along with a power-punching 'D' that blitzes on nearly every play. It is a complete team that head coach Mike Tomlin brings to Philadelphia, so the Eagles must be ready to play their "A" game. We break it down in our Countdown to Kickoff ...
With right guard Shawn Andrews doubtful for Sunday, there's more than a good chance that Max Jean-Gilles will be making his second career start, and first at Lincoln Financial Field.
Jean-Gilles, the mammoth but athletic guard, took most of the reps in preseason when Andrews missed training camp with personal issues. He said that playing against a 3-4 scheme simplifies things for him, especially after playing against one last week in Dallas.
Also, center Jamaal Jackson missed practice this week for personal reasons. Jackson will start against the Steelers, but how, if at all, will the lack of practice reps effect his play?
On a more positive note, receiver Reggie Brown should see his first action since injuring his hamstring on the first play of the Eagles' second preseason game. Brown's presence adds another weapon to a unit that has surprisingly been a strong suit, with rookie DeSean Jackson leading the way with 12 catches for 216 yards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
S Troy Polamalu: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Polamalu is all over the field and is someone the Eagles' offense has to account for at all times. Polamalu, who missed time last season because of a knee injury, was named Defensive Player of the Week after recording an interception, defending two passes and registering a tackle for a loss in last week's win over Cleveland. The four-time Pro Bowl safety has picked off a pass in each of the first two games this season.
QB Ben Roethlisberger: With a nod to running back Willie Parker and his back-to-back 100-yard games, all eyes have to be on Roethlisberger's sore right shoulder. Despite fully participating in each of his team's practices this week, Roethlisberger was visibly favoring his arm against Cleveland last week. For the season, Roethlisberger has completed 25-of-33 passes for 323 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
DE Trent Cole: Since notching career highs with 12.5 sacks and 103 tackles last season, the Eagles' Pro Bowl defensive end has seen his share of double teams. Cole hasn't recorded a sack in his last five regular season games. The Steelers, however, have given up five sacks in two games so far this season, so this may be Cole's chance to get going.
RB Brian Westbrook: Despite carrying the ball 37 times for a healthy 149 yards so far this season, Westbrook, who led the Eagles in receptions with 90 in 2007, has caught just eight passes for 46 yards in 2008. Westbrook does lead the league in scoring with five touchdowns, but the Eagles need to find a way to get Westbrook more involved in the passing game. His 5.8 yards per catch is well below his career average of 9.2.
FROM THE COACH'S DESK
For as much pressure as the Eagles generated on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger in Week 1, Tony Romo sure had a lot of time to throw in Week 2. And through two games so far, the Eagles have just half a sack from their defensive ends.
Romo's ability to get comfortable in the pocket proved fatal in the Eagles' loss last Monday, defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said, but the coach still thinks his defensive ends can get the job done this week against Pittsburgh.
"The first game, I thought we had good pressure; thought we did a good job. No question about it, the second game, not as good," Johnson said. "We made some plays on the ball, but we all want more pressure, no question about it. You have to do a better job, but we'll see, we'll evaluate after two or three games coming up and we'll see. We're getting effort. We just didn't have great pressure Monday night, simple as that."
Johnson said he wants to get Chris Clemons involved more, but he didn't find enough situations to get him on the field against Dallas.
While Victor Abiamiri might not be able to practice for "another three or four weeks," Johnson said, the Eagles need to focus on capitalizing on the double-teams to Pro Bowl end Trent Cole.
"That's part of it; that's part of the scheme. We're not going to move him around a lot, but he's going to get chipped and it's going to free up some other people," Johnson said. "There are certain things we can do as far as our linebackers to take off the chip, as far as man-coverage."
KEEP AN EYE ON ... The Steelers In The Red Zone
The Steelers are the only team in the NFL to have a perfect 100 percent success rate on offense in the red zone through the first two weeks. Meanwhile, the Eagles, who were stout on defense in the red zone a year ago, have surrendered a touchdown on every opponent's trip thus far.
The Steelers have two very potent weapons inside the 20-yard line in tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Hines Ward. In 2008, the Eagles have struggled against opposing tight ends - St. Louis' Randy McMichael and Dallas' Jason Witten combined for 12 catches for 187 yards. Miller and Ward have 16 catches for 194 yards this season. Ward has three touchdowns.
But this week the Eagles had a secret weapon in preparing for these two physical pass-catchers. Willie Reid.
Reid, a former third-round pick of the Steelers in 2006, was signed to the Eagles practice squad after he was released in the final roster cutdown by Pittsburgh. During the week of practice leading up to the game, Reid played the role of Ward on the scout team and was able to give the Eagles a good look at what to expect.
"You just do what is on the (play) card, but you know in your mind how it's supposed to be run," Reid said. "Everybody knows their M.O. It's no secret what they like to do. They try to beat you up and run the ball. So, basically, there are not too many secrets I can give them, just small little details about different players and what they like to do, stuff like that."
FIRST AND LONG
- Head coach Andy Reid looks to improve his record to 6-2 against the AFC North, as he faces Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for the first time.
- The Eagles have won 7 straight games against the Steelers at home, their last loss coming on Oct. 24, 1965, 20-14.
- In 2008 the Eagles offense has had success in the red zone, scoring TDs on 7 of their 10 possessions and averaging 5.8 points per trip.
- QB Donovan McNabb is 1 TD shy of surpassing Ron Jaworski for the franchise lead in career TD passes.
Should McNabb eclipse Jaworski's mark of 175, he would become the 4th player in the NFL to hold sole
possession of his team's TD record.
- Since 2003, QB Donovan McNabb is 12-5 (.706) vs. AFC.
- FS Brian Dawkins needs 1 INT to tie Eric Allen and Bill Bradley (34 INTs) for the franchise
lead, and 47 return yards to pass Bradley for the club record.
- Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger has a 13-2 career record against the NFC.
- Since 2004, the Steelers are 23-7 when the defense records at least three sacks.
- Pittsburgh DE Aaron Smith had career-high 2 sacks last week.
- Pittsburgh's defense allowed 53 rush yards last week & ranks 2nd in AFC & 3rd in NFL allowing 64 rush yards per game in '08.