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Eagles-Steelers Game Preview

The always interesting battleground game for Pennsylvania supremacy takes place in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon at 1 PM EST. The last time these two teams met in the regular season, the Eagles defense did a number on the Steelers offense, giving Philadelphia bragging rights. Of course, the Steelers finished that season as Super Bowl champions, so they got the last laugh.

This time around, it's an early season litmus test pairing teams on opposite sides of the .500 mark. At 3-1, the Eagles are alone atop the NFC East after last week's thrilling two-point victory over the visiting New York Giants. The defense has taken a big step forward in the second season under Juan Castillo and ranks fifth in the league in yards allowed per game and sixth allowed in yards per play. Offensively, Michael Vick and co. were able to get out of their own way last week, finally eliminating the turnovers and allowing the prolific offense to do its job – scoring on each of the their final five possessions of the game (not including the final-play kneel down).

For their part, despite their 12-4 record and playoff appearance, the Steelers are coming off a bitterly disappointing end to their 2011 campaign. Their season ended, of course, on a walkoff 80-yard touchdown connection from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas in the opening round of the playoffs.  Now, the Steelers sit at 1-2, though they should be fully rested coming off their early bye week. Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall are all expected to return from injuries. History is working on the Steelers side too as the team has gone 6-2 through their first eight games in all five of Mike Tomlin's previous seasons as head coach. Further, the Steelers have not lost back-to-back games since 2008.

Of course, the Eagles won't be worrying about the past come Sunday afternoon. After all, who better to teach the Steelers some new history than their in-state rivals?

Last Time They Met:
September 21, 2008 – Eagles 15, Steelers 6

Correll Buckhalter's 20-yard touchdown reception proved decisive as the defense shut down the Steelers to the tune of 147 total yards. The last image came in the fourth quarter when the Eagles forced a safety as Ben Roethlisberger was called for intentional grounding in the end zone in the face of a fierce pass rush.

Tale Of The Tape (2012 Stats)
Eagles Steelers
Record 3-1 1-2
Points Scored Per Game 16.5 (30th in NFL) 25.7 (15)
Total Yards Per Game 417.8 (5) 349.3 (18)
Rushing Yards Per Game 145.8 (7) 65.0 (31)
Passing Yards Per Game 272.0 (10) 284.3 (7)
Points Allowed Per Game 20.8 (T-10) 25.0 (T-21)
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 298.3 (6) 291.3 (5)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game 91.5 (12) 101.0 (14)
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game 206.8 (7) 190.3 (3)
Turnover Ratio -5 (T-27) 0 (T-14)

Players To Watch

RB Rashard Mendenhall

The Steelers are expected to welcome back running back Rashard Mendenhall this week against the Eagles. Pittsburgh is hoping his return from an ACL injury suffered in late 2011 will bring a spark to their 31st-ranked rushing offense, which also ranks dead last in total yards. Meanwhile, the Eagles are allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground, news that does not bode well for the Steelers. It remains to be seen what, if anything, Mendenhall will be able to bring to the Steelers offense in his 2012 debut.

CB Brandon Boykin

Through four games, Brandon Boykin has not had the best start to his kick returning career, averaging only 19.1 yards per return, tied for 31st in the league. But the coverage he will face Sunday has not been much better. The Steelers are giving up 33.2 yards per return, also good for second-worst in the league. Boykin showed flashes of his returner ability during the preseason, and after making personnel changes this week, he should have his opportunities in the return game.

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