I was convinced, watching Sunday's game, that the Eagles were the better team. They were faster, younger, more athletic. They had chances early on to jump on the scoreboard and take a lead and take the crowd -- quiet most of the game, with a surprising number of empty seats -- out of the game entirely.
But the Eagles fumbled their way around Heinz Field for much of three quarters and then put together a pair of touchdown drives, the final one a sterling 17-play, 79-yard drive that featured a pair of fourth-down conversions and a great third-and-goal pass from Michael Vick to Brent Celek for a touchdown and, as Alex Henery added the extra point, the go-ahead points.
But it didn't last, because Ben Roethlisberger engineered a 14-play, 64-yard drive against an Eagles defense that had a chance to again hold a lead in a game's last minutes. Didn't happen. The Steelers converted a third-and-12 play and then a third-and-4 situation -- Roethlisberger threw at Brandon Boykin both times, the first when the Eagles were in zone coverage -- and moved into field goal range. Shaun Suisham's 34-yard field goal won the game for Pittsburgh and revved up the Eagles' level of angst midway through this 2012 season.
The Eagles are going to bounce back from this loss. That's something I truly believe. They're going to play a strong game against Detroit on Sunday. They didn't have an "A" game in Pittsburgh, but they certainly showed heart and grit and resolve in erasing a 10-point deficit and then a 13-7 deficit to take the lead, however brief it was.
There is a lot of good football to come for this football team.
But there are also a lot of things to clean up. Some thoughts after cooling off from the defeat to the Steelers, a team that looked so very average on Sunday ...
- Vick's turnovers are beyond a concern. He's up to 11 in five games, an absurd number. What's the answer? I don't know. Vick is the quarterback here and there is no indication that Andy Reid is even thinking about changing the personnel there. Vick has done a better job of avoiding contact, and of forcing his throws and of getting the ball out more quickly. After the turnover-free win over New York, Vick coughed the ball up three times on Sunday, losing two of them and one, in the Steelers end zone. How does Vick cure the turnoveritis? It's on him, or it's on the coaching staff to make a change. Vick has to be better and he knows it. The Eagles can't take the ball out of his hands. He's the quarterback. He has to make plays.
- Turnovers notwithstanding, I don't know what to make of the offense. Where are all of the big plays? Against Cleveland the Eagles had 3 passes and a single run of 20-plus yards. Against Baltimore, there were 7 passes and a run of 20-plus yards. Good stuff. But in Arizona? Just 3 passes and a run and against the Giants 3 passes and two runs. In Pittsburgh, the Eagles completed a 24-yard pass to DeSean Jackson, their only 20-yard-plus play of the game. You can talk all you want about balance and running the football and all of that very important stuff, but you score points with explosive plays in this league and the Eagles haven't had enough.
- Concerned about the defense? I understand the expectations for more quarterback sacks and takeaways, and those numbers are important. But the Eagles permitted just 16 points to an explosive offense that has outstanding receivers and a quarterback who is among the most resourceful and creative that I have ever seen. Yeah, the Eagles gave up that final drive, and that was disappointing. But it's hard to find fault in a defense that has been a constant through five games. The Eagles leave their cornerbacks in bump-and-run coverage and challenge receivers. They needed to do a better job against the run on Sunday, and that has to improve. The sacks? Big Ben ran away from about four of them, and the Steelers used a lot of chips and max protect to keep him clean. Quarterbacks get the ball out against the Eagles. That's just the way it is. This defense is good enough to win a Super Bowl. I'm convinced of that.
- Good to see Colt Anderson fly down the field for a big tackle in kickoff coverage. The Eagles need more of that. It was aggravating to see the Steelers return a kickoff 44 yards to the 40-yard line immediately after the Eagles scored their first touchdown. It doesn't help momentum when that happens. Nothing much happening in the return game, either. Special teams coordinator Bobby April is double blocking the gunner on punts, and it's still not working much at all to give Damaris Johnson a chance for a big return.
- I have no problem, by the way, with the call to have Vick run a quarterback draw from the 3-yard line on first down on the play that he fumbled. There was a hole. He's a weapon. But the fumble was a killer ...
- Defensive tackle Mike Patterson made the trip to Pittsburgh, which tells me he is making good progress in his recovery. The Eagles need more from their tackles. Fletcher Cox is getting a bunch of snaps and then Derek Landri, Cedric Thornton and Cullen Jenkins are rotating in, but they've all been kind of quiet. At least they were on Sunday when the Steelers had success running up the gut and Roethlisberger stepped up and bought time in the pocket.
- Casey Matthews replaced Mychal Kendricks for a few snaps in the second half when Kendricks went out with an injury and Matthews was in for a couple of tackles right away. Good to see. Kendricks continues to play well, although he missed Rashard Mendenhall on a 13-yard lateral from Roethlisberger in space along the sideline that provided Pittsburgh's opening touchdown.
- Boykin continues to battle as he is the target of team's passing games. I have no problem with Boykin. I think he has a great future. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are doing a good job limiting the outside receivers and teams are attacking the defense inside out, rather than the other way around. The Eagles are not allowing teams a lot of big plays down the field.
- Maybe I'm wrong, but I think Howard Mudd is really close to having the offensive line playing at a high level. The group seems to be playing much better together. Pittsburgh plays a downhill defense and forces offenses out of rhythm and that's what happened on Sunday.
- The number that jumps out at me is 5.1 yards per pass play. You want that number around 8 yards per attempt. And the Eagles averaged just 4.4 yards per play from scrimmage, their lowest average of the season.
- To me, Detroit is a gotta-have game. Not must-win, in the mathematical sense. But the Eagles need to do something they don't often do: Win before their bye week. The Eagles did it last year at Washington. Time to do it again.