Pittsburgh was gashed last week for 452 total yards by the Redskins. It was not pretty. It was not well-received by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. With star linebacker James Harrison and Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu making their preseason debuts tonight, the Steelers want to set a tempo.
The intent, then, is to put a lot of pressure on an Eagles line of scrimmage that is anything but set. Start your focus on the right side of the Eagles' offensive line and move from there. We begin our Things To Watch at right tackle ...
Is King Dunlap Ready To Protect Michael Vick's Blind Side?
This is a big spot for the big man. The Eagles don't have a concrete answer at right tackle. Dunlap had a chance earlier in the summer to take the lead here and he didn't seize the moment. Now, on national television, Dunlap gets his opportunity. Look for the Steelers to run a lot of pressure packages at Dunlap and the rookie next to him, right guard Danny Watkins.
The Eagles hope to have Winston Justice on the field in the next few days, but in the meantime they have been scrambling to find the right fit at right tackle. Dunlap didn't play particularly well in training camp and lost his spot on the practice depth chart. Others have had their chances, too, without winning the job. Austin Howard, Ryan Harris and Fenuki Tupou have taken reps with the starters as well.
This is Dunlap's chance to win a roster spot and really, truly challenge for a starting job. He has the likes of LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior to contend with. Talk about a pressure cooker ...
Casey Matthews At Middle Linebacker, Act 2
The rookie from Oregon should see some extended time and that is important as the coaching staff evaluates Casey Matthews' play. He is rangy, instinctive and all of those good things. Pittsburgh will test his mettle, for sure. Can he get off blocks in the running game? Can he cover the screen game?
Pittsburgh is a physical team with a big offensive line. This is perfect testing ground for Matthews, who has been the starter in the middle of the revamped defense since day one of this preseason.
What Do The Eagles Want From DeSean Tonight?
DeSean Jackson has nothing to prove to anyone anywhere. He is a standout player and he has looked great since reporting to training camp. But this is his first preseason action, so there is something to be said for debuts. Plus, it's on national television and the spotlight is here and the TV guys are going to talk about him so ... it's the perfect stage for Jackson to do something.
Will the Eagles open up by going deep to Jackson, as they did so often last year? It would be a fun way to get Jackson off and running. Regardless, look for Jackson to get some touches, although it would be a surprise to see him involved in the return game.
Henery And Henry In The Kicking Game
Placekicker Alex Henery had a terrific first game last week with a couple of field goals, a PAT and excellent kickoffs against Baltimore. Punter Chas Henry shanked his final punt after a couple of pretty kicks, one that should have been downed at the 1-yard line and one that went into the end zone for a touchback.
Here, the weather right now as I write this is perfect. There is a chance for some rain during the game, but it hopefully won't amount to much. Both kickers have tremendous ability and they have great potential. The Eagles seem committed to both rookies.
Under the glare of the national lights, on the road, this is an excellent test for both Henery and Henry. A solid game for both makes the Eagles breathe a lot easier.
Who Wins A Roster Spot With A Strong Performance?
I am not sure anyone will, especially if the starters play the first half and the second team plays the majority of the second half. Players like defensive tackle Derek Landri are looking to follow up their strong performances against Baltimore with big efforts here.
There are some positions where the roster decisions are going to be difficult. Defensive tackle is one of those spots. Cornerback, too. Wide receiver, assuming both Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith are on the initial 53-man active roster, looked loaded.
Rookie running back Dion Lewis was outstanding last Thursday, and he should get a few carries tonight to prove he can do it again. At tight end, it will be interesting to see how the Eagles divide the reps between Brent Celek, Clay Harbor and Donald Lee. Cornelius Ingram is making strides, too.
The rotation is the rotation. Andy Reid has had a good look at his roster. He, of course, wants to see some more.
Vick's Progress Against The Blitz
Michael Vick has stated over and over that he knows he has to be better this year against the blitz than he was toward the end of last season. He has worked on that part of his game in training camp. Pittsburgh likes to blitz out of that 3-4 front, so this is a great testing ground for Vick and his blitz recognition.
It's the same with Vince Young, who looks so improved after only a couple of weeks working in this system. Young is familiar with how the Steelers run their defense. He saw plenty of Pittsburgh's scheme as a member of the Titans. It's going to be fun to watch both quarterbacks operate against the pressure the Steelers like to bring.
Eagles Defensive Line: Go, Go, Go Again
Jim Washburn's group recorded 6 quarterback sacks and generated a ton of pressure last week against Baltimore. The front four plays against a Steelers offensive line that permitted 3 sacks and a lot of pressure in the loss to Washington in the preseason opener.
So you figure the Eagles will have some success tonight, right?
Maybe. Pittsburgh will make adjustments, will try to run the football and may use the screen game a lot to try to take the defensive front out of its tempo in this game. Keep an eye on how Washburn uses his players and how many snaps each player gets. He wants his defensive line to get up the field very quickly and play with maximum effort. Against a Steelers offensive line that didn't play very well last week, this should be a great matchup to watch.
For a preseason game, this one is going to be a nice test. Wins and losses don't mean much, of course, and the primary focus is to get out of Pittsburgh healthy, but these are two good teams, two Super Bowl-hopeful teams, which match up on a beautiful Thursday night with a chance to evaluate a roster of players trying to make it to the finish line.