I know that the main focus for fans is 1) How the Eagles defense matches up with a tremendous Pittsburgh passing game featuring a quarterback who breaks tackles and makes plays on the fly; 2) The offensive line and how it plans to deal with a blitzing, aggressive defense that pressures the line of scrimmage; and 3) Wondering if the special teams can win the battle of field position.
All are valid areas to watch. There are, of course, many others, which makes Sunday's game in Pittsburgh truly fascinating.
I'm every bit as interesting in a couple of other intangibles. One, can the Eagles bounce back emotionally from the NFC East battle on Sunday night that went down to the wire? That was a game that meant everything -- division rival, conference opponent, national television, ramped-up home crowd -- and this one is out of the conference, a 1 p.m. game, etc.
Don't get me wrong. I think this game is every bit as important. I want to see how the Eagles play in this one. The great teams find ways to win all of the games -- home, away, in and out of the conference, whatever. The 2004 Eagles cruised to a 13-1 record before letting up on the gas in the final two games of the regular season. That was the standard by which to judge these Eagles and, remember, those Eagles started 7-0 before falling to the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Two, I want to see how physical the Eagles will be against a Steelers team coming off of its bye week and, for the first time all year, will be whole physically with running back Rashard Mendenhall, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison all expected to play.
The Steelers are an angry team after losing to Oakland two Sundays ago, so the Eagles have to know they are walking into a hornet's nest at Heinz Field.
And I have to say this: I think this is a very telling game for the Eagles. We know they can get up for home games. We know they are capable of staging fourth-quarter comebacks to take leads and then hold the lead for a final drive. We know the Eagles have grit and leadership and toughness.
But are they capable of following up with a win like they had on Sunday night with a victory at Pittsburgh, a team that is so tough for all of the above reasons?
The Eagles get back on the practice field on Wednesday and will be as healthy as a team with four games under its belts can reasonably hope to be. Wide receiver Riley Cooper has a chance to get back on the field Sunday if all goes well at practice this week. Left tackle King Dunlap could be ready if he has no setbacks in practice. Those are two players who can certainly aid the cause for Sunday and beyond.
What happened on Sunday, then, is gone, goodbye and nothing more than a great memory. Sunday in Pittsburgh is the next test, the biggest one yet. How the Eagles play is going to tell a lot about the intangibles this team truly has.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
- Not a surprise that someone was going to go given the struggles on special teams, particularly on kick coverage. Good luck to Brian Rolle. His fall from grace has been dramatic. A starter for his rookie season and then heading into training camp, Rolle just didn't play with the same focus and intensity. Those back-to-back offside penalties in Cleveland during the preseason, and then some busts in coverage, cost Rolle his starting job at linebacker. Not stepping up on special teams proved to be the impetus to make a change. Let's hope Adrian Moten delivers some passion, and let's hope the move to release Rolle sends the message loud and clear to the special teams.
- The Eagles are the only team in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense. I don't know why the NFL uses total yards as the measuring barometer -- efficiency per drive is a better yardstick, and why, in this age of stats and numbers and facts and figures the league doesn't invent a new gauge is beyond me, but I digress -- so take it for what it's worth, but there you go. The Eagles are a pretty good team, and there is a chance the Eagles can become a very good team, so to be 3-1 with a few very obvious warts is a good place to be.
- LeSean McCoy is averaging 20 carries per game. I think that's about right, with a total of 23 touches each week. That works for me. And it should work for the offense and for McCoy. Now it's time to get Bryce Brown some more work, or see if Chris Polk and/or Dion Lewis can provide some production.
- How is Fletcher Cox, the team's first-round draft pick playing? His stats don't wow you, but from what I see in games and from what the people who really know say, Cox has been outstanding. His ceiling is really, really high. He battled Chris Snee on Sunday night and gave the standout guard all that he could handle, and then some. I'm not sure the Eagles have had a tackle like Cox in many, many years. And I won't even say his name (Jerome Brown). It took Brown a few years to get his game in gear and become a dominating player. Cox is on his way in the right direction.