This Sunday the Eagles make their octennial trip across the state to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many have dubbed this a cross-state rivalry, while unlike the Flyers and Penguins, facing each other once very 4 years, hardly qualifies this as one.
The Steelers having won 6 Super Bowls and playing in the AFC, don’t consider the Eagles more than just another team from the NFC, that happens to reside in southeast Pennsylvania. With bigger birds to prey, like the Ravens, at 1-2, the Steelers are in an almost must-win situation this week as the Ravens (3-1) take on the hapless Chiefs.
With that being said, the Steelers coming off their bye week, are finally at full strength and that’s one of several reasons the Eagles won’t be coming home victorious.
The Steelers rank 5th in total defense and that’s without all-pro LB James Harrison, who will play for the first time this season after off-season arthroscopic knee surgery. They also welcome back all-world safety, Troy Polamalu, who’s missed the last 2 games with a calf injury. Harrison should give the Eagles’ offensive tackles, Demetress Bell and Todd Herremans fits with his edge pass rush. Michael Vick will have to be aware where Polamalu is at all times, while the safety will line up at different spots all afternoon trying to confuse the offense. Those 2 are the most dynamic players on their defense and have the ability to dictate the tempo of the game. The Eagles must run the ball successfully to keep them off-balance.
The Eagles also struggle when going against a true 3-4 defense. Steelers defensive coordinator, Dick Lebeau, runs a confusing zone blitz scheme that brings linebackers and backs from everywhere and Andy Reid has not been successful at devising a game plan that can successfully counter it. Don’t forget what happened week 3 against the Cardinals, when their DC Ray Horton, brought this same defense he learned under LeBeau, that dismantled the Birds.
Offensively, the Steelers rank an uncharacteristic 30th in rushing offense, but that should get a slight boost from Rashard Mendenhall, who’ll see his first game action since a season-ending ACL tear last year. QB Ben Roethlisberger, however, has a 109.2 passer rating to go along with his 8 TD passes to only 1 INT. He also has 2 speedy receivers and a huge TE at his disposal. This will be the Eagles defense’s biggest test thus far and they must be ready for a heavy dose of play-action. Their pass rush has been non-existent producing a meager 7 sacks in 4 games. Jason Babin, Trent Cole and the rest of the wide-9 crew must step up. They’ll need to replicate the effort the defense had last time these teams met in ’08 when the Eagles harrassed Big Ben for 9 sacks in a 15-6 win at the Linc.
Another very disturbing fact is that since the Reid era began in ’99, the Eagles are 13-13-1 on the road against AFC opponents, including this season’s opener against the Browns..which isn’t that bad. But they’ve never won a game against an AFC playoff team of that year outside of Philly.
All these ingredients point to an Eagles’ loss to their pseudo-cross state rivals to drop them to 3-2 and keep us wondering if this side of the state will ever wear at least one ring.