A quarter of the season is in the record books. The Eagles are 3-1, winning their games by a total of 4 points, all in the 4th quarter. The Steelers are 1-2, fresh off their bye week, and welcoming back some key players to prevent themselves from falling into a 1-3 hole.
The Pittsburgh Steelers should have All-Pro, former Defensive Players of Year, Troy Polamalu, who has missed the last two games with a strained calf, and James Harrison, who has yet to play due to a lingering left knee problem. RB Rashard Mendenhall is also making his season debut after recovering from a torn ACL.
The Philadelphia Eagles are hot off their exciting Sunday night win at home against division rival New York Giants, where kicker Lawrence Tynes missed not one, but two field goal attempts from 54 yards in the final 15 seconds.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have blown fourth-quarter leads in both of their defeats, watching a 10-point cushion disappear in a 34-31 overtime loss in Oakland on Sept. 23 before a bye week. There may even be dissension among their ranks as QB, Ben Roethlisberger, has admitted to going to his old playbook to provide a more fluid offense than the one Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley has designed for this season.
“There were plays out there that I called that weren’t in our playbook. I know it sounds crazy; things we’ve had from years’ past that guys were on the same page with and it worked.”
“There were plays out there that I called that weren’t in our playbook. I know it sounds crazy; things we’ve had from years past that guys were on the same page with and it worked.”
Roethlisberger and Haley have since claimed that they are on the same page. The Steelers rank sixth in the NFL in passing. They top the league on third-down conversions. Roethlisberger is second only to Matt Ryan with a 109.2 quarterback rating.
Although the Eagles and Steelers are not in the same division or conference, there is a bit of a cross-state rivalry between the two teams. The battle of Pennsylvania isn’t just for bragging rights, but will prove to be a big test for both teams going forward.
Let’s take a look at the Eagles’ injuries:
King Dunlap (hamstring) should return this Sunday, but may see his playing time shift to right guard, as Danny Watkins did not participate in Wednesday’s practice drills. Demetress Bell will remain at left tackle. Jeremy Maclin (hip pointer) is also expected to play.
Here are this Sunday’s keys to the game:
1) Continue Running the Ball - The Eagles rediscovered their running game last Sunday against the Giants, where LeSean McCoy rushed for 121 yards just in the second half! The offense saw that running the ball often wore down the Giants defense, which shouldn’t be a problem against an old and tired Steelers defense. And like any coach will tell you, running the ball opens up play-action, and that’s what sets up the passing game. They also found another key piece in their offense in FB Stanley Havili, who rushed twice for 15 yards. The Eagles haven’t had a fullback like this since Leonard Weaver in 2009.
2) Michael Vick Needs to Play Smart - We saw last week what Michael Vick can be when he’s comfortable in the pocket and knows the right time to run the ball. Vick was flawless after throwing six interceptions and fumbling the ball five times in the first three games. At this point in the season, Vick needs to be more consistent. Not only that, but the offense needs to capitalize on opportunities in the redzone. There’s no reason that when you’re on the 1-yard line, you can’t just punch it in for the touchdown instead of having to settle for field goals. Elite teams can capitalize on those opportunities, and with three ugly wins, the Eagles need to take advantage of those types of situations. On the plus side, the offensive line seems to be getting better, communicating more, and giving Vick better pass protection.
3) Pressure on Roethlisberger Early and Often - Roethlisberger is the NFL’s second highest-rated passer (109.2) and has thrown eight touchdowns to one interception. The Eagles defense only has 7 sacks this season and will need to get after the quarterback. The last time the Eagles played the Steelers, they brought him down eight times in that 15-6 win Sept. 21, 2008. With that being said, when Big Ben is under pressure, the Eagles need to spy the middle of the field and tight end Heath Miller. The corners have shown that they can be effective along the sides, having kept the Giants inbounds and keeping the clock ticking last weekend. The linebackers and safeties will need to make sure the middle of the field is protected against the short and intermediate passes. Coming off that torn ACL, I don’t think that Mendenhall will be too much of a factor, but don’t underestimate Pittsburgh’s “ground and pound” offense.
4) Special Teams Needs to Improve – Last week against the Giants, the special teams play was horrendous. Demarius Johnson finally figured out to let the ball go for a touchback once it passed the 10-yard line. And the Giants’ special teams averaged 36.2 yards per kickoff with rookie, David Wilson, taking five of six kickoff returns to the 35 or beyond. The Steelers aren’t known for their return abilities, but that doesn’t mean the Eagles should take them lightly.
Prediction - I think the Steelers have age working against them, but are well rested coming off a bye week. If the Eagles keep running the ball down their throats, it will eventually breakdown the defense and prevent Palomalu from intercepting at in-opportune times. I like the Eagles here winning 20-17 with another 4th quarter comeback.
Time’s yours . . .