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Steelers @ Eagles, Game 3 Preview

September 20, 2008 by Guest

Steelers @ Eagles, Game 3 Preview     By The Mighty Quinn

Overall Ratings: Steelers 73 out of 100, Eagles 73 out of 100


Passing Game:

Quarterback: Steelers 8.5/10, Eagles 8.5/10


With the local media scrutinizing Ben�s shoulder as if it sat on the grassy knoll 45 years ago, what some people ignore is that the shoulder isn�t connected to a significant number of passes.  Those passes don�t travel to a varied group of receivers, either.  #7 deserves some credit for making key throws to Miller and Ward (twice).  The other time you can mention Ward and twice in the same sentence is if you�re referring to drops.  When Ben passed on 3rd downs, they converted only 3 of 9, with one miserable sack on a 3rd and 2.  At least they weren�t in the shotgun at that down and distance.  Add in the botched sneak when Ben thought it was 3rd and inches but it was actually a solid yard and you have��an unbalanced performance?  As a countermeasure to Philadelphia�s aggressiveness, BA and BR need to use play action to expose Philadelphia�s safeties.


Through a couple of weeks McNabb seems to have turned back the clock.  Dallas failed a couple of times to bring him down, once resulting in a 10 yard scramble.  In addition to his strength in the pocket, Donovan was accurate on deep balls and displayed some serious heat when needed, notably a 20-yard out pattern to Jackson during the FG drive before halftime.  Before giving him too much credit, it�s worth mentioning that McNabb was at fault on two botched handoffs, and he had two possessions to lead the Eagles back in the final four and a half minutes and failed to replicate his first half offensive mayhem.  If this same situation arises late in this week�s turnpike tilt, I would take Roethlisberger over McNabb.


McNabb takes a majority of his snaps in the shotgun formation, regardless of down and distance.  I counted 34 snaps out of the shotgun on Monday night, 32 of which were designed pass plays.  It�s imperative that the Steelers generate interior pressure, as McNabb seems to feel outside pressure and react better.  Staying disciplined in their rush lines will also be important.  They�re not facing a statue at QB as they faced the first two weeks.  I�m already dreading a 3rd and 10 when McNabb breaks contain and runs for 15.  Dallas didn�t generate enough pressure early and the passing game flourished.   


Steelers Receivers against Eagles Pass Defenders:  Steelers 8/10, Eagles 6.5/10


For the second week in a row the Steelers� opponent faced the Cowboys the previous week.  It�s hard to rate a pass defense based on their performance against Dallas.  I can�t think of a WR/TE combo more impressive than Owens and Witten.  They produce against everyone.  With that said, fan sites and the Philadelphia media have questioned FS Brian Dawkins� level of play after Monday night, wondering if his play slipped and he only receives accolades because of his reputation.  Obviously, he couldn�t stay with Witten.  The Steelers play calling involving Heath Miller makes it apparent that they�re limiting attempts in his direction to drive down his market value for upcoming contract negotiations.  Otherwise Heath could due some major damage in the seam.  On Monday, Romo and T.O. torched CB Sheldon Brown, specifically in the first half.  Later in the game, Philadelphia adjusted to give more help, putting Samuel on Owens, shutting him out for the final 30 minutes.  Free agent all-pro Asante Samuel wasn�t challenged often in the first half but still picked one that lead to an Eagles� TD.  Philly also struggled keeping track of RB Marion Barber.  That shouldn�t be an issue Sunday after 4:15 as the early pre-season dump-offs to Fast Willie were only a mirage of his inclusion in the passing game.  While none of the Steelers� wideouts have the combination of strength and speed Owens possesses, they would be wise to take advantage of Holmes� speed when he lines up on Brown�s side.  Dawkins and SS Quentin Mikell also have a tendency to move towards the line so they�re candidates to fall for play-action.  If there are any Philly fans reading this, let us know if Sheppard, Hanson and Considine are useful in the nickel and dime because they shouldn�t be tested by whoever the Steelers 3rd and 4th receivers are.  Has anyone seen them on a milk carton?


Eagles Receivers/Steelers Pass Defenders:  Steelers 6.5/10, Eagles 8.5/10


The Steelers� first two opponents ran your basic, bland receiver alignments.  The only wrinkle they saw was Winslow in the slot and that was expected.  After watching the replay of Cowboys v. Eagles, the variations in their sets reside in some other universe not visited by the Houston and Cleveland O-coordinators.  You have 4 WR spread, 4 WR tight, 3 WR and Westbrook in the slot, regular 3 WR, 2 WR 2 TE spread, and shotgun with 2 RB and 2 WR.  Throw in your more basic formations and the Eagles run about 837 different looks per game.  Nine different players caught at least one pass for the Eagles on Monday night.  And they expect Reggie Brown, one of their starters from 2007, back this week.  Still Mill stole some of my thunder with his article on the Westbrook mismatches, and it�s all true.  He scored on a well-designed bubble screen from the slot.  He went downfield a few times.  When lining up as a traditional RB, more often than not he�ll chip a pass rusher, then he chooses one of three options: Squeeze through the line and settle 7 to 10 yards in front of McNabb, circle around to the same area, or head to the flat if the chip occurred on an edge rusher.  Needless to say Westbrook is the focal point of the offense.  Since the Steelers are likely to ignore logic about using Timmons, their only other option is to have Polamalu shadow Westbrook.  This strategy would leave them more vulnerable deep to the blossoming talent and jackassery of DeSean Jackson.  All of this disregards an old fallback for the Eagles, TE L.J. Smith.  Lots of concerns here.  Given the Eagles propensity to throw, it would have been nice seeing Deshea in the line-up because it then bolsters the depth and strength in their nickel and dime packages.  Bringing Gay or Carter in as the 3rd DB as opposed to McFadden is a big drop off in talent that the Eagles can exploit. 


Line Play and Running Game:

Steelers� running game against Eagles� run defense:  Steelers 8/10, Eagles 7.5/10


At this juncture, you can view the Eagles #1 ranked run defense two ways.  They�re really aggressive and their safeties help a lot, or they played the Rams, who suck, and Dallas, who realized the only coverage skills belonged to Samuel and threw the ball to anyone he wasn�t covering.  I�ll go with the former.  8 of Barber�s 18 carries (not counting his 1-yd TD) were for 1 yard or less.  Philly attacked Barber, gang tackling him, using Dawkins and Mikell in support.  However, this is the phase of the game where Pittsburgh can control the clock.  No one on the Eagles front line is exceptionally large or athletic, save for Cole, but he�s more of a pass rushing specialist.  Parker and Mendenhall (you know, that guy they drafted out of Illinois) will both need to be involved to wear down the Eagles front 7.  The Steelers need to take advantage of their interior advantage.  However with Simmons possibly back home helping his wife deliver a newborn, the right side of the line could become severely inexperienced very quickly.


Eagles� running game against Steelers� run defense:  Steelers 7.5/10, Eagles 7.5/10


With right guard Shawn Andrews likely out and center Jamaal Jackson�s status unknown due to family issues, the loss of Keisel may be negated.  Let us pray, brothers and sisters, that we see the Nick Eason from the pre-season who brought aggression, not the version from 2007 that should have found a new profession.  With a runner like Westbrook the front 7 needs to maintain gap control to limit cutbacks, which often becomes the Achilles heel of the otherwise unforgiving run defense.  Under Reid, the Eagles show little dedication to the run game.  It�s treated as a pastime between, well, passing times.  Hunt, Buckhalter, and Booker received 0 carries in Dallas.  Pittsburgh shouldn�t require any extra defenders in the box to minimize the damage here.  If they do, this game will be out of hand.


Steelers� pass blocking against Eagles� pass rush:  Steelers 6.5/10, Eagles 6.5/10


While announcers mention Eagles� D-coordinator Jimmy Johnson�s blitz happy schemes, the NFL Network replay showed only 6 occasions when Philadelphia sent more than Dallas used for protection.  Expect much more this week against a more suspect offensive line.  Although the Steelers have allowed only 4 sacks this year, their pass attempt to sack ratio ranks 27th in the league.  A majority of the Johnson�s blitzes came on the inside.  If Ben recognizes this early enough he can escape to the sides, where he becomes even more dangerous.  McNabb isn�t the only QB in this game with that escapability factor.  In regular 4-man rush situations, the front four of Parker, Patterson, Bunkley and Cole come straight forward with few attempts at twists and little success.  Only Cole deserves double-team attention and he�ll be matched up against Marvel.  Keeping the Eagles off-balance with varied play calling will go a long way in keeping Ben clean.  Emphasizing this point is the fact that Ben dropped back only 5 times out of 24 first down play calls, but other than 1 sack (nullified by a face mask) Roethlisberger connected on the other four plays for 87 yards.  BA�are you listening? 


Eagles� pass blocking against Steelers� pass rush:  Steelers 7.5/10, Eagles 6.5/10

On the line, the Eagles have the most poundage in the league so Casey should feel right at home.  On the ends with LT Tre Thomas and RT Dirty Dickhead Runyan, they look a little slow and can�t get as low as they used to.  This plays perfectly into the game of Harrison, who uses leverage from a shorter frame as good as anyone in the league.  And Runyan�s years of wisdom and �tactics� should be overmatched by Woodley�s athleticism.  The likelihood of Andrews� absence gives Aaron Smith a chance to generate some pressure inside against a back-up that sounds more like a goalie in Quebec juniors and less like a right guard in the NFL.  Put pressure on McNabb and he�ll likely fail.  Just ask T.O.        


Special Teams:

Steelers return game /Eagles coverage game:  Steelers 5/8, Eagles 5.5/8


With the speed of Felix Jones and an assist from a blatant holding call, Philly�s kickoff coverage failed to touch the former Razorback on a 98-yard kickoff return last week.  On the other half-dozen kickoffs they appeared disinterested, too.  Could this be the week?  Nah.  To borrow quotes from Mikey T, the return units are a work in progress and they�re searching for perfection.  Hearing that should make everyone happy and somebody out there probably has to do two shots of Crown Royal.  One thing to add � no doubt the local stores are having problems keeping Moldy Moore jerseys in stock. 


Eagles return game/Steelers coverage game:  Steelers 5.5/8, Eagles 6/8


I�ll keep bumping this rating up half a point each week if the coverage teams continue to perform as they have.  Shutting down Cribbs was a major coup.  It helps that Reed already has tallied 3 touchbacks this year.  It also helps kicking with a 60 mph wind.  On the negative side, emerging special teams stud Donovan Woods is out with a pulled hamstring this week.  And I may be getting ahead of reality here � Quentin Demps was solid taking back kickoffs against Big Gay D on Monday, and lightning quick DeSean Jackson handles the punt returns.     


Steelers kicking game/Eagles kicking game:  Steelers 7/8, Eagles 7/8


Solid to excellent for both teams.  Punting the ball is something that Save Rocca from Australia (sounds Italian, though) excels at.  Hell, if you don�t like his punts, he�ll probably feed you to his pet croc.  He�s 6�5�, 265 pounds.  The only issue with David Akers could be overuse of his leg after the first two weeks of 2008.  Berger continues to impress with a 44.7/39.2 average and net, with 4 downed inside the 20.  Reed made an undeniably clutch 48 yarder last week in a hurricane.  Lots of positives here.


Tangibles and Intangibles:  Steelers 3/6, Eagles 3/6


No doubt this article contains significant discussion and praise of McNabb and Westbrook.  Realize that approach was used so that the QB throws 3 picks and Westbrook returns to his China doll form of a few seasons ago and takes a cart ride.  This same approach worked when I drafted Brady this year in fantasy football.


So far the Steelers faced two teams still playing at a pre-season level.  The regular season begins now.  It shapes up as a battle between time of possession and run and gun offense.  The Steelers need to dictate the pace early by taking the lead and make it a point to get inside McNabb�s helmet.  If the Eagles� unfaithful are chanting �TRADE HIM!� at halftime, the Steelers have the game won.


Pittsburgh hasn�t won at the home of their state competition since 1965.  That doesn�t mean shit.  That stat only affected the Penguins for 20 years.


There are a lot of differences in these teams that provide great contrast.  The Steelers own the edge in playmakers on defense.  The Eagles hold favor in head coaching experience.  But the deal-breaking distinction exists in Philadelphia�s deployment of every option in the passing game, and the predicament this causes for the Steelers� version of the 3-4.


Lastly, I�m doing this for the black and gold so don�t hate me.


Eagles 23   Steelers 21



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