Stillers-Eagles Preview(Game #10)
Coming off another heartbreaking against the Titans, the Stillers return to 3RS to take on their cross-state rivals, the Iggles. Surprising to many, the Iggles come into this game with a solid 6-4 record, so they represent an adequate team who, at least among themselves, thinks they have a legit shot at the playoffs. The Stillers, likewise, under the recent edict of Billy Cowher, are attempting to run the table by winning all of their remaining games. To add some drama into this matchup, ex-Stiller personnel guru Tom Modrak returns to his hometown and 3 Rivers as the GM of the Iggles. Modrak was never too happy that Rooney caved into Donahoe's extortion demands after the '97 season (I know one of Modrak's children), and rest assured that if there's one game Modrak wants his team to win this season, it's on November 12th.
* When the Iggles have the ball, young QB Donavan McNab leads a sporadic offense that has struggled nearly as much as the Stillers'. McNab has shown some signs of development, yet has also thrown 10 INTs and has made crucial mis-reads during the season. He's also been overburdened with carrying the offense, since the injury to Duce Staley left the Iggles bereft of a solid running game. A large committee of Autry, Mitchell, Prichett, and Martin combine to share the running chores for Philly. They'll have the displeasure of facing a stout Stiller run defense that has come on strong since the early part of the season to smother and stuff opposing running games. After 10 games, McNab actually leads this team in rushing. Mitchell and Autry do, of course, provide good reliability and productivity out of the backfield in the passing game.
The Philly receiving corps has had its share of obvious struggles. Ex-Stiller Charles Johnson leads this lowly crew, along with Torrance Small, whose productivity has basically matched his last name. Unlike the Stillers' vaunted youngsters, Edwards & Burress, CJ has actually found the EZ this season (4 times, no less), and he surely will play with an extra pep in his step against his old mates. TE Chad Lewis has been the brightest spot of this Philly passing game, leading not only his team with 35 grabs, but also leading all NFC TEs. The key matchup will be McNab's moving around in the pocket on designed rolls, as well as scrambles, against the Stiller linebackers & DBs. It's highly unlikely the Iggles will find much room to run the ball against this Stiller front 7. Furthermore, CJ and Small are not fast enough to get wide open very often. Ergo, I see the Iggles trying to take a page from the Titan's playbook, and put McNab on the move, where he can put his skills and athleticism to good use. And, unlike Stewart, McNab actually looks for receivers when he's on the move, so he's capable of hitting pass plays -- a la McNair --- as well as scooting for good chunks of yardage with his feet. The Stillers must limit his freedom and visibility while on the move; they must punish him when they can (either with sacks or rugged hits just as he releases the ball), and the pass defenders must be wary of his ability to throw on the move and read/react accordingly. This situation screams for Joey Porter --- the only front 7 defender capable of matching McNab step for step -- to spend almost every snap going after the QB or serving as a spy in an underneath zone.
* When the Stillers have the ball, it's an obvious bet, in facing a softee run defense and coming off several weeks of shoddy passing, that the Stiller offense will pound the ball on the ground. The Iggles have had considerable problems stopping the run. Of course, any defense that actually starts a pitifully soft LB like Carla Emmons is simply begging to have the ball jammed down its throat, and that's pretty much what has occurred. In fact, during the past 2 games, Philly's run defense has given up 180 yards per game.
On the other hand, the Iggle pass defense -- 3rd in the NFL -- has really carried the load for this team. They good pass pressure up front with DE Hugh Douglas, who leads the NFL with 13 sacks, plus DE Brandon Whiting and rookie DT Corey Simon, who has 6 1/2 sacks. Gandy will have his hands -- and injured shoulder -- full with trying to keep Douglas at bay, which I believe he will. The defensive backfield is steady and very capable, with Vincent, Taylor and Dawkins leading a crew that has done a solid job this year stopping the pass. It's totally unreasonable, given the stink and sputter of the Stiller pass offense, that we'll do much in the air against this defense, unless we get a fluke broken play. Added to that, is that I suspect the moment Stewart scattershots a few throws, the 3 Rivers crowd will begin their rabid booing, which will undoubtedly unnerve Stewart. Therefore, the key matchup will be the Stiller ground game versus the Iggle run defense. Strength versus weakness. The Iggles almost assuredly will move a safety up to help stuff the run. The Stillers will need to spread the field on occasion; they'll need to get some good gains from Stewart rolls & scrambles, and they'll need to open holes for Bettis and company against a malleable Iggle run defense.
* Spec Teams: The Iggles have the edge here, with Brian Mitchell always dangerous and productive from the PR & KO return spots. Meanwhile, Cowher will presumably counter with slopoke Courtney Hawkins and keep rookie Poteat -- once the 2nd ranked punt returner in the AFC -- rooted on the bench. Akers, unlike Kris Brown, has shown he's capable of making a 51-yarder this season. Ageless Sean Lendetta has done a decent job of punting for the Iggles, but Josh should be instrumental in getting of a few good boomers, as well as some well-placed pooch punts inside the 10. The Stillers coverage teams did a superb job bottling up Mason last week, and they'll need a repeat effort against Mitchell this week.
* This is the kind of game which is almost certainly going to be another close, nip-and-tuck game. Neither offense has excelled this season, while each defense has proven to be pretty stout. I think that a game like this will be decided on who brings the most energy to the table after enduring emotional games last week. The Stillers suffered a crushing defeat against a bitter arch rival, the second such late-come-from-ahead loss to the Titans this season. Meanwhile, the Iggles won a huge game in OT against hated division foe Dallas. Will the Iggles be too high after last week's win? Will the Stillers rebound from the tough loss? I'm not convinced of anything Billy Cowher says. His talk about running the table and making the playoffs, while nice, has me no more convinced than any TV report does about presidential election results. In a close, dramatic game, the Iggles will capitalize on a couple key Stiller turnovers, and squeak by with a 13-10 win over the Stillers.
The Still Mill