Eagles-Steelers preview: Escaping the blitz

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Let's have this, this and more this on Sunday. Image via PhilaPhans.com

Playing the Pittsburgh Steelers is never an easy task, but especially not when facing the team when they are 1-2, coming off a bye week and playing at Heinz Field. The Eagles will face a Steelers team with a  sense of urgency in turning around its season.

The Eagles head to western Pennsylvania with their confidence high after pulling out a win against the Giants with the highest margin of victory yet this season–a whopping two points in their 19-17 victory. For the first time this year, the Eagles offense had a solid showing in Week 4, leaving the numerous mistakes and turnovers that had plagued it in previous games behind. The offensive line was able to keep Mike Vick largely upright and the quarterback’s decision-making was much better than we’d seen in earlier games. Philadelphia’s offense needs to push that improvement even further if they are to win against the Steelers in Week 5.

Pittsburgh is the third-ranked passing defense in the league and their heavy and effective use of the blitz is a large part of that success. Their defense will be helped significantly by the return of two key players from injury:  linebacker James Harrison, who will go up against Demetress Bell as well as safety Troy Polamalu. The Steelers run a 3-4 defense very similar to that of the Cardinals, who you will recall eviscerated the Eagles in a 27-6 loss in Week 3. If he is to survive this game, Vick must do a better job at recognizing the blitz and getting rid of the ball quickly so that he doesn’t take the number of hits and the team doesn’t suffer the number of turnovers that plagued it in the desert. As this has historically been a problem for Vick, it may well determine the direction of the game.

Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg shocked us all last week by doing something many wondered if was a part of the duos’ coaching DNA–balanced playcalling. Despite difficulty gaining traction in the first half  of the game against the Giants, the Eagles stuck with the run with LeSean McCoy carrying the ball 17 times for 121 yards in the second half alone, helped by the blocking of Stanley Havili. As the Steelers are 14th in the league against the run overall and allowing the 21st most yards per carry in the NFL–4.3–Philadelphia would be wise to return to this commitment this game.

The Eagles defense will have its hands full with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers have next to no running game this season, averaging just 65 rushing yards a game (30th in the league). They will be helped with this via the return of RB Rashard Mendenhall, but he will not yet be at full capacity. Pittsburgh will be pass-heavy and the line must get to Roethlisberger quickly and limit his ability to extend plays. They will face a Steelers o-line that isn’t very good so should be able to use that to their advantage.

Big Ben is having a strong season thus far, with a 109.2 passer rating. He has been extremely dangerous in the red zone, completing 75% of his throws, averaging 9.83 yards with each. The Eagles D cannot let up at any point with the Steelers offense because they have an ability to make the most out of any opportunity to extend drives.

Steelers WR Antonio Brown dangled a challenge to Brandon Boykin for this game and the rookie has said that his response will come on the field. The secondary has struggled to effectively disarm opponents’ most potent receivers. They must limit the productive on Mike Wallace, who has 234 yards and 3 touchdowns through three games (averaging 13.8 yards per catch) and Brown, who has recorded 240 yards and 1 TD (13.3 yards/per reception). TE Heath Miller is another weapon in the Steelers’ arsenal that needs to be neutralized. He has come up big this season, with129 yards and 4 touchdowns, already doubling his TD total from last season.

Special teams was atrocious against the Giants and could quite possibly have cost them the game. The kickoff coverage was next to zero and Brian Rolle was released this week for missing two tackles. Adrian Moten was brought on board instead in a move the team expects to payoff immediately.

History is not on the Eagles’ side this game, as the Steelers dominate NFC teams at Heinz Field with a record of 19-2-1. This will be the toughest game the Birds have faced all season. I’m going with more heart than head this time and saying that the Eagles will pull out a 21-17 win because dammit, tomorrow is my birthday and I will not have it ruined by the Steelers.

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