A lot of hype over Rashard Mendenhall's return to the Steelers against the Eagles this coming Sunday is just that—pure hype. Mendenhall is a recovering shadow of his former healthy self…and the Eagles will administer that judgement based on their overall game plan to generically contain Pittsburgh's running game.
The 5th-year veteran out of Illinois, drafted in the 1st round by the Steelers in 2008, at 5-10 and 225, has seen his best days evaporate behind him like a cloud of carbon dioxide from a jet plane's engine exhaust. Mendenhall is a non-factor in this upcoming game against the Eagles. I don't know why the national media makes a big deal out of his comeback from injury against the Eagles. He's simply not going to make a difference.
The Eagles are way more concerned about the Steelers defense.
The Steelers' defense is a lot like the Cardinals'.
Both play a 3-4, both like to dial up exotic blitz packages, and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton have roots that ran deep in the Steel City before they arrived in the Arizona desert.
And if anyone needs a refresher course on how the Birds did against the Cards, well, it wasn’t pretty. They had no touchdowns and quarterback Michael Vick was blitzed and harried into a 27-6 loss.
“They’re very similar,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said on Wednesday. “Ray comes from that (Steelers defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau school and they’re good friends. They talk, they share ideas, so I know they are very similar to each other defensively.”
As if that news isn’t sobering enough, there is this: The Steelers have lost just 22 games since Heinz Field opened in 2001, and it is at Heinz Field where the Eagles and Steelers will tee it up at Sunday at 1 p.m.
“It’s going to be a tough match-up against Pittsburgh this week,” said Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. “It’s always a tough match-up any time you play them and playing them on the road. Their record at home is outstanding. But that’s what it’s all about, two good teams clashing head to head and we just (have) to find a way to come out on top.”
Ironically, it is the Steelers defense that has struggled in getting off to a 1-2 start.
The Steel Curtain days have long since expired, but the organization is still one that prides itself on defense, and Pittsburgh’s D will get a boost with the expected return from injury of safety Troy Polamalu and outside linebacker James Harrison.
“I think whether they’re out there or not you just have to have the same type of approach,” said Vick. “You can’t just say because they’re not playing (that) we are going to do this and it’s going to work. You’ve got other guys who play just as well. Not as good as those guys but put themselves in the right positions. They have a good football team across the board and it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Perennial Pro Bowler Polamalu missed the last two games with a calf injury while Harrison hasn’t played yet this season due to a knee injury. Their return, coupled with the fact that the Steelers spent their bye week stewing over their 34-31 loss to the Raiders two weeks ago, make it seem likely that the Birds are heading into a hornet’s nest.
“You go play, you take care of what you can control and that’s yourself and your team,” said Reid. “That’s what we do, that’s what our focus is. We know we’re playing a good football team. We know we’re a good football team and we’ll prepare ourselves.”
The Steelers offense rises and falls with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the ninth-year pro from Miami (Ohio) is the second quarterback in a row the Eagles will play who wears two Super Bowl rings.
The Birds are 1-0 against teams with a quarterback who has two rings after beating Eli Manning and the Giants last week.
Roethlisberger has been sensational to start the season. He has completed 68 percent of his throws with eight touchdowns and only one interception to go along with a QB rating of 109.2.
Against the Raiders, he went to the air 49 times and completed 36 of those attempts for 384 yards and four touchdowns.
His top targets have been tight end Heath Miller and receiver Mike Wallace, with both players having scored at least one touchdown in each game so far this season. Like the defense getting two key players back, the Steelers’ offense should see the return of running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Mendenhall, who has scored 23 touchdowns over the past two seasons, has missed the team’s first three games with a knee injury.
But it is Roethlisberger’s ability to extend plays that makes him – and the Steelers offense — most dangerous.
“He’s very strong in the pocket and has mobility,” said Reid. “He always keeps his eyes down the field. If there is one quality that’s a little different than some of other quarterbacks, this guy here keeps every play alive.”
That means the Eagles secondary will need to do make sure they don’t stop covering their receiver until the whistle blows.
“That was something we talked about (Wednesday) morning,” said safety Nate Allen. “He’s good at extending plays and we just have to plaster our guy until the whistle. You never know with him. He’s a big guy, he can break tackles and get outside the pocket then it become a free for all, so you have to find your guy and plaster him, stick to him.”
BRI SUX EGG Fancy Football updates…
Here are the Week 4 results of the hottest Philly fantasy football action out there in ESPN land…
Team BIG BONE (BONE)
The Bri Slapper (Nads)
Harold Harmonica (HAHA)
(1-3)Rodney Vander Veer
Hoof Hearted Ice Melted (FFSX)
Jetpack Ninja Dinosaurs (JERK)
Evans Head Beanstalk (Bean)
Palm Feathers (Palm)
Bri'sFantasy Boys (BFBs)
The Great PPW (PPW)
Splunker Valley Skunk Apes (SKAP)
The drama continues with a long way to go, of course…but right now, JB-Sage-Lion of Austin, Texas, leads the pack with a 4-0 record, followed closely by Philly's own Leo Pizzini at 3-0-1. Ben Watt from Australia is hanging in with a 3-1, followed closely by Virginia Tech's Brozer at 2-1-1…Spiffo, PPW and Hud are in the hunt at 2-2…while a bunch of guys who were expected to start faster are lagging behind at 1-3, namely HAHA Harry, last year's champion Jerky Ninja, Henderson, Nevada's resident genius ATV, Boise's pride Boner, and Florida's Palm Feathers… Perk up! you 1-3 guys— we expect butter of you!