I will never be the one to say any regular season matchup with the Steelers is predictable…but the Eagles have a terrific chance to go into Game 5 of the 2012 season with Pittsburgh and set the tone for a playoff run.
You may say it's too early to begin speaking of playoffs ("Playoffs! Are you kidding me!!), but to come out of Heinz Field this Sunday with a "W" would put the Birds at 4-1…and give them a huge boost of momentum moving forward.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a bye week and look to rebound from their embarrassing loss, 34-31, to Oakland. Their defense looked horrible and seemingly gave up in the 4th quarter. The Steelers had trouble rushing the quarterback which resulted in big pass plays. Many people are questioning whether or not coordinator Dick LeBeau is still the defensive mastermind as people knew him to be. The Steelers have a tough test ahead of them as they take on the Eagles.
But there is Big Ben, still standing… and this is where the Eagles' defense must make its statement.
Right now there isn't a QB playing better than Big Ben. Roethlisberger is on pace to break just about every one of his single-season records. Ben tossed 4 TD's in the loss to Oakland and played what I thought was the very best game of his career against New York previously. Roethlisberger has a history of struggling against the Eagles— but if he limits turnovers and makes the plays we're used to seeing him make, the Steelers will be in good shape offensively.
Getting to Big Ben before he gets to us is obviously the Eagles' defensive mission on Sunday.
Ben is not getting much help from his OL and running-game teammates on offense.The Steelers are 31st in the league in rushing, so far only averaging 65 yards a game. The Steelers reportedly are possibly getting RB Rashard Mendenhall back for this game after his ACL injury suffered back in week 17 of last year. If Mendenhall does play, the Steelers would have the opportunity to turn their running game around…maybe. But that's asking a lot of a guy coming off surgery and an offensive line that's been struggling. The Eagles' pass rush combined with a great secondary performance could cause problems for the Steelers if Ben has to throw the ball 40-50 times in this game.
The Steelers (1-2) have allowed 65 points in their two losses, looking especially vulnerable through the air to quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. Through three games, Pittsburgh ranks seventh in the NFL in total defense, fifth against the pass and tied for 18th in scoring.
Lower sack totals and fewer turnovers are part of the problem, and they have been since last season when the Steelers registered 21-year lows in both categories.
"We really haven't been that hard to figure out the last seven years I've been here," safety Ryan Clark told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We've been running the same things, we call the same things. It's not about being predictable, it's about executing."
For the Steelers, their Week 4 bye came in good time. It's been a two-week breather to bring key defenders James Harrison and Troy Polamalu — not to mention running back Rashard Mendenhall — back to health before the Week 5 date with the Philadelphia Eagles.
But the Steelers' problems run deeper than the absence of their three injured stars. The deficient running game, poor second halves and a lack of production by the defensive front are also warning signs.
With Mendenhall nearing game-readiness, at least one Steeler is optimistic the tides will turn.
“The more we run the ball, the better we’ll get,” Willie Colon told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Troy Polamalu has missed the team's past two games against the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders with a calf injury, but appears to be nearing a return. Polamalu spoke a bit about the injury this week and where he stands as far as a return to action:
"It feels much better," Polamalu said.
The reference was to the calf Polamalu said he injured in practice the week leading up to the season opener in Denver, an injury that kept the seven-time Pro Bowl safety out of the past two games for the Steelers.
Polamalu, though, returned to practice Tuesday, worked both days with the first-team defense and said he is "optimistic" he will play when the Steelers return from their open week to play the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Steelers' defense has clearly missed Polamalu and the team allowed Carson Palmer to throw three touchdown passes in leading the Raiders to an unexpected victory over them in their last game.
The Steelers' defensive secondary is nowhere near perfect, and when the Steelers can't pressure the QB up front, it usually means trouble. The Steelers have only 5 sacks this season, ranking them at 29th in the league. It looks like there isn't much hope for James Harrison to return this week, and he hasn't seen action yet this season. With Harrison out, Woodley is seeing more and more double teams. The Eagles' O-Line isn't great this year, and this could be a perfect opportunity for LeBeau to dial up some exotic blitzes to unsettle Vick. But If the Steelers can't put enough blitz pressure on Vick, it could be a long day for the Steelers…and a tremendous opportunity for Vick and the Eagles offense to unleash all their weapons.