Steelers Tangle With Eagles In Sunday Night Showdown
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Saturday, August 25, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
Fresh off of a 12-10 win at Washington, the Steelers are back home to take on the greatly disliked (because hated is a bad word, right?) Eagles in NBC's Sunday Night Football matchup.
There's two weeks to go before the season opener at Cleveland, and that means we'll get a better look at how Pittsburgh is going to look when they hit the field on Sept. 9. Preseason winding down also means the caution level goes up, because no one wants to risk the starters getting hurt.
The Steelers are 2-1 on the preseason, with wins over New Orleans and Washington sandwiched around a loss at home to Green Bay. The Eagles are 1-1 so far, after losing their opener at Baltimore 29-3 and then knocking off Carolina 27-10 at home.
For Pittsburgh, the running game and a stingy run defense have been the strong points thus far, and for the Eagles, it's the air where they've been the most impressive. So, something's got to give one way or another.
Keys to Success
The running game has produced three solid games, and it'll be on the backfield to do it yet again. Willie Parker is back and healthy, and he'll be getting a lot more than the four carries he got last week. If he gets off to a good early start, that'll be good news for the Steelers.
Also, the backs are going to have to step up in short yardage and red zone/goal line situations, which is something they struggled in last week vs. the Redskins.
That being said, the passing game will have a lot more of a presence. Big Ben's been accurate in the short while he's been on the field in the preseason, but now it's time to see full game Ben. The passing game has shown big-play potential, with ten passing plays of 22+ yards in the first three games (six of 33+). If Big Ben can get the air attack on track early, that could help open the way for the run to take over.
At the same time, the pass defense can't let the Eagles' QBs have their way. Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and A.J. Feeley torched the Panthers' D for 289 yards passing on 24 of 35 attempts. So, the secondary is going to have to play tight and smart, and the pass rush will need to build off of last week, when it totaled three sacks and knocked out Washington starter Jason Campbell (albeit on a rightfully penalized hit).
Injury/Starting Lineup/Position Battles Report
The starting units that take the field on Sunday night are going to, at the least, be very similar to the ones that take the field in two weeks against the Browns.
Mike Tomlin has been coy about some of his lineup decisions and changes, but at this point, there's a pretty good idea of who will start.
With most of the important pieces in place and healthy, there are only a couple of question marks - offensive line, free safety, and corner.
The first-team offensive line early on this week consisted of LT Marvel Smith, LG Alan Faneca, C Sean Mahan, RG Kendall Simmons, and RT Willie Colon.
Mahan, Simmons, and Colon seem to have won or taken over the battles for their positions, but just because Tomlin has said he is close to making his decisions, doesn't mean that it's over, or that those guys will necessarily get all of the snaps. In the same interview as the previous comment (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this week), he spoke just as favorably of Chukky Okobi (center), Chris Kemoeatu at right guard, and Max Starks at right tackle as the guys that they're competing with.
On one hand, it's a good thing to have a deep rotation. But, on the other hand, you want to have a little continuity established by a certain point as well, and there's been a lot of fluctuating. I'll leave that one as a 'we'll see what happens' and move on before I ramble further.
At free safety, Ryan Clark and Anthony Smith have continued to rotate on the first team in practice, and the battle for the starting job is still as close as it was at the start of camp. Someone has to get some separation, otherwise a coin flip or play rock, paper, scissors to decide the starters might have to decide things. But, given Steelers history, Mike Tomlin might want to stay away from a coin flip.
At right corner, Deshea Townsend is holding on to his starting spot with all his might. He might have given himself some distance by outplaying Bryant McFadden last Saturday. Now, it's McFadden's turn to make up the ground and try to make himself the present instead of the future.
What We'll See
With the offensive capabilities both teams have, we could very well see the game get into the 20s, which is a pretty good score for a preseason game.
But, both teams can put the clamp down on defense, so it could end up being a hotly-contested defensive battle.
The starters are going to play into the second half on Sunday night, so we're going to need to see what we should see against in Cleveland. At the same time though, expect a certain level of caution by both teams, because of the potential injury factor. Mike Tomlin saw three Washington players sustain injuries last week, so he may take heed from that in making his game plan.
Picking up the win is more important this week than in the past few weeks, since the starters and those contending for starting spots will get most of the snaps. And, if the offense can finally parlay moving the ball into at least a few touchdowns, and the defense braves the Eagles' passing game, the chances for a W are pretty high.
But, still more important than even the win is making sure no names get added to the injury list, and that the team continues to improve and get into regular-season form, and if the Steelers can accomplish that, then Sunday night will be another step to success.
Well, that's only half true, because hey, preseason or not, it's the Eagles. And, well, the rest is self-explanatory.