(Note to Readers – It was brought to our attention that our site was not working properly on Friday, September 19, 2008, and many of you were not able to read this article. We apologize for this problem).
This week, the Steelers face their toughest opponent thus far, when they travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. The Keystone State showdown will be nationally televised on CBS. The game is scheduled for a 4:15 p.m. kickoff.
Both teams are coming off of big games against division rivals. The Steelers beat the Browns, while the Eagles lost in a shootout against the Cowboys.
The last time the two teams met was in 2004, when the Steelers dominated the Eagles in a 27-3 victory. However, Philadelphia has won two of the past three meetings, and they enjoy a 45-27-3 advantage in the all-time series with the Steelers. More importantly, the Steelers have to travel to Philadelphia where they have not beaten the Eagles in 43 years. Talk about a tough place to play.
Looking at the numbers, both teams pose daunting challenges. On offense, Donovan McNabb and the Eagles lead the league in passing yardage, averaging 336.5 YPG. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ passing offense is ranked #25 in the NFL, averaging only 143 YPG.
As they’ve historically done, the Steelers prefer to play “Steeler football”. They pound the ball down their opponent’s throat with the running game. The Steelers average 150 YPG in rushing offense, and Willie Parker has back-to-back 100+ yard performances. By comparison, the Eagles average only 93 YPG on the ground. As you can see, this is a battle of contrasting offensive philosophies.
Overall, the Eagles’ offense is #3 in the NFL averaging 429.5 YPG, while the Steelers only average 293 total YPG.
On defense, both teams pose challenges. The Steelers defense is ranked #4 in the NFL, and is allowing only 221 YPG, and 11.5 PPG. The Eagles’ defense is ranked #11 in the league, and they give up an average of 273 YPG, and 22 PPG.
It may surprise some to learn that the Eagles’ run defense is actually ranked higher than the Steelers’. The Eagles have an aggressive defense that only allows 52 rushing YPG. That makes them #1 in the NFL. The Steelers’ defense is close behind, allowing only 64 rushing YPG (#3 in the NFL).
Philosophically, the Eagles defense believes in attacking. They believe in sending as many players as possible after the quarterback. few teams rush 6 defenders as often as the Eagles do. Despite this aggressive approach, the Eagles’ defense has accumulated only 4 sacks, compared to 7 by the Steelers.
This should be an exciting match-up of two tough defensive teams with very different offensive approaches. The question is will the Steelers be able to run effectively against the NFL’s top ranked rushing defense? Similarly, can the Steelers apply pressure to Donovan McNabb to prevent him from picking them apart in the air?
Steelers Defense vs. Brian Westbrook
Brian Westbrook is one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. His 2,104 yards from scrimmage led the NFL last season. What makes Westbrook so deadly is that the Eagles use him in an almost infinite number of ways. One play he might line up wide as a split end, the next play he might line up in the backfield as the lone running back, then he might line up inside as a slot receiver on the next play, and on the very next lay he might be in the backfield in a two running back formation. Westbrook’s role in the Eagles’ offense is analogous to Troy Polamalu’s role in the Steelers’ defense. The guy is all over the place.
Willie Parker vs. Eagles’ #1 ranked run defense
Do you remember the old saying about what happens when an immovable object meets an irresistible force? Well, we’re all going to learn this weekend. The Eagles have the top ranked run defense in the NFL, but Willie Parker has two consecutive 100+ yard games. “Fast Willie” was leading the NFL in rushing last season before he broke his leg. This match-up may decide the game.
Heath Miller vs. Brian Dawkins
Dawkins is a former Pro Bowl safety. However, he struggled with injuries in 2007. It is not clear whether he is fully recovered from those. Last week, he struggled against Dallas TE Jason Witten. Witten seemed to get open with ease, and Dawkins seemed to be slow in his backpedal. Heath Miller is one of the best tight ends in the game, and should be able to exploit Dawkins’ weakness.
LaMarr Woodley & James Harrison vs. Donovan McNabb
In order to stop Donovan McNabb from picking the Steelers apart, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are going to have to provide constant pressure. Donovan can’t deliver his passes if he’s constantly running for his life.
Steelers Secondary vs. DeSean Jackson
The Eagles have not had a true playmaker at WR since Terrell Owens left for Dallas. However, rookie DeSean Jackson appears to be the real deal. Despite his silly rookie mistake last week, jackson is a very talented receiver. Jackson is the first rookie receiver since 1940 to have 100 yards receiving in his first 2 NFL games.
Marvel Smith vs. Eagles DE Trent Cole
Cole is a Pro Bowl end, and he will provide a challenge for Marvel Smith. Smith must protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side, or Big Ben is going to be in for a long day. Cole has not recorded a sack in the Eagles’ first two games, and he’d like to change that streak against the Steelers.
Brett Keisel – Injured calf. Out 4-8 weeks.
Ben Roethlisberber – “Sore” shoulder. Please don’t call it a “separated” shoulder. Mike Tomlin will get mad.
Deshea Townsend – Heel.
Shawn Andrews – Back.
Tony Hunt – Hamstring.