Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles have experienced some good fortune at the start of this season. Upon first glance, Steeler Nation may disagree with me. But, consider this – Pittsburgh does not travel west of the Rockies for the duration of the 2012 campaign. The furthest west they travel is to Dallas and Tennessee. The Steelers should be thankful for the early season bye. It has allowed some key players on the mend to return to action this week, including three Pro Bowlers in Troy Polamalu, Rashard Mendenhall, and James Harrison. All three will be a welcome sight in pads as the secondary, pass rush, and running game are amongst the most beleaguered aspects of Pittsburgh’s game. The Philadelphia Eagles had 13 turnovers in their first three games, and managed to win two of those contests. Philly is now 3-1 as they visit Heinz Field at 1pm. Of the Eagles’ three wins, their margin of victory has been a total of four points, all coming with last minute scores to escape with wins. Michael Vick had a shaky start to his season following an injury-plagued preseason where he only took 12 snaps from center in live action. However, Vick looked steadier last week as Philadelphia edged the Giants, 19-17.
The Keystone State battle may occur only once per Olympiad, but the vitriol associated with residing in the same state and the Penguins / Flyers intense rivalry (which may be the kindest way to describe it) lends itself to this game meaning more than a run-of-the-mill out of conference contest. Bragging rights are at stake for the teams, for their fanbases, as well as staking a claim to being a contender for a deep playoff run. At 1-3, the Steelers would start to feel the pinch of being buried behind many teams in the AFC playoff hunt, whereas if the Eagles lost, a 3-2 record would not be a death blow. But, the NFC East is competitive from top to bottom, making wins more difficult. After all, the Steelers play the Browns twice a year. The Eagles are not blessed with such a divisional opponent.
Ten Fearless Predictions
1. LeSean McCoy finds holes in the first level of the Steeler defense, and has a few carries of 10+ yards. His cutting ability will test Pittsburgh’s defensive gap responsibility, which used to be a hallmark of Steeler defense.
2. DeSean Jackson makes a big play in the return game. D-Jack is too electric and will find some open space.
3. Michael Vick feels more pressure in the pocket thanks to the return of James Harrison. The Eagles O-line has had its difficulties this season. LaMarr Woodley and Harrison both being on the field will test the Eagles’ tackles with the bookend pass rush capability.
4. The Eagles’ red zone offense will sputter on more than one occasion. Philadelphia has shown the ability to rack up yards, but not points. Don’t be surprised if a key turnover or late down play call foils Philly’s chance to hit paydirt.
5. Despite the return of Rashard Mendenhall, the Steeler running game will still look pedestrian for the majority of the game. However, I see at least one big run by a Steeler RB because of Philadelphia’s wide-9 defensive line technique. This opens running lanes as the Eagles try to get to Ben Roethlisberger.
6. Philly’s pass rush is ferocious and Pittsburgh will attack it by using Heath Miller and the short passing game, along with off tackle runs. Ben will still get sacked, but he won’t be under duress all game.
7. Pittsburgh’s passing game will not shy away from throwing in Nnamdi Asomugha’s direction. Asomugha was once considered one of the two elite corners in the league (along with Darrelle Revis). He is still in the top tier of cover corners, but he has been beaten more frequently this year than I can ever remember.
8. In Troy Polamalu’s return to action, he will victimize Michael Vick with an interception, fumble, or sack. Polamalu’s strained calf is fully healed, and the Heinz Field faithful will go berserk if #43 forces a turnover.
9. Expect QB pressure and turnovers to be the difference in this game…and both of those factors will favor Pittsburgh at home.
10. Pittsburgh 27, Philadelphia 16. Pittsburgh will play like the more desperate team and will be rewarded with the ‘W.’
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.