By Jeremy Hritz
At the beginning of the season, I had predicted the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh. When I had made my preseason prediction, I had believed that the Steelers would be playing much better football than what they have shown against the Broncos, Jets, and Raiders. With that said, the Steelers will have their hands full this Sunday against the Eagles, and if they do not make significant improvements, the Steelers could be on the opposite end of walloping.
Earlier in the week, I addressed the fact that all of the Eagles strengths correspond with Steelers weaknesses: a strong pass rush for Philly, a poor offensive line for Pittsburgh; a strong running game for Philly, an average run defense for Pittsburgh. These are the key areas to watch that will determine the outcome of this game.
The Steelers Will Win This Game If…
They can stop the run, counteract the Eagles pass rush, and put pressure on Michael Vick.
It is no secret what LeSean McCoy brings to the table as a slippery, homerun potential, every down back. The Steelers run defense has had trouble slowing the running games of teams with backs not as productive as McCoy. They will need a better showing from Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Ziggy Hood, as well as the inside linebackers if they are to slow down McCoy who is averaging nearly five yards per carry. It will be interesting to see if Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward get more work this week on the defensive line as their snaps have been limited in the first three games.
The Eagles can rush the passer with success, though they have only recorded seven sacks this season. Jason Babin and Trent Cole could provide fits for a historically porous Steelers offensive line, and if that happens, the passing game that has been the shining star of the Steelers thus far, will be ineffective. This is a big game for Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert on the outside, as they must prevent rushers from getting home on the edge.
Conversely, the Steelers pass rush has been non-existent. However, the return of James Harrison does provide for some optimism. If he can be anywhere near the dominating player that he has proven to be in years past, we should expect some improvements. Yet if Vick is given time, he will take advantage of the secondary with his dangerous weapons.
The Eagles Will Win This Game If…
They get to Ben Roethlisberger.
The last time the Eagles and Steelers played, Roethlisberger got destroyed, getting sacked nine times. Without much of running game, Pittsburgh has been forced to score points through the air, something that they have the personnel to do. The return of Rashard Mendenhall may provide for a spark in the running game, but there is no question that it will be up to the passing game to get points. If the Eagles have success in pressuring Roethlisberger and getting sacks, points will be difficult to come by, and the Steelers will have a truly difficult time winning this game.
This is a turning point in the young 2012 season for the Steelers. If they can rectify the issues that have plagued them in the first three games, they can save their season. If the problems persist, even after the return of Harrison and Troy Polamalu, it could signal the end of an era.
Though I picked the Eagles earlier this season, the Steelers backs are against the metaphorical wall. The Steelers have historically played well with a great deal on the line, and with an extra week of rest, a healthy roster, and the fans of Heinz Field, they will get their season back up on its feet.
Steelers 30 Eagles 20