The battle of the Keystone State rages today featuring a matchup between a sparkle-eyed rookie and a grizzled veteran as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the upstart Philadelphia Eagles.
Many in the City of Brotherly Love are hoping new sensation Carson Wentz will be the most successful rookie quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger. Meanwhile, Steelers fans are anxious to see Ben Roethlisberger play again like…well…Ben Roethlisberger.
After a soggy home performance in a critical win against the Cincinnati Bengals where he had two interceptions and completed only about half of his passes, Big Ben is hoping to bounce back to his typical high-flying form against the Eagles.
Wentz, on the other hand, has Eagles fans spewing unabashed hyperbole in describing his beautiful mind and powerful arm, although his talents have only been tested thus far against the junior varsity squads of the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears.
Today’s game will go far in determining whether Wentz is the real deal and if Big Ben is truly captaining the NFL’s best offense.
And with more similar bluster and hype for what is basically an early season intra-conference game, here is your Spin:
Bad Day At The Office
In regard to the Steelers important 24-16 victory over the Bengals, perhaps what is most impressive is it was accomplished with their two best players experiencing under-the-weather performances in the hard driving rain. Not only did Big Ben play small, All-World WR Antonio Brown ended up with only 4 receptions totaling 39 yards despite being targeted 11 times. Actually, it’s a good sign when a team with Super Bowl aspirations is able to post an impressive win on a day when their stars fail to shine.
The Other Half
After a few years of uncharacteristically playing second fiddle to the offense, the Steelers defense is beginning to make its own music. Young and brimming with emerging talent in the likes of DE Cameron Heyward, DE Stephon Tuitt and LB Ryan Shazier and infused with a seemingly successful 2016 draft of S Sean Davis, CB Artie Burns and DT Javon Hargrave, the defense is beginning to be as entertaining to watch as their more famous offensive counterparts.
You Can Turn Off The Spigot Now
When you consider the Steelers still have two un-scratched lottery tickets in discarded Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert and the yet—to-be-realized talent of CB Senquez Golson the team is beginning to overflow with potential in the secondary. No, nobody is vying for All Pro status yet. But when you look at the young crop of pass defenders including Burns, Davis, CB Ross Cockrell, S Robert Golden and mix in reliable veterans like CB William Gay and S Mike Mitchell it’s easy to see the team will soon have more dogs than bones. If the Steelers draft a cornerback next year, it won’t be to fill a position of need.
All That Glitters Is Golden
With Golden continuing to impress in his long-awaited role of full time starter at safety it confirms the deep seated, highly frustrating suspicions of many of us last year. That is, that he was actually ready to play in 2015. How much better would the defense have been last year, and how much further along in his development would he have been if he had rightfully got the nod over Coach Mike Tomlin’s buddy Will Allen?
In All Fairness
However; Tomlin and Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler deserve accolades in adapting to a new strategy with young players. They’ve demonstrated the team has changed its infuriating approach of the past by now allowing rookies to get on the field. Players like Davis, Burns and Hargrave are getting the grace to make mistakes under the lights rather than solely during practice like Steelers young defensive players of the recent past. This is one of the biggest changes since the Coach Dick LeBeau era ended last year.
Elvis Has Left the Building
Speaking of the great LeBeau (and he remains one of the best assistant coaches the Steelers have ever boasted) it’s amazing how many national announcers have still failed to realize he is no longer orchestrating the defense. Even today, you will hear the same hackneyed statement: “The Steelers are surely going to dial up their full selection of exotic blitzes against the young rookie quarterback.” This, despite the fact the Steelers defense has looked much more like Tampa Two than Blitzburg since LeBeau left town. With the team now frequently sending their edge rushers back into pass coverage, and having success in doing so, this won’t change soon.
The Brady Factor
Many will point to a lack of talent on the team as the reason for the demise of Blitzburg. But it actually has more to do with intentional scheme changes. Even at its peak days of glory, LeBeau’s “exotic blitzes” fell woefully short against quick releasing quarterbacks like Tom Brady who would spread their offense and shred the defense with an unrelenting series of ten yard outs. Offenses have evolved and fortunately the Steelers defense has as well.
Confusing At Any Angle
Aussie punter Jordan Berry is averaging about 48 yards a kick this season, which is outstanding. His first punt against the Bengals last week was a 46 yard boomer that was angled out of bounds rendering it unreturnable. This begs the question. If he can reach his average distance merely by kicking it out of play, why would he ever be asked to put it between the lines? The only explanation would be the Steelers are more hopeful of getting a fumble than fearful of giving up a big return. But is the risk worth the reward?
And Now For Something Offensive
You can expect teams to mirror the strategy the Bengals used to slow down Antonio Brown last week for the remainder of the season. The counterpunch actually is quite simple to execute if you have a reliable one-trick pony. If a Mike Wallace, in his prime, was lined up opposite Antonio Brown, teams would have no option of rolling over so much help. Last year, the one-trick pony was WR Martavis Bryant, who is on a year-long reefer-induced timeout. Sammie Coates will need to fill that role more effectively in order for the Steelers offense to be full throttle and for Brown to enjoy another All Pro year. Coates’ deep reception against the Bengals last week might have been the biggest play of the game and hopefully will give him confidence to continue growing in this role.
The Law Firm of Grimble & James
Although there wasn’t much to get excited about the Steelers passing game lack week, there is growing optimism in the play of tight ends Jesse James and Xavier Grimble. If they can back up last week’s strong performance with another against the Eagles it may shift a perceived preseason weakness into a strength. By the time TE Ladarius Green’s head clears up and he makes his way back onto the field, this unit may be as deep in receiving talent as it has ever been.
The Prize In The Cracker Jack Box Please
Pennsylvania may end up deciding the presidential election in November but it will serve up less drama today. If the Steelers had beaten the Bengals with all cylinders firing this match would have set up as a prototypical Tomlinesque trap game. However; the Spin says Big Ben and Downtown Brown will be too anxious to convert their sideline squabble into an offensive explosion this week. Wentz will be able to move the ball, which will frustrate Steelers fans. But a few key defensive turnovers and a resurgent offense will have Eastern Pennsylvania overflowing with pride. Steelers 34, Eagles 17.