Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense as a whole will have their hands full against a talented Eagles offense, and everyone from the down linemen to the secondary will be looking for redemption. After all, September presented far more questions than answers, if there were any answers, defensively. Included among the inquiries are:
What degree of impact did injuries have on the unit's production?
Are Dick LeBeau's schemes, whether in general or relative to this season alone, becoming less effective or...dare it be said, predictable?
What solutions are available to aid in getting pressure in the offensive backfield?
No matter what answers coincide with the questions above, one thing is certain: nothing will be so important toward improving defensively as dominating upfront.
Against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh's nose tackle, along with ends "Ziggy" Hood and Brett Keisel, will be thoroughly tested.
Above all else, their mission starts with the need to contain the Eagles' acclaimed running back, LeSean McCoy. Most Philadelphians feel that "Shady" has been underutilized so far in 2012. A desire for an increased role for the run game is not novel in Philly.
If McCoy is able to establish a consistent presence in the game, the defense will have already lost the matchup. On a weekend where the Eagles will look to further utilize their star back, the down linemen must win their matchups at the line of scrimmage, creating havoc in the backfield and opening lanes for pursuant linebackers.
Winning individual battles in the trenches will also be critical against a quarterback who needs to be kept in the pocket. Michael Vick is a far more effective passer outside of the tackle box, where he can create yardage and fully utilize his skills.
Inside the box, Vick has had a rough going this season, turning the football over, struggling to read defenses and taking more hits than Apollo Creed in the Rocky anthology. And, we all know what fate awaited Apollo! Ah, Philly fans and their Rocky movies....
As far as a pass rush is concerned, I remain a huge advocate of bringing Steve McLendon into the nose tackle spot.
Casey Hampton has shown the wear of time and tear of injuries in his first few outings this season; conversely, while Hampton is more renowned for his defensive skills against the run, McLendon is a more forceful pass-rusher.
He had the camp and preseason of his young career, and he best showcased his dominance against (drum roll)...the Eagles!
Above and beyond stuffing the run and getting penetration through the line of scrimmage, the ends will have the additional task of keeping the ever-elusive Vick from evading to the outside. If Philly's No. 7 is kept predominantly inside the tackles, it will bode well for the Steelers on Sunday.