Don’t be fooled by a reputation: This year’s Steelers team is nothing like those of recent memory.
That said, it’s not a guaranteed win, but it’s also not a definite loss. Both teams have weaknesses that the other has the means to exploit; this matchup will be a chess match.
A big worry for Eagles fans is the return of James Harrison, but I’m not buying in. He’s been hurt and he’s probably rusty.
Who I am concerned about is Troy Polamalu, who has arguably been the best safety of his generation.
The following slideshow illustrates some of the things the Eagles need to do to improve to 4-1 this weekend in Pittsburgh.
Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and there’s no disputing that. And he’s having a great year, but look at who he’s beaten. With the exception of the Raiders, he’s taken down two decent defenses in the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets—but it’s not like he threw and ran all over the Texans or the 49ers.
In order for the Eagles to give themselves a chance, they’ll have to rely on their four-man rush. Roethlisberger is too big to blitz, and he’s hard to bring down. However, the Birds’ D-line is certainly capable of getting to Roethlisberger and pressuring him.
This will be Castillo’s biggest test as a defensive coordinator so far this season. He's going to have to figure out a way to disrupt Roethlisberger’s pass distribution to his many targets without focusing on attacking and bringing him down.
It would be too daunting a task to try to take Roethlisberger out of the game, so the Birds are going to have to do the next best thing and neutralize his weapons.
Big Ben’s success can be attributed to the number of weapons he has at his disposal. The Steelers are deep at the receiver position, and Roesthlisberger’s also got tight end Heath Miller as a target. To be honest, Miller’s a bit overrated, too (we’ll get into that shortly).
You may have heard that Antonio Brown called out Brandon Boykin in the media, referring to him as a “candy bar.” The implication there is that Brown thinks he’ll eat Boykin up.
Though Boykin is undersized and is a rookie, Antonio Brown isn’t exactly the strongest and most physical receiver in the NFL.
For what Boykin is, we’ve seen him on three excellent receivers so far—all of whom have been better than Antonio Brown. So, we know Boykin isn't going to be overpowered. No. 22 is quick, too, so he should be able to cover the Steelers' outspoken receiver.
Who knows if Boykin will even be on Antonio Brown. But if he is, I’m not too worried about it. Furthermore, I’m not worried at all if one of the Eagles’ other two cornerbacks will be on Brown duty.
Mike Wallace is probably the NFL’s best deep threat. He’s also one of the faster players in the league.
The Eagles are going are going to have to draw up some schemes to neutralize Wallace. But I’ve got faith in safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen if Wallace beats coverage and finds himself deep. If the Birds’ safeties can manage to keep the play-action biting to a minimum, I think they’ll be all right.
The answer to the Heath Miller question is Mychal Kendricks, the Eagles’ biggest surprise so far. Last week, Kendricks shut down Martellus Bennett. Heath Miller is not Martellus Bennett.
However, Heath Miller is a great route-runner who can catch and is strong and athletic. Mychal Kendricks is also strong and athletic, and it’s clear that he has the intelligence to keep up with Miller. Right off the bat, you can eliminate Miller’s potential to have a big game if Kendricks is the man on him.
I’ve actually seen two of the Steelers’ games this year, and many of them the last few years (I used to bartend, and every Sunday I inexplicably had a huge Steelers crowd). They’re notorious zone-blitzers.
This year they haven’t been zone-blitzing as much. But, we need to keep in mind that the Cardinals defense is modeled after that of the Steelers, and we remember what happened during the Cardinals game.
The zone blitz is a problem for offensive linemen because it’s hard to recognize, and we don’t know if the Eagles O-line will be able to replicate their performance against the Giants.
So, Stanley Havili is going to have to be out there a lot, and he’s going to have to quickly recognize what the Steelers defense is doing.
Havili did an outstanding job last week, and his blocking is going to be relied upon heavily this weekend.
With that in mind, the Steelers blitz hasn’t been too effective this year. Perhaps that will change with the return of James Harrison, but don’t hold your breath. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t come together against the questionable Eagles O-line.
The Steelers run a 3-4, and the Eagles have Demetress Bell. Bell has looked silly against the 3-4 up to this point.
Another problem with Bell is that he doesn’t look strong. That’s just an opinion. He looks like he gets overpowered all the time.
If the Eagles O-line has a bad day, it’ll probably be because of Demetress Bell.
If the Steelers run a lot of the zone blitz and Bell is out there, Eagles fans may see him turn into a doormat because he may be confused and over-matched.
The answer? Maybe a little two-TE with Harbor out there?
I don't know. I'm not a coach, and I'm certainly not an O-line evaluator. But based on what I've seen, I'd say Bell is going to have a negative impact on the outcome of this game.
The Steelers’ run defense hasn’t been great this year. They’re ranked 13th, and they’re going up against the NFL’s seventh-ranked running attack.
Now, that’s not too reliable on the Eagles' side because they haven’t run the ball as much as they should have. So, they could be higher.
The ground game is going to have to dominate, and the Eagles have LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick—two capable runners.
Remember, the Steelers defense is like the Cardinals’, and we saw what happened when the Birds ran the ball in the second half of Week 3’s loss to Arizona.
The Eagles can come out on top this weekend. I’m sure Andy Reid has watched the Steelers’ tape and referenced his own embarrassing Week 3 loss to the Cardinals.
If the Birds’ offense is balanced and the defense can manage to disrupt the Steelers’ receivers, things should go their way.
As I said earlier, this is going to be a chess match. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a lot of scoring or none at all. We’ll have to wait and see.
For now, though, the advantage may slightly belong to the Eagles—if they’re prepared.