Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Keys to Beating the Eagles
Pittsburgh will enter Week 5's matchup against the Eagles standing at 1-2 and coming off a bye where they got some much-needed rest.
The team will add key components to both the offense and defense as starters Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall are returning.
Conversely, the Eagles played their best game of the season last Sunday night, beating their rival, the Giants, 19-17. Philadelphia was as balanced offensively as they've ever been, and despite not recording a sack on Eli Manning, they applied good pressure on the reigning Super Bowl MVP, forcing him to make a few costly throws.
The Steelers could be running into a buzzsaw in the Eagles as it seems they've finally figured out how to use their talent to win games.
But that doesn't mean they're invincible.
Like any other team, Philadelphia has weaknesses that the Steelers can exploit on their way to victory.
Let's take a look at five things the Steelers need to do to win on Sunday.
When Shady Has the Ball, Stay Home!!!
As I said in the intro, Andy Reid finally decided to use his best offensive weapon last week and it led to a win.
Countless times against the Giants, you could see LeSean McCoy start left and cut it back all the way across the field for what would be a big gain. This all had to do with the Giants inability to set the edge and keep contain on the shifty back.
McCoy has some very rare and valuable features and an almost Barry Sanders-esque style of running the ball that makes it very hard for defenses to get a good read on him. New York did a terrible job of staying home on the backside in Week 4 and it cost them.
The Steelers won't be able to afford to make the same mistake.
Making sure outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison stay home on runs away from them is of the utmost importance. It will be an even bigger task for Jason Worlids and Chris Carter, who are much less experienced and more prone to getting caught inside.
If the Steelers can contain Shady, it'll go a long way in making sure they come away with the victory.
Spy Michael Vick
But in their Week 3 meeting with the Birds, the Arizona Cardinals did a great job of neutralizing Vick's athleticism and containing him within the pocket.
The way they did this was by keeping a spy on the athletic QB.
Whether it was Daryl Washington, O'Brien Schofield or Sam Acho, one of the Cardinals linebackers was constantly shadowing Vick, holding him to just 15 yards rushing on the afternoon and sacking him five times.
It would be interesting to see who the Steelers would use in a spy on Vick.
Rookie Sean Spence would have been the ideal candidate given his speed, but he's out with injury. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons might not be fast enough to keep up with Vick and Polamalu should be shadowing McCoy every chance he gets.
Pittsburgh will most certainly use the Arizona tape as a frame of reference considering Ray Horton (former Steelers secondary coach) runs a very similar defense with the Cardinals. Keeping someone on Vick's shadow would make the defense's day a whole lot easier.
Attack Brandon Boykin
Receiver Antonio Brown spoke to the media earlier this week and called rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin the "candy bar" of the Eagles defense.
I'm not sure what that really means, but Brown was right on the money in nailing down who the team needs to attack in the passing game.
Opponents have had pretty good success against the Eagles using their slot receiver.
The Giants found Victor Cruz nine times for 109 yards and a score in last Sunday night's loss. In the last two weeks against the Cardinals and Giants, opposing slot receivers have caught nine of the 13 passes thrown Boykin's way and have averaged over 12 yards per grab.
Boykin has had a relatively tough start to his rookie campaign, squaring off with Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Victor Cruz already. This week, it'll most likely be a mix of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery.
With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha playing on the outside, Boykin seems like an easy target on the Eagles defense.
But it's one Ben Roethlisberger will have to exploit if the Steelers want to win on Sunday. I think all three guys can beat Boykin and it should be a big day for the Pittsburgh slot receivers.
Run the Ball Effectively
It's stunning to say this about a Steelers team, but it's been a real struggle for the offense to get anything going on the ground.
Pittsburgh ranks 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging a measly 65 yards per game and just 2.6 yards per carry. Isaac Redman has led the way, but only has 72 yards on the ground this season.
The Steelers will get a boost in the rushing attack as Rashard Mendenhall is reportedly set to return this week, but it remains to be seen how much time he'll see.
It's important for the Steelers to run well because of what it can do to an Eagles safety unit that's a little below par.
Kurt Coleman has been notorious for biting hard on play-action fakes, but that only works if the opponents running game is a real threat.
Running well has been one of the main reasons the Steelers have been able to work the ball down the field in the passing game so well over the past few years. If Pittsburgh can get Mendenhall and the other backs going, it could mean a big day for speedster Mike Wallace as well.
Make Michael Vick Beat You
Gone are the days of having to be petrified of seeing your defensive line up and try and stop the Michael Vick experience.
Vick has shown this year that being the feature course of an offense just might not be the right course of action for him.
In the Eagles two wins against the Ravens and Giants, Philadelphia ran the ball more times than they threw it and Vick coughed up three turnovers, omething absolutely unheard of in the Andy Reid era in the City of Brotherly Love.
But in the other two games where Vick has been in the spotlight (at Cleveland, at Arizona), the team has struggled. In those games, Vick has averaged 47 pass attempts, three turnovers per game and was sacked seven times.
It's becoming pretty obvious that the Eagles are a much better team when they can balance out their offense.
The more LeSean McCoy touches the ball, the greater the Eagles chances of winning are.
Pittsburgh needs to put this game in Vick's hands if they want to win and that starts by shutting down McCoy. If the Eagles run game sputters early, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Andy Reid put the game on his quarterback's shoulders, and that's just what the Steelers want.
Feed Heath Miller
- The Eagles have routinely struggled to cover the tight end under Andy Reid
Pressure Michael Vick
- Thought this went without saying, but under pressure, Vick gives the ball away.
Keep Ben Upright
-This game will be a major challenge for the offensive line. If Ben has time, Steelers win.
Neutralize Brent Celek
-Celek never gets enough credit but he's one of the top TE's in the game. A good pass rush keeps him in as a blocker where he can't hurt you.
-Ike Taylor is a big, fast corner. He should use his size to keep Jackson on the line and away from the big plays downfield.
For more Steelers info, follow me on Twitter: @dsnyder34