I-76 Rivalry: Which Offense Looks Better Going into the Future?

Matt ShervingtonCorrespondent IIDecember 26, 2009

As a youth, both of my parents were in the military, and as a result, I moved around a lot. With all of the moving that my family did, it was rare to settle down in one place; however, we managed to live at Fort Riley, KS for six or seven years.

It was there that I first became interested in football as Super Bowl XXX was to air on Jan. 28, 1996. Two days prior to this game, my third-grade teacher asked our classroom who we felt would win. Twenty-eight of the students proclaimed the Cowboys; I was alone in picking the Steelers.

Why exactly did I pick the Steelers? Well, it was for an interesting reason. It was because my family originally hailed from Philadelphia. However, in my youth, having always moved around, I was unaware of the difference between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Despite the fact that the Steelers lost, I remained an adamant fan of the team because I was always under the impression that they were the Philadelphia Steelers. It was not until I was old enough to actually understand geography outside of my current location, as well as the game of football in depth, that I realized I had made the “wrong” choice. However, I never relinquished being a Steelers fan and that choice has always paid off.

However, despite the fact that I will remain a Steelers fan until I die, the Eagles will always hold a spot in my heart, given that 70 percent of my family is from Philadelphia and the love of my life—raised in Lancaster County, PA—is a die-hard Eagles fan.

Since returning to Philadelphia after my mother’s retirement from the Army, I have been forced to watch every Eagles game by local Fox affiliate Fox 29. So I found myself being a closet, though not die-hard, Eagles fan.

As someone who has viewed both sides of the spectrum from both a biased and unbiased perspective, I am well aware of the way both fans in this rare rivalry feel. One would be lying if they said that there is not cross-state hatred between the fans of both teams.

One only needs to go to a college or university in Pennsylvania on a fall weekend to see the arguments that occur between the fans of both teams as to who is the better team.

It would be easy for me as a Steelers fan to allude to the six Super Bowl championships to argue superiority just as it would be easy for an Eagles fan to allude to their 10-4 record in comparison to the Steelers 7-7 record to argue their team’s superiority.

Throughout the decade the two teams have been marked by their defenses and thus there have been numerous comparisons to which team has had the better defense(s) this decade.

With both teams' defenses not being anything to write home about this season, it leads one to realize that the future of these two teams is very possibly in the hands of both of their offenses. It is here where the inspiration for this article comes. Which team’s offense—based on the skill position players—looks more poised for greatness in the future?

The Steelers feature the older and more experienced unit with Ben Roethlisberger (27), Santonio Holmes (25), Heath Miller (27), Mike Wallace (23) and Rashard Mendenhall (22).

Meanwhile, the Eagles feature the younger unit, but it has the Eagles’ fans raving for the first time in years about their offense. Kevin Kolb (25) will be taking the reins in a few years at quarterback, where as DeSean Jackson (23), Jeremy Maclin (21), and Brent Celek (25) will be the pass catchers in Philadelphia.

Finally, former Pittsburgh (University) halfback LeSean “Shady” McCoy (21) will be toting the rock on the ground in the future for the Eagles.

So with all of this young offensive talent in the state of Pennsylvania separated by 300 miles on I-70 that won’t see each other—barring a Super Bowl matchup—for another three years, the question is, which team looks better, offensively, for the future?


Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Kevin Kolb

Honestly, this comparison isn’t really fair, but Philadelphia still currently has its franchise’s best quarterback in Donovan McNabb taking snaps and he will be for an additional two or three years.

That’s unfortunate for Kolb; however, when one sees him play they realize he still needs to be on the bench to develop. In his limited playing time, Kolb has shown a connection with both Jackson and Celek and will throw to them even if covered tightly. Kolb has the skillset and teammates to be good.

Unfortunately for Kolb, however, is that his opposition is great. Ben Roethlisberger is only 27, yet he has already appeared in two Super Bowls and was the catalyst on the final drive in order to win the latter of the two.

Roethlisberger has taken the Steelers’ offense on his back twice in his career; in 2007 with 32 touchdown passes due to the rushing attacks red zone ineptitude and this season due to a combination of factors. He is a guy capable of going off for 30+ touchdowns and/or a 4,000 yard season and is arguably the most clutch quarterback in the league.

For the aforementioned reasons, I have to easily go with Ben Roethlisberger as my choice here.


Halfback: Rashard Mendenhall vs. LeSean McCoy

In the mind of many Pittsburgh Steelers fans, the drafting of Rashard Mendenhall was immediately thought of as a mistake. Willie Parker may have broken his leg, but he was coming off a season in which he was top five in every measurable halfback statistic. Then Mendenhall broke his shoulder in his first start as a rookie and these thoughts were almost confirmed.

However, luckily for Steeler Nation Mendenhall has since rebounded and has averaged over five yards per carry for most of the season and should amass an 1,000-yard season this season. Mendenhall, however, need a vast reality check in order to see success as he had limited or no playing time for the first three games of the year.

Unfortunately for LeSean McCoy, he was stuck behind an All-Pro entering the season and unfortunately—but I guess fortunate for him—Brian Westbrook was subject to two concussions, the worst injury of his career. Already on the wrong side of 30 for a halfback, Westbrook might not return to Philadelphia next season and most definitely will not be the starter or the 2010-11 NFL season.

McCoy will hold the reins from now on.  He has only started four games at the time of this article, but he has 870 yards from scrimmage on 185 touches. He definitely has the skillset to become the new Brian Westbrook of the league and with Andy Reid receiving a contract extension I am pretty sure he will be.

While Mendenhall is more proven at this point—based on virtue of being in the league one more year and producing pretty well this year—I believe McCoy has a better skillset than Mendenhall as well as a coach who knows how to utilize that skillset better by utilizing McCoy as a pass catcher. So this point goes to LeSean McCoy


Flanker: Santonio Holmes vs. Jeremy Maclin

Santonio Holmes was the first receiver taken in the 2006 NFL draft, which just four years later has already proven to be incredibly deep with Holmes, Marshall, Colston, and Jennings. Holmes showed immense signs of talent from day one.

Despite only starting four games as a rookie, he went off for 800 yards. As a second-year player, Holmes was the league’s best deep threat posting 8 touchdowns and 942 yards in only 13 games.

He has since gone on to become a 1,000-yard receiver and a Super Bowl MVP and has become the focus point of the Steelers offense as numerous teams have said they key on Holmes when playing against the Steelers.

While DeSean Jackson is currently the flanker for the Eagles, it is my belief that Jackson does not have the skillset to be a truly elite flanker in the NFL because he has trouble going over the middle or making catches in traffic.

Meanwhile, in limited time this year, Maclin has excelled at doing both of those things and has shown that he can be a deep threat as well. For these reasons I feel Maclin will become the Birds’ flanker and a pretty good one at that. Maclin has good hands, runs great route and is an excellent down the field blocker. All things you would want from a flanker.

Unfortunately for Jeremy Maclin, Santonio Holmes is slowly etching his name into the elite category of receivers based on virtue of his 2007 and 2009 seasons. It’s not fair, since Maclin is merely a rookie, but maybe that will change.


Split End: Mike Wallace vs. DeSean Jackson

Though Santonio Holmes is currently the Steelers’ split end and Mike Wallace is in the slot, Wallace has clearly established himself as the Steelers future split end. He posses all the speed in the world and established himself as an excellent deep threat in just his first year.

And that game-winning reception that he made against the Packers? Wow! He has also continued the established tradition of being a good blocker necessary to be a Steelers receiver.

While Jackson is currently the Flanker in Philadelphia he doesn’t have the  skillset for the position. If this was simply who would be the better pure receiver it would be very close. Who knows who would be better. However, this is about the future of the two teams’ respective skill position players so what they do elsewhere has to be considered.

Jackson is a threat to make a big play every time he touches the ball on a deep route. He also has the ability to take an end-around to the house where as Wallace hasn’t been able to do such a thing yet.

The choice here is DeSean Jackson , who is already a proven 1,000-yard receiver. However, I would like to point out to Eagles fans that special teams touches are not put into consideration here so it is a lot closer than one would think towards the future in my opinion.

I see both being amongst the biggest deep threats in the league, but Jackson capable of being a 1,000-yard receiver due to a pass heavy offense he will be in under Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg .


Tight End: Heath Miller vs. Brent Celek

The final position battle is between the two tight ends, both of which could be considered top 10 at the position already in their young careers. Miller has traditionally been a blocking tight end for the run-heavy Steelers; however, in their pass-heavy attack of 2009 Miller has been top 10 in every receiving statistic at the position all while being an elite run blocker at the position.

Miller is one of the best players in the league, period, at making plays for himself after a reception and breaks tackles with relative ease. He also has some of the best hands in the business, only having three drops on the season at this point.

Across the state is Brent Celek. In a comparison between him and division rival Kevin Boss, I stated, “Brent Celek is kind of just there.” Those words still remain true. He’s not the fastest, he’s not the strongest, and he’s not the most sure-handed player...but he just makes plays.

He plays better than he actually is. He simply knows how to get open and make a catch and try to make something happen afterwards. Not to mention he can take a licking as shown in his two games with Kolb when Kolb left him hanging out to dry.

According to Stats LLC's official drops statistic his hands are suspect as he’s got an insanely high nine drops but I do not believe that as I have not seen nine drops out of him. But as I said...he just gets it done!

My choice here is Heath Miller . Miller is better-rounded and has better hands. However, what sets the two apart is that Heath Miller is one of the better run blocking tight ends in the league where as I’ve seen Celek mauled off the ball a few times and have seen him being more willing than able at pass and run blocking so far in his career.

He has made huge strides since the start of the season but he’s just not in Miller’s league as a blocker and the two are virtually even as receivers with Miller being more sure-handed.


So there you have it. Going into the future the Steelers offense looks to be better in my opinion by notion of a 3-2 score. The big difference, however, is that the Steelers have a quarterback with immense Hall of Fame potential and the Eagles have an enigma. The rest of that is all speculation and projection so it can go either way.

Let me know how you feel about this comparison.


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