10 Things To Watch During Steelers-Eagles Preseason Week 2 Matchup
Being a Steelers fan who hails from Philadelphia can be quite tiresome. Often times, I am subject to hearing from some random drunken person how the Eagles are the best franchise ever. The thing that gets me is this is usually provoked by something as simple as me wearing my Troy Polamalu jersey.
Even with my dislike for the way some random Eagles fans conduct themselves I do secretly like the Eagles. And the reality is I know some Eagles fans that are AMAZING fans such as my cousin Grant or my friend Ashley.
I’ve seen 90 percent of every snap of every Eagles games since I moved back to Philadelphia in 2001. The 10 percent are the ones in which I only had one television available, and by the grace of God, CBS3 or FOX29 decided to actually air a Steelers game.
Even more so, my family members are Eagles fans and my fiancée is an Eagles fan. Therefore, I have no issues secretly cheering for the Eagles—in the event that they are not playing the Steelers.
Therefore I like to consider myself pretty well-versed on both teams, although I will admit my thorough understanding of the birds is dwindling as I move further and further from Philly.
That said, as the Steelers and Eagles only play a meaningful regular season game once every four years, they often find themselves playing one another in the preseason. In fact, they have met every preseason since 2000 except for 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
Therefore despite the fact that I’m not the type of fan to cheer loudly during preseason games, I am very excited for this one and have decided to do a write up for the game.
Eagles: Jason Kelce vs. Casey Hampton
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Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd has been singing the praises of rookie center Jason Kelce all offseason. Mudd has even gone as far as to call Kelce the next Jeff Saturday. I personally feel that Saturday is a future Hall of Famer so those are some steep shoes to fit in to.
While Terrence “Mount” Cody was a nice test, Casey Hampton will be the first elite defensive lineman that Kelce has the “pleasure” of lining up against.
Whether Kelce starts or comes in latter to take some snaps with the first team, he will take some snaps against Hampton. Hampton is the premier run-defending nose tackle in the NFL and that is without question.
In fact, if Hampton’s position—the 3-4 Nose Tackle—wasn’t so overlooked, he probably would eventually be a Hall of Famer.
Hampton is an immovable object, and it will be good to see what Kelce can do there. Will he be able to one-block Hampton or will he need help? Will he be able to discern when Hampton is clogging gaps for Timmons and simply trying to occupy Kelce?
We will see how much Kelce actually compares to Saturday with this matchup.
Steelers: Backup Defensive Backs vs. Eagles Deep Wide Receiving Corp
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It has been well documented that the Steelers defensive backs have been their Achilles heel for the better part of the past decade. Outside of 2006-2008 when Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor were on an absolute tear in coverage, the Steelers have always been bottom of the pack in this regard.
This is because, unlike the 2011 Eagles, the Steelers bring in the overwhelming majority of their talent from the draft. Unfortunately, Kevin Colbert has not been a strong scout of defensive back talent outside of the aforementioned Polamalu and Taylor. Sure, others have shown flashes but never consistently.
Starting cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden will not play. Even with Polamalu playing, he and Ryan Clark are sure to only get a couple of series in to avoid injury. Additionally, backup defensive backs Cortez Allen and Crezdon Butler are ruled out.
Due to the aforementioned, backup defensive backs William Gay, Keenan Lewis, Damon Cromartie-Smith and Ryan Mundy are going to have to line up against what many would consider the best and deepest wide receiver corps in the league even without Jeremy Maclin and Steve Smith.
It will be interesting to see how disciplined these guys remain when you consider Dick LeBeau goes very vanilla with his schemes in the preseason, meaning these guys will man up with little pressure up front to help them.
Eagles: Michael Vick vs. Troy Polamalu
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While Polamalu should only play a couple of series and won’t play at his highest level, it will be a good test for Michael Vick.
Vick took the first steps in erasing the “one-year wonder” label during last week’s game by going 4-of-6 for 74 yards and a touchdown. The two key plays were a busted coverage in which Riley Cooper made a jumping grab over Ed Reed and the culminating touchdown toss to Brent Celek.
Vick can make yet another move to erasing that title by moving his Eagles down the field with a well-orchestrated passing drive against Polamalu’s secondary.
Sure Polamalu won’t be disguising coverages or running over-under brackets on DeSean Jackson. However, it will be good to see if Vick can attempt to and be successful at manipulating one of the league’s best safeties in order to aid his receivers in getting open.
This is a move that the league’s best quarterbacks use. Rodgers, Brady and Brees also used it to get at least one completion against Polamalu.
Let’s see if Vick can do it for the two quarters he should be in.
Steelers: Mike Wallace vs. Nnamdi Asomugha
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There’s little doubt that Mike Wallace is the fastest of the top receivers in the league. Nor is there much doubt that Wallace wasn’t one of the 10 best wide receivers in the league last season. However, the key words in that phrase are “last season.”
Wallace needs to prove himself for another season before we can actually anoint him as an elite receiver. Wallace seems to understand this as he has said he wants to attempt to cross the 2,000 yards receiving barrier in a single season.
I will save room for that debate later, but Wallace can make a statement in this game by beating Nnamdi Asomugha for a catch or two in this game. Sure, it’s just the preseason, but Asomugha still remains the league’s best—and least tested—cornerback. Whether it is regular season or the Super Bowl, a reception against him in man coverage is hard to come by and would be indicative of the strides Wallace had made this offseason.
Unfortunately, I doubt that this matchup will go for more than a couple of series as the Steelers can't stand to risk an injury to their biggest skill position threat. Unfortunately, the fans lose out because our answer to the following question might go amiss.
Eagles: Can Nnamdi Play On The Left Side Of The Field?
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You will get no argument from me that Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cornerback in the NFL. In fact, for me that is without question. However, many people believe there is one thing that hurts his case and I can see why they feel they have a legitimate point.
Asomugha has almost exclusively played the right side of the field during his tenure as the league’s best cornerback. On over 85 percent of snaps over the previous five seasons, Asomugha has lined up on the right side and lined up against whatever wide receiver was on that side. It didn’t matter if it was an elite flanker or a lowly split end Asomugha covered them.
Asomugha has stated to Andy Reid and Juan Castillo that he would like to take some snaps in the slot regardless of side and therefore he might be allowed to do so. Additionally, it would mean he would also play on the left side of the field a lot more than the nine percent of the time he used to in Oakland.
Just a few snaps at somewhere other than the right cornerback could be indicative of how Aso will be used during this upcoming season.
Steelers: Jonathan Scott & Willie Colon vs. Trent Cole & Jason Babin
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There is no secret that the Steelers' offensive line has been a train wreck since the departure of center Jeff Hartings following the 2006 season. Hopefully, his heir apparent Maurkice Pouncey’s arrival in 2010 will be the setting about of things in motion to return to that level. This game can help to show whether or not that is true.
Trent Cole is an All-Pro caliber talent for the Eagles. In fact, it is either Cole or Justin Tuck that is the league’s most complete 4-3 defensive end in regards to defending the run and the pass. He will be an excellent test for the shaky Jonathan Scott at left tackle.
Scott filled in admirably last season for the Steelers after longtime vet Max Starks went down, but he wasn’t anything special if we’re being honest. However, if he can hold the point of attack against Cole it could go a long way to remaining the starter.
At the opposite tackle is Willie Colon who missed the entirety of the 2010 campaign due to an Achilles injury suffered during minicamps.
Colon’s opponent is Jason Babin. While Babin is very overrated, he serves as an excellent test for Colon to see if he has returned to health. This is because Babin’s 12.5 sacks last season show that he can get to the quarterback. Colon is more known for his run blocking but he needs to have good pass blocking this season for the Steelers to succeed. This will be his first test.
Eagles: Ryan Harris vs. LaMarr Woodley
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The Eagles have banked a lot on free-agent signing Ryan Harris. Formerly known as the guy from “MTVs True Life: I Want The Perfect Body” Harris has a tremendous work ethic and has, since doing that episode of True Life in high school.
This work ethic had Harris penciled in as a top five—if not the best—right tackle in this league at one point in his career. Unfortunately for Harris, his career has been derailed by back issues. So much so that even with all his talent, the Broncos failed to bring him back allowing the Eagles to pick him up.
As Vick is a left-handed quarterback, Ryan Harris serves as his blindside blocker—or at least that is what the Eagles are planning. But Harris has already been having troubles again with his back.
If Harris does indeed go in this game, he will be going up against one of the league’s best pass-rushers in LaMarr Woodley. Woodley is only a few active players with a streak of three or more straight seasons of 10-plus sacks. Needless to say, Woodley will be a test for Harris.
Steelers: Antonio Brown vs. Asante Samuel and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie
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I have no idea in my mind that Antonio Brown can beat both of these cornerbacks, despite the hype built up around them.
It may come across as homerish, but if you watch most team’s camps and look at their receivers, you would be hard pressed to find another receiver looking as good as Brown this preseason. The ridiculous part is Brown wasn’t even supposed to be getting these looks, but fellow second-year receiver Emmanuel Sanders has been having foot problems.
Brown has a tremendous burst of speed but has been running crisp routes and displaying soft hands. He’s been doing so well that many people believe that he might be able to move Sanders to the fourth receiver role.
For those that don’t understand how extreme this is, please remember that the Steelers Super Bowl game plan was to work through Sanders until he went out with foot problems.
If Brown really does want that coveted third receiver slot on the depth chart, then he will come out and put on a show against what many consider the best secondary—at least on paper—in the NFL. Given that Brown will be given both first and second team reps, he will certainly have ample opportunity to do so.
Eagles: Secondary vs. Ben Roethlisberger
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It is no secret that Ben Roethlisberger is the best quarterback in the league at making a play when things break down. If he isn’t, then the only person that can compare is his Super Bowl XLV counterpart Aaron Rodgers.
With so many issues on the offensive line and injuries forcing the likes of Doug Legursky to play at guard, I fully expect some breakdowns on the offensive line. I foresee these breakdowns not from Jim Washburn’s system but from the Steelers’ line’s ineptitude.
With these breakdowns, Roethlisberger will have to resort to some backyard football once again. When Ben does this most teams don’t know how to properly react. Perhaps, the Eagles will, however, as their starting and backup quarterbacks both have made careers of the scramble drill.
It is obvious that the Eagles’ safeties are a weakness in the secondary. Additionally, the lack of chemistry between Asomugha, Samuel and Rodgers-Cromartie and the gambling tendencies of the latter two should make a porential scrambling drill all the more interesting.
It should be the first real test for the Eagles’ secondary as Joe Flacco tends to check down as opposed to go for the deep pass, and they didn’t get tested last week in their 1.5 series.
Steelers: Stevenson Sylvester vs. Brent Celek
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Stevenson Sylvester has been touted by many Steelers insiders and fans as the next Steelers linebacker. If you watch football, you know what that phrase truly means.
To be a starting linebacker for the Steelers means more than to start at that position for any other club. Sylvester is expected to split snaps with James Farrior during this season and eventually replace him in the 2012-13 season.
Sylvester shined in minicamps according to all those that watched him. He was excellent in both the passing game via coverage and in the running game by attacking the line. However, in the first preseason game against the Redskins, he looked lost in coverage and had trouble in the run game against the Redskins’ first team.
This will be a good opportunity for Sylvester as he should get some snaps against the Eagles’ first team during the second quarter of the game. What should be interesting is Sylvester against Celek since the Redskins picked on him last week in coverage. As the Eagles expect to involve Celek more this year, they might do so in this game, and Sylvester needs to prove he’s good enough in coverage to earn those snaps from Farrior this season.