Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gameday: Philadelphia Eagles

Home Sweet Home
Radio: WDVE and Other Affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Back In Black (and Gold)

The biggest news in Steeler Nation this week was the return of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison to the practice field. Rashard Mendenhall had been going through full practices before the bye week but had been held out due to his ACL surgery in January. Those three are all due back in the lineup for the Steelers today, along with backup inside linebacker and special teams ace Stevenson Sylvester. The Steelers injury report lists Polamalu, Harrison, Mendenhall and Marcus Gilbert all as probable. Mike Adams is also absent from the injury report, which means there's a good chance he'll get a helmet on Sunday. This doesn't mean a whole lot, but Adams is clearly a better option as a backup tackle than Kelvin Beachum at this point in time.

2. The Wide Nine

Call it what you will, but the Steelers have struggled greatly against Jim Washburn's Wide Nine defensive scheme. If you're not familiar with the term, check out this article from Smart Football on the scheme. The basic theory is that the defensive ends align about as wide as possible (outside the tight ends) so that they can create a severe pass rushing angle to get to the quarterback. The problem that the Steelers have had in the past is their offensive tackles don't have the foot speed to get back far enough to block the speed rushers coming off the edge. Look for a lot of inside runs, draw plays, and quick passes out of Todd Haley early in the game to try to neutralize the Eagles pass rush. As the Smart Football article points out, the "Wide Nine" is basically a "pin your ears back and go" order to the defensive ends. In theory this doesn't sound hard to stop, but the Eagles have the personnel to make it work in Jason Babin and Trent Cole, both of whom have terrorized the Steelers in the past.

3. Track Meet

Between the Steelers three primary receivers (Wallace, Brown, Sanders) and the Eagles top two (Jackson, Maclin), I really don't think you'll find a game with more speed on the outside. All five of these guys can absolutely fly up and down the field. Jackson and Maclin don't have overwhelming size, but their speed makes it very easy for them to get open anywhere on the field. The Steelers secondary will have their work cut out for them keeping up with these two. On the other side, while the Eagles have Nnamdi Asomugha on one corner, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie can be beat and their nickel corner (rookie Brandon Boykin) hasn't been tested by anyone as good as Sanders or Brown. There are matchups out there the Steelers can exploit, so don't be surprised if Ben looks for Sanders and Heath Miller early and often.

4. Zone Blocking

The Steelers have struggled against teams that employ a zone blocking scheme over the last few seasons. Specifically, Baltimore and Houston come to mind. The Eagles use a zone scheme and former Pitt standout LeSean McCoy is fantastic at running behind it. The Steelers just need to stay disciplined and fill their gaps to cut off any cut-back lanes. Big plays come out of the zone scheme when defenders try to anticipate and do too much, which makes them get caught ahead of the play (see: Lawrence Timmons on the Darren McFadden TD run in Oakland). Shady is one of the best backs in the league and he is a threat in both the run game and the passing game. The Eagles will try to get him the ball as much as possible and a mediocre defensive effort isn't going to contain him.

5. Just Win

The Eagles became the first team in NFL history to win 3 games by a grand total of 4 points. They haven't been winning pretty and they have turned the ball over a ton. This seems like a good recipe for a Steelers team that has struggled to produce takeaways. The Eagles have won three close games, and the Steelers just have to find a way to come out victorious in this one. Getting pressure on Vick will be a huge factor, and having Harrison and Polamalu back on the field should be a huge help. Vick has not played well against the Steelers in preseason games over the last few years, but he has torched us twice in regular season games. The Steelers need a win to keep them within striking distance in the division race. It's still early in the season, but starting 1-3 would really put us behind the 8 ball. Just go out and win. It doesn't have to be fancy, just win.

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