The battle for Pennsylvania supremacy may hinge on which quarterback is left standing at the end of Sunday’s game (1 p.m.).
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are both known for doing everything possible to keep plays alive. Both teams are known for a fierce pass rush. Add up those two factors and the result is a lot of hits on the quarterbacks.
The Eagles (3-1) and Steelers (1-2) generate pressure in different ways. The Eagles primarily rely on their defensive linemen, particularly their defensive ends, to speed rush the quarterback from their Wide-9 formation. The Eagles constantly rotate defensive linemen throughout the game so their linemen stay fresh.
The Steelers also try to keep their pass rushers fresh, but their pressure comes from different places. The Steelers employ a 3-4 defense. Their pressure on the quarterback usually comes from blitzing linebackers or safety Troy Polamalu, who might be one of the few defensive players who can run down Vick.
The Steelers receive a boost this week from the return of Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison, both former defensive players of the year. Harrison, who hasn’t played this season, will rotate with Chris Carter, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report. Linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds may also rotate on a consistent basis.
Harrison is known as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL. If Vick gets hit 10 or more times by the Steelers, he may not make it through the game. The challenge for Vick will be to play a smart, disciplined game, as he did against the Giants, running out of bounds and minimizing the number of hits.
Roethlisberger is also likely to take a lot of hits. At 6-foot-5, 241 pounds (or more), Roethlisberger is able to float around in the pocket and make throws with defensive players hanging all over him. It remains to be seen, however, how many hits he can absorb from the Eagles’ aggressive defensive line.
The Eagles only have seven sacks through their first four games. Jason Babin has 2½ sacks and fellow defensive end Trent Cole has 1½ sacks. But Babin and Cole have 17 “hurries” apiece. Defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins (10 hurries), Derek Landri (8) and Fletcher Cox (7) are also generating pressure up the middle. Those hurries can take their toll on a quarterback.
The key question for this game might be: which quarterback will still be standing at the end of the game?
The following are other questions for Sunday’s Keystone state showdown at Heinz Field:
Are the Eagles really as good as their 3-1 record?
The Eagles’ three victories have come by a combined four points. If they pass this test against the Steelers on the road, it will validate their status as a good team.
Are the Steelers really as bad as their 1-2 record?
The Steelers opened the season by losing at Denver, 31-19, in Peyton Manning’s Broncos debut. No shame there. They returned home to overpower the hapless Jets, 27-10. The “bad loss” was a 34-31 defeat in Oakland. The Raiders came from behind to win. The Steelers have been missing some key players for all or most of the season. These might not be the Steelers of old, but the return of Harrison and Polamalu should make the Steelers considerably better on defense.
What do the Eagles have to do to win?
Let’s hope that LeSean McCoy continues to be a featured part of the offense, as he was last Sunday night against the Giants. If the play-calling becomes unbalanced, shifting too far in favor of the pass at the expense of the running game, it could spell trouble for the Eagles and Vick’s health.
Which Michael Vick will we see against Pittsburgh?
Vick did not commit a turnover against the Giants after being a turnover machine the previous three weeks. If he can play a controlled game with few mistakes, the Eagles have a much better chance to win. The difficulty is that Vick must rein in his instincts to constantly look for big plays in order to play this disciplined style.
Will the Eagles’ coverage teams be better than against the Giants?
If the coverage teams aren’t better, rookie kickoff and punt returner Chris Rainey may become an instant hero in Pittsburgh. The Eagles cut linebacker Brian Rolle this past week and replaced him with Adrian Moten in order to improve special teams. Linebacker Akeem Jordan, an excellent special teams player, remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. Special teams demon Colt Anderson is expected to play Sunday, but he still has difficulties with a knee injury that kept him sidelined for the entire preseason.
How big a factor is the Steelers having a week off before this game?
The week off allowed the Steelers to rest. It also provided additional time for Polamalu, Harrison and running back Rashard Mendenhall to heal. Mendenhall is making his season debut after tearing his ACL in January. But the Giants had 10 days off before facing the Eagles last Sunday, and the Eagles came away with a 19-17 victory.
Does the Eagles’ preseason victory over the Steelers mean anything?
Many of you are probably thinking, “Didn’t the Steelers beat the Eagles in the opening preseason game?” The reason you think the Steelers won is because they dominated the Eagles during the first half, building a 13-0 lead. The Steelers compiled long drives, moving the ball up and down the field at will, and stifled the Eagles offense during the first half. Nick Foles, making his Eagles debut, led a second-half comeback that produced a 24-23 victory, but the starters were long gone from this game by the time the Eagles started their comeback.
This was the worst performance by a winning team in recent memory – at least it was until the Eagles opened the regular season with a 17-16 victory over the Browns. If the Eagles continue to win by the skin of their teeth every week, maybe we could point to the preseason win over the Steelers as the game that set the tone.