In this week’s upcoming game for the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Philadelphia Eagles, all the attention will obviously be placed on the return of running back Rashard Mendenhall, linebacker James Harrison, and safety Troy Polamalu. However, it’s not just the individual performances of these players that will be focused on.
Here are some key matchups to watch in this week’s game:
Steelers’ run offense versus Eagles’ run defense
For the first time this season, Mendenhall will be in uniform ready to play for Pittsburgh. In his absence, the Steelers have amassed a league-low 195 total rushing yards, and are ranked 31st in the NFL in average rushing yards per game (65.0). Philadelphia’s 12th ranked run defense doesn’t stand out, but a team’s ranking against the run never matter when up against Pittsburgh’s anemic running game. Mendenhall is by far the Steelers’ best running back, and could give a boost to the running game (depending on how many carries he gets).
Steelers’ pass rush versus Eagles’ offensive line
With only five sacks, Pittsburgh has the third lowest total in the league. Harrison’s return should help free up linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who only has two sacks so far. Philly’s quarterback Michael Vick has been sacked 11 times this season, and having one of the league’s best pass rushers back in the fold could be just what the doctor ordered for the Steelers’ defense. The only challenge will be trying to contain the elusive Vick once he scrambles outside the pocket.
Steelers’ run defense versus Eagles’ run offense
Eagles’ running back LeSean McCoy is currently third in the league in rushing, and is chomping at the bit after Pittsburgh surrendered a 100-yard rusher in their last contest. In addition to Harrison, Polamalu will also be a main factor in stopping the run. Adding Polamalu as the eighth person in the box to contain McCoy will make Philly a one-dimensional offense, and will force Vick, who has six interceptions this season, to pass more.
Steelers’ pass defense versus Eagles’ pass offense
Despite the lack of turnovers caused by the Steelers’ defense, they are third in the league in passing yards allowed (190.3 ypg). Polamalu will play a key factor in this as well. Pittsburgh only has one interception in their first three games, and Polamalu’s ability to cause confusion in the secondary may cause the Eagles to add to the 12 turnovers that they have committed already this season.
All of Philadelphia’s wins this season have been by two points or less. From the looks of it, even at their best, Philly will still keep the door open for the Steelers to take the game. Having Mendenhall, Harrison, and Polamalu slowly getting use to full-speed game play, and seeing the Eagles’ inability to blow away their competition this season, I predict the Steelers winning a close one at home by the score of 21-20.
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