You have to think about an NFL game played the first weekend of October can be considered a must win, but for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s exactly that. The Steelers went into their bye last week with a 1-2 record and going into this weekend’s ga me with their Philadelphia Eagles are staring up ad the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both with 3-1 records and both with very winnable games this weekend. While there’s a good shot one of the wildcard teams in the AFC but falling to 1-3 this week, and those 2 teams ending up 4-1 would be a hole I’m not sure they could dig their way out of. But what’s got to happen for the Steelers to win this week.
When the Steelers have the football-The potential return of injured running back Rashard Mendenhall is promising, and assuming he’s in the lineup, it’ll be a chance for the Steelers to at least attempt to establish the running game. Against a defense like the Eagles and their ability to rush the passer, it could be a matter of life and death of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that they keep the Eagles defense honest. So, I am optimistic they commit to the run much more than they did against the Oakland Raiders and then let the passing game come from it. If all the Steelers do is throw it, I have a feeling the Eagles defense will make them pay,but if they can be opportunistic in the passing game, they have plenty of talent to win against the Eagles cornerbacks.
When the Steelers are on defense-In most cases you would say it’s all about stopping Eagles quarterback Mike Vick. But it’s not that at all. The Eagles are finally discovering that if they hand it off to running back LeSean McCoy, good things happen. Last week the Eagles used that backside cut and gashed the New York Giants defense. The Steelers outside backers and defensive ends will have to play with discipline and maintain their assignments if they don’t want to become another victim. Coverage has to be soft, keep everything in front of them, and force Vick to press and make a mistake. As far as a pass rush, the formula is always the same. Try and keep Vick in the pocket but if he scrambles, push him to his right, and once he beaks contain, the corners have to stick to their men. Don’t bite on the run. Linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu are set to return, but I don’t think that’s a license to just cut loose in a game this important.
When the Eagles have the football-The Eagles have had a very un-Andy Reid like season so far, showing excellent balance between the run and the pass. I expect to see the Eagles come out and pick on the Steelers struggling cornerbacks and pull Polamalu out of the box, to allow McCoy a little more space to operate. But it’ll start with the pass. Guys like DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Jeremy Maclin could pose some serious matchup problems in the back end. That means the Steelers have to play coverage and only rush 4. That happens, the Eagles will use that to run the football.
When the Eagles are on defense-The Eagles defense has not allowed a lot of damage this season, and while they haven’t done the type of damage many anticipated, they are still a very talented group. I fully expect them to bring the heat. They will send guys whether it’s a run down or a passing down, and could on their corners back and count on them to cover long enough for their front 7 to get to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. I expect them to come straight up the middle, picking on the interior offensive line of the Steelers and get right in Roethlisberger’s face, and not give me the chance to slide out and extend the play. I can’t imagine the Eagles are going to be honest in the run game, because the Steelers run game has struggled so much this year.
Player to watch-Steelers Rashard Mendenhall. Obviously the return of Mendenhall, assuming he’s healthy is crucial. The Steelers run game has been stagnant all season, so getting their best back on the field and running well could be a huge gain, not just for this game but the rest of the season.
Player to watch-Eagles Jeremy Maclin. Maclin has had some injuries, and been on the milk carton some this season, but if there was a game for him to breakout it’s here against a nickel or dime corner who is nowhere close to his league. Could have a huge game.
The X-Factor-Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons. It’s time for Timmons to step up. He’s the most athletic linebacker the Steelers have, and so far this season he’s been a non-factor. With Vick and McCoy to contend with, it can’t be Larry Foote making all the plays. If Timmons is a non-factor again this game, I can’t see how the Steelers defense has much success.
Prediciton-If this one were in Philadelphia, I’d give it to the Eagles, but there’s something about the Steelers playing their in-state rivals at home with some of their best players getting back on the field, that will carry them to a close victory in a high flying game.
What’s your predicition? Come find me on Twitter @nfldraftboard and let me know!