August 25, 2007

Eagles vs Steelers

Last Time They Met:
August 25, 2006: Eagles 16, Steelers 7
In their fourth preseason game last season, the Eagles looked sharp in the 16-7 win over Pittsburgh. With nearly all of the starters playing for the final time before the start of the regular season, quarterback Donovan McNabb completed 7 of 9 passes for 79 yards. Kicker David Akers helped the Eagles jump out to a lead with three field goals (40, 49 and 52 yards), and wide receiver Greg Lewis sealed the win with a 61-yard touchdown grab. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles forced Pittsburgh into four turnovers – two fumbles and two interceptions.

2006 Season Review:
After taking home the Lombardi Trophy in 2005, last year was far from super for the Steelers. The defending champs struggled to a 2-6 start, before climbing to mediocrity to end the season at 8-8. In his 15th and final year as head coach, Bill Cowher didn't get the same play out of Ben Rothlisberger. The quarterback followed a 17-touchdown, nine-interception season with an 18-touchdown, 23-interception effort in 2006. The defense was not the dominant force it was a year earlier, but it still ranked ninth in the league in yards per game, 11th in points and sixth in interceptions with 20.

Who's In?
Head coach Mike Tomlin, RB Kevan Barlow, C Sean MahanTomlin is clearly the biggest addition. The 35-year-old was the Vikings defensive coordinator last season, helping a struggling defense rise to eighth in yards per game, as well as fifth in interceptions (21) and ninth in sacks (43). Barlow was once a 1,000-yard back with San Francisco, but only had 370 with the Jets last year.

Who's out?
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, LB Joey Porter, C Jeff HartingsAs for the losses, coaching may once again be the biggest difference. Wisenhunt departs for Arizona as does assistant Russ Grimm. Porter brings his 451 career tackles and 60 sacks to Miami. Last year he grabbed 55 tackles, 7.0 sacks and forced two turnovers, but Pittsburgh didn't feel it was enough to keep him around. Hartings, the starting center, retired.

When The Eagles Have The Ball
Once again, the focus will be on quarterback Donovan McNabb. He looked fantastic in his debut at home against the Panthers, but he will have to show that his knee is fine after the eventful quarter he played a week ago, and that he can play well for more than a quarter. The Steelers are trying to switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, the type that new coach Tomlin is used to. They may do this gradually, but it will be interesting to see whether they try some knew things out in their fourth preseason game.

When The Steelers Have The Ball
The Eagles defense had a bad outing against Baltimore, and a near-perfect one against Carolina – as the Eagles' first-team surrendered zero points, while playing for nearly an entire half. Now that the veterans have gotten their licks in, take a look at how the young guys are performing. Last week, Pittsburgh's first-team offense got significant playing time for the first time, and will likely play a good amount on Sunday. This matchup of starters will be good for both teams, and especially for Roethlisberger, who can show his coaches that he is back to the level he once was.

Key matchups
Steelers RB Willie Parker vs. Eagles' front seven
With 337 carries for 1,494 yards, Parker has established himself as one of the elite rushers in the league, on a team that has traditionally had great running backs. His 13 touchdowns last year were also particularly notable, considering Jerome Bettis had been a go-to guy the year before, and the Steelers needed someone to step up. The Eagles' defense struggled to stop the run last year, and this will be a good test to see if the front seven has indeed improved. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's crew is athletic, and every bit of its speed will be tested against the quick Parker.

Eagles G Scott Young and Max Jean-Gilles vs. Steelers NT Casey Hampton
With Shawn Andrews likely out with an ankle injury, Young and Jean-Gilles each have a chance to show why he is the more viable option as a backup. Young is one of the strongest players on the team, and he'll need every ounce of muscle against Hampton, a two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle.

Players To Watch
MLB Omar Gaither
Jeremiah Trotter has officially passed the baton over to Gaither, and this will be the first start in the middle for the second-year player out of Tennessee. This is typically the game in which the starters play the most, so the coaches will get a good look at what Gaither can do. He had a strong run at the end of the season playing on the weak side, but he must show that he can repeat it from the middle linebacker position.

LB Chris Gocong
With the starters likely sitting for the majority of the final preseason against New York, this could be the last chance to take a look at the strongside linebacker. He has gained valuable experience so far, but he will need to continue to play well - this starting spot will not be handed to him on a silver platter. As a big guy at 6-foot-2, 263 pounds, he must show that he can cover the tight end effectively, in this case Heath Miller.

WR Santonio Holmes
As a rookie last year, Holmes reminded the Steelers why he was their top pick last year. His 49 catches and 824 yards were enough to earn him a starting job this year. He still has a lot to prove, though, as only a second-year player. His five fumbles (two lost) and only two touchdowns are numbers to certainly improve upon. With cornerback Lito Sheppard back, the Eagles will have their starting unit intact to cope with the speedy Holmes.


Zachary said...

Nice preview. The player I'll be watching is Sean Considine. I don't think he's played well at all this preseason and if he doesn't step up his game Quintin Mikell should replace him as the starter.


Zachary said...

The player I'll be watching is Sean Considine. He hasn't played too well this preseason and if his game doesn't improve then I think Quitin Mikell should take over his spot as the starter.