The Eagles should win tonight. Why? The Steelers starters are playing two series (supposedly) and the Eagles starters are slated to play an entire half. Also the Steelers aren’t starting Bryant McFadden or Ike Taylor (their starting corners).
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be things to watch. Even though this a pre-season game this is going to be a good test for the Eagles. We’re going to get to see how this team measures up to a team that is generally regarded as the class of the NFL with 3 superbowl appearances (and two wins) in the last 5 years.
Things To Watch For:
How the Eagles stand up to the Steelers run game.
–The Eagles have gotten smaller along the front 7 this offseason. Antonio Dixon, Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws are all hurt which hurts and their replacements aren’t big guys. The Eagles also lost the 6’4” and 255 pound Stewart Bradley and replaced him with the 6’1” 240 pound Casey Matthews. I don’t have a problem with this but I’m interested in seeing how it holds up against a power running game like the one the Steelers employ.
The Steelers offensive line combines to weigh an astounding 4716 pounds. That means the average Steelers offensive lineman weighs 315 pounds. That number is skewed by a few light weight back ups that likely won’t make the team too.
The Steelers have 6 running backs on the roster (Batch is out for the season). For the most part, they’re huge. Rashard Mendenhall is 5’10” and 225 pounds, Isaac Redman is 6’ and 230 pounds, Jonathan Dwyer is 6’ and 240 pounds, John Clay is listed at 6’1” and 248 pounds and the fun sized back of the group is Mewelde Moore who is 5’11” and 210 pounds. The guy that isn’t likely to see any time in this game is James Johnson, he is a camp body that is 5’11” and 200 pounds.
When you look at the superbowl contenders they’ve all got great running games. The Packers have Ryan Grant, James Starks, John Kuhn and Alex Green. The Saints have Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles. The Steelers have a stable of backs (see above). The Ravens have Ray Rice and Ricky Williams. The Patriots have Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The Jets have Shonn Greene, Ladanian Tomlinson, Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell. Stopping the run is going to be imperative for the Eagles if they plan on winning a championship and they’ve been bowled over in the playoffs the past two seasons by the Packers and Cowboys.
Can the Eagles secondary replicate last week’s performance? The secondary was feasting on Tyrod Taylor last week, can they keep the momentum going this week as they take on more proven veterans? The Eagles are going to be facing Byron Leftwhich, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. That’s going to be a nice test for the secondary depth. And the Steelers have some interesting depth at receiver. I’m interested in seeing how Trevard Lindley and Curtis Marsh handle facing young speedsters Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.
The secondary is going to be tested today. They’re going to get tested deep with Mike Wallace, Sanders and Brown this game and I’m interested in seeing how they perform. They’re going to get tested in run support. And they’re going to be challenged to cover the tight ends, a spot where the Steelers have a pretty impressive group of players.
How will Vick perform against the vaunted Steelers defense? It’s the pre-season so you’re not going to have all the bells and whistles that typically come with playing a Dick LeBeau defense. But, that doesn’t change the fact that Vick is going have James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley barreling down on him while Troy Polamalu patrols the secondary. It’ll be a nice little test for Vick and the offense playing a talented defense. The one caveat is that the Steelers are sitting their starting corners and the starters are only playing their starters for 2 series (reportedly).
Can the line run block better than last week? Last week LeSean McCoy, Ronnie Brown, Dion Lewis and Graig Cooper all had to create on their own because the offensive line wasn’t getting a push. I’d really like to see that improve this week.
Juan Castillo’s Secondary: Juan and company are doing crazy things on the back half of this defense. The front 7 is vanilla, just beat the man in front of you but the back half is meant to create chaos. It’s the opposite of what Jim Johnson used to do, JJ used to create havoc with his front seven and he would allow his talented corners (Vincent, Taylor, Harris, Brown, Sheppard, Asante) to cover their man and make plays.
Now, things have changed. Safeties move all over, corners move all over, corners blitz, corners move into the box. It gets crazy, watch it happen if you can. On certain plays you’ll see Kurt Coleman lined up in the box while Nate Allen plays in a single high spot. On obvious run plays you’ll see both Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman flank the linebackers in the box. When there isn’t a wide receiver on their side the corners switch spots with the safeties and rove over top of the defense where they’re free to make plays while the safety handles covering running backs and tight ends. Nnamdi and DRC both line up over the TE at times. Nnamdi will line up in the box from time to time. And Juan will bring the heat off the corner with his corner backs. The Eagles are seemingly trying to mimic and expand on what the Packers and Jets do on defense with their secondaries.
Casey Matthews: This one is obvious. With each passing day where the Eagles don’t sign a free agent it looks more and more likely that they’re going to start Casey Matthews. We haven’t gotten a good look at him yet but he’ll be playing the entire first half tonight according to Andy Reid. Watch him take on blockers in the run game and try and gauge how quickly he reacts to the things he sees. Watch him cover the running backs and tight ends. The Eagles are putting a lot of faith in him and I can’t wait to see if he lives up to the Matthews name.