Devoted members of Steeler Nation are anxiously awaiting the Battle for Pennsylvania Supremacy when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town this weekend. Philadelphia (3-1) has won three of their last four games by a combined four points.
Steeler fans may be starting to hit the panic button after a slow start. Hot starts by AFC North rivals Cincinnati and Baltimore, who are both 3-1, are certainly not helping matters. With a number of AFC teams off to great starts, the Steelers can ill-afford another early season loss. For those of you who read into the preseason, the matchup between these two teams ended in an Eagles victory 24-23.
Heading into this hard-hitting matchup, the Steelers expect to have some of their key players ready after the very timely bye week. The “aging” Steelers D could potentially start Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison, who anchored the number one defense in the NFL last year.
Another huge addition would be the return of feature back Rashard Mendenhall. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, running back Rashard Mendenhall is expecting to make his 2012 debut. Mendenhall, a 23rd overall pick of the Steelers in 2008, has anchored a respectable rushing attack in previous years. In Mendenhall’s absence, both Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have failed to impress, averaging a meager 65 yards per game. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley seems to be looking to continue the hard-nosed running style that is customary of the Steelers in years past. Mendenhall’s return should allow him to do so.
The ability of Ben Roethlisberger to pass the football, andthe effectiveness of play-action passes, will ultimately affect Mendenhall’s success. With maybe the deepest receiving corps in the NFL in Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Mike Wallace, the Steelers have a favorable matchup against the Eagles secondary. Despite going up against a vaunted Eagles defense, expect the running game to heat up with the return of the former University of Illinois product this Sunday.
As the Steelers look to pound the ball, so too will the Eagles with their Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy. The Eagles lineup is very similar to the Steelers on the offensive side of the ball with speedy wide outs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Against a depth-lacking defensive backfield, look for Michael Vick to unleash a dangerous aerial attack. After giving up a 100-yard game to Darren McFadden in Week 3, look for LeSean McCoy to hover around that mark against a young Steeler defensive line.
Ultimately the Bye week has come at great time for the Steelers. Aside from the added rest, the extra week to study the Eagles on film should help get the players’ mindset on the right track moving forward. Look for the Steelers to rebound after a heartbreaking loss to the then win-less Raiders by way of an offensive shootout.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Eagles 28
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