Semi-coherent Philadelphia Eagles vs. Pittsburgh Steelers preview

The Eagles are 0-2 in the preseason. This is not a cause for concern.

In losing those two games, the Eagles – particularly their defense – have not looked especially good. This is a slightly greater cause for concern.

I’ll give the defense a slight pass for their poor showing. After the Seahawks utilized their “let’s just hold on every play” technique to perfection last season, the NFL decided they were going to really crack down on it this year. The result has been an insane amount of penalty flags thrown in the preseason.

If Peyton is unhappy, the NFL is unhappy! Image Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL did something similar ten years ago after the Patriots shut down the Colts offense in the 2004 AFC Championship Game. Apparently, the league really doesn’t like it when defenses are able to stop Peyton Manning, and will institute rule changes whenever it happens.

These changes were not good news for the Eagles. Their defense improved in the second half of the 2013 season, and a large part of that was because they adopted similar practices as the Seahawks. Eagles defensive backs seemed to take more of a “Let’s just see what we can get away with” approach to covering receivers.

If you recall, games in which officials called things tightly (the Vikings game in particular) didn’t go well for the defense.

Going forward, there are three possible outcomes:

1. The Eagles adjust and figure out a way to play defense without relying on too much physicality.

2. The Eagles don’t adjust and get burned and penalized frequently.

3. The NFL realizes that fans may like offense, but they also like games that aren’t bogged down by penalties on every play. They start to ease up on how games are called and things go back to the way they were.

Which way will they go? The Eagles’ season might hinge on the answer.

What’s the deal with the Steelers?

Mike Tomlin has been around for longer than you think. Image Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

As hard as it is to believe, the Steelers have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons. I figured the NFL would have some sort of rule preventing that from happening, because the league seemingly wants the Steelers to succeed even more than they do Peyton Manning.

The Steelers lost their first four games in 2013, placing the team in a major hole. However, they rebounded to finish strong. They won their final three games and were a Chargers overtime victory away from qualifying from the playoffs. (I’m shocked the league didn’t find a way to fix that Chargers game.)

Here’s something that will make you feel old: This will be Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s eleventh season in the league, and the eighth season for head coach Mike Tomlin. Has Bill Cowher really been out of the league for that long?

Old face in a new place

In the offseason, the Steelers signed running back LaGarrette Blount, formerly of the New England Patriots. It isn’t clear why the Patriots let Blount get away, aside from the fact that Bill Belichick apparently doesn’t like any Patriots running back to have sustained success.

Blount rushed for 189 yards in the Patriots’ regular season finale, and then added 166 yards and four touchdowns in their playoff win over the Colts. Naturally, the team shelved him the following week, limiting him to only five carries in a loss to the Broncos. (See what I mean about Belichick not wanting any sustained success?)

Blount should be used to the sporadic use. He hasn’t really been treated as a team’s primary back since the 2011 season.

The bad news for him is that with Le’Veon Bell on the Steelers’ roster, he probably won’t get that chance this season either.

Mandatory discussion of the Steelers’ backup quarterback

In the third preseason game, the starters usually play at least the first half, minimizing the impact of their backups. Will that prevent me from discussing the Steelers’ second-string quarterback? Not at all.

For some reason, Bruce Gradkowski is the Steelers’ backup quarterback. Image Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Gradkowski is about as seasoned a backup as you can get. He’s been in the league for eight years, and was only his team’s primary starter in one of them. (And that was his rookie season.)

It isn’t entirely clear why Gradkowski has had such longevity. Most backups are either young players, former starters, or veterans who have succeeded in previous stints as a backup. Gradkowski’s success is limited to a couple of good games for the Raiders in 2009.

The Steelers also have rookie Landry Jones on their roster. The team’s fourth round pick in the 2013 draft has yet to appear in a regular season game.

I think the Steelers might just be keeping him around because Landry Jones sounds like a character in a football movie.

Catching up with another Steelers player who you’ve probably heard of before

We are only assured of three things in this world: Death, taxes, and if you go into a sports bar on an NFL Sunday, someone will be wearing a Troy Polamalu jersey. (And that’s usually regardless of whether the Steelers are actually playing that day.)

Troy Polamalu. Image Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Polamalu is entering his tenth year in the league, and in recent seasons, he’s been acting as more of a linebacker rather than a safety. The Steelers claim that’s because they were thin at linebacker , but some believe it was due to Polamalu’s deteriorating coverage skills.

Regardless of how well he plays, he’ll probably make the Pro Bowl, simply because he’s the Steelers most prominent defensive player. I believe that there’s a little known clause saying that the Steelers’ most prominent defender will always make the Pro Bowl.

Foles-o-Meter

Nick Foles made everyone feel a lot better with a good game last week. It took him a while to get going because the defense couldn’t get off the field, and receiver  Ifeanyi Momah fumbled on their first offensive play.

Once Foles was actually able to stay on the field for more than one consecutive play, he looked sharp.

FolesOMeter4

The Philadelphia Ducks

Josh Huff. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who was hoping that Josh Huff was going to make a huge impact this season is probably going to be disappointed. The rookie wide receiver suffered a shoulder injury, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was placed on injured reserve to serve a pseudo-redshirt year.

Don’t worry, Chip Kelly has preemptively squashed any concerns that the Eagles’ roster wouldn’t have enough former Oregon players on it. The team brokered a trade for Panthers running back Kenjon Barner who played his college years under Kelly at Oregon.

Prediction

I’ve predicted an Eagles win in the first two games and I was wrong both times. So this time, I’ll change things up and say that the Eagles lose. Because once again, we shouldn’t be concerned about the score, merely how the team looks.

Steelers 26 – Eagles 24

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