Steelers-Eagles: Pre-Season Game Preview and What to Watch For by Jason King

The defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to bounce back from a lackluster effort when they host the Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason showdown at the ketchup factory.

Date/Time: August 18, 2011 at 8:00pm

Place: Pittsburgh, PA

Venue: Heinz Field

Playing Surface: Grass

Television: FOX (national broadcast)

The first weekend of meaningless football is in the books, we now head into week two.  The Steelers and Eagles square off in their annual Keystone State battle.

The Steelers starters played only one series against the Redskins last week.  The only positives Pittsburgh can take away from their 16-7 loss to the Washington Redskins was they suffered no significant injuries, they held the Redskins to just one touchdown in five red zone trips, and they only committed two penalties for 10 yards.  They had 186 yards of total offense.  The defense gave up 452 yards.  They were a pitiful 2 of 11 on third downs.

“That’s not the kind of performance we were looking for,” Mike Tomlin said after the game.  “Quite frankly, we got outplayed in just about all areas: blocking, tackling, running, throwing, kicking. That team was better prepared tonight than us. They showed it. We accept that, and I look forward to this group responding to what we put out there tonight. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

Just having Ben Roethlisberger play for more than one series will help the offense.  The offensive line in front of Roethlisberger is a concern, but those issues won’t be solved in one preseason game.  The Steelers hope to gain their usual continuity and rhythm on offense that was missing last week against Washington.  That starts with establishing the run, which opens the field up for Roethlisberger to improvise in a way only he can.

The Steelers defense isn’t an issue.  Last year they led the NFL in eight statistical categories. They were especially stingy against the run, only giving up 62.8 rushing yards per game.  Pittsburgh’s defense should be even better with the return of Aaron Smith at left defensive end.  James Harrison anchors the linebackers, while Troy Polamalu anchors the secondary.  Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau calls the signals.  The Steelers first team offense and defense should play a quarter, maybe a little more.

The Eagles are coming off a 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens last week.  The first team offense and defense played one series each so we didn’t get to see much from them.  They should play more in this game.

The Eagles have a few intriguing storylines as they approach this game.  They have a few position battles going on, the main ones being at center and middle linebacker.  The offensive line could have as many as three new starters.  DeSean Jackson makes his 2011 debut.  These are things to watch in this game.

Jason Kelce and Jamaal Jackson are battling to see who wins the starting center spot.  Since David Akers was let go, Jackson is the longest tenured Eagle.  This game will be a key spot for the rookie Kelce.  This Pittsburgh defense was the best in the business last year.  If he performs well it could go a long way in him eventually winning this job.  If he doesn’t, expect Jackson to start the season at center.

Casey Matthews only played two series against the Ravens.  Expect him to play the entire first half.  Matthews, the Eagles fourth round pick out of Oregon, looked solid in his NFL debut last week.  The two series he played, the defense only allowed 3 points and 59 yards rushing.

Ryan Harris isn’t playing because of a back injury.  King Dunlap is expected to start at right tackle.  According to Andy Reid, rookie right guard Danny Watkins “is progressing every day.”  If Ryan Harris’ injury is more serious than anticipated the Eagles need to see what they have in King Dunlap.  It sounds like you can pencil in Watkins as the starting right guard.  Right tackle, Mike Vick’s blindside, is more troublesome.  If King Dunlap doesn’t perform well, the anxiety for Howard Mudd and Andy Reid will begin.

DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick were a feared force last season.  They will be reunited at Heinz field Thursday night.  Jackson will most likely play a few series as the Eagles try and ease him back into things after his 11 day holdout.  He won’t be fielding any punts but that’s fine for now. The biggest objective is for Vick and Jackson to build that chemistry that made them so dangerous last year.

The Eagles and Steelers both have areas they want to improve on this week. Not all questions will be answered Thursday night, but it will be a good indicator for both teams.

 

Jason King is a contributing writer at Taking It to the House and can be reached at jdk2032@yahoo.com

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