Steelers Bring Eagles Questions To Forefront By Matt Lombardo

The Eagles weaknesses were exposed at Heinz Field in Thursday night’s second pre-season game, a 24-14 loss to the Steelers.

Not to overstate the impact of one pre-season game but the Pittsburgh Steelers are a true barometer and measure of success after playing for the Lombardi trophy a year ago, and on Thursday night the Eagles failed the test.

Even with all of the optimism surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles on both sides of the ball, this team is a cautionary tale because of so much turnover at several key positions. That was plainly evident against the Steelers.

One of Philadelphia’s biggest question marks is at linebacker, and rookie Casey Matthews and company left much to be desired in a 24-14 loss to the Steelers. The final score in pre-season games are meaningless, but The Eagles defense was left in tatters by the defending AFC Champions.While the final score is no indication, what is troubling is that the Steelers led 21-0 at halftime.

The defense’s physical flaws were exposed by Pittsburgh. The offense was woeful and couldn’t establish any sort of momentum in their first opportunity to see extended snaps this season.

Pittsburgh’s offense spent just one quarter on the field, but it was more than enough time to carve the Eagles defense to tune of 179 yards, many of which coming on the ground or in play action situations. In the first half Pittsburgh was an efficient 7-9 on third downs, including a conversion on 3rd and 25 in the second quarter.

To say Matthews struggled would be putting it nicely. The fourth round pick struggled to fight off blocks from Pittsburgh’s interior lineman and was targeted by Ben Roethlisberger on three different passes that led to Steelers gains. The obvious lowlight for Matthews was when Byron Leftwich hit Jerricho Cotchery for a 29 yard gain on the aforementioned second quarter 3rd and 25.

Although Matthews is a rookie, and he isn’t alone, Moises Fokou and Jamar Chaney should also shoulder some blame for the linebackers poor play. But in the NFL linebackers make their living fighting off blocks at the line of scrimmage and by running backs out of the backfield and on Thursday the Eagles were repeatedly blasted at the point of attack.

“That’s what we have to do a better job at as linebackers,” Chaney said after playing on the outside, rather than in the middle where he spent the back end of his rookie season in 2010.

In defense of Matthews and the linebackers, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo did his team no favors. The Eagles welcomed the rush by lining up the defensive ends stretched wide along the line of scrimmage leaving the middle of the field susceptible to big gains. Over and over again the Steelers ran up the middle and Castillo failed to adjust.

All told, the Steelers gutted the Eagles on the ground to the tune of 71 yards on just 14 carries in the first half alone. That’s an atrocious five yards per carry allowed to the Black and Gold Express.

That will not be good enough in the regular season.

If the defense was inept, then the offense was woeful. Michael Vick closely resembled the pedestrian quarterback who finished the 2010 season 0-3, and struggled against the league’s more physical defenses down the stretch. Last season defenses haunted the Birds signal caller by blitzing their corners and playing a cover two scheme. As a result, Vick failed to register a 300 yard game in his last three regular season starts a year ago.

On Thursday the Steelers took a page from that playbook.

Vick threw three interceptions; the first came against a cover two. The second against a pro man set and the third was a miscommunication between Vick and his receiver on a broken play. Vick’s performance raises questions about his ability to beat defenses that seem to have found the scheme to take away his legs and force him to make tough reads down the field. Vick finished the night 5-12 for 47 yards and 3 interceptions.

In the second pre-season game of the year Vick’s body of work earned him a 13.5 quarterback rating.

“We all stunk,” The typically stoic Reid summated after surveying the damage.   “On offense we didn’t run it good, and we didn’t pass it good. All the way around, starting with me, all of the coaches and players are all in this thing together.”

It goes without saying that a season is not defined by one pre-season game or one half of meaningless football. However, just as efficient as this team looked against the Ravens in all facets, they appeared overmatched against the Steelers. That’s troubling.

If there’s a silver lining to Thursday night’s debacle, it’s the play of Mike Kafka. The second year signal caller out of Northwestern led two scoring drives going 14-19 for 160 yards and two touchdowns, while nipping at the heels of Vince Young in the competition for the backup quarterback position.

Philadelphia is next in action next Thursday night when Cleveland visits Lincoln Financial Field in the third pre-season game.

Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

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