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This is the second half of a home-and-home Steelers-Eagles preview with the great Philly blog The 700 Level, which is hosting the preview from my black-and-gold-tinted point of view.

It should be quite the big game. Both teams seem to be heading in the right direction and fans are pretty psyched on both ends. Hopefully, noted Eagles fan/Governor Ed Rendell won't stir up the locals too much, as he's been known to do.
But the time has come to analyze the game in a little more depth, and without the Pittsburgh bias you've come to know on the site. Once in a while, we need an outside voice and different point of view. So without further adieu, I present The 700 Level's Steeler-Eagle preview.

by Matt Pesotski,

What's up, Pittsburghers? I bet this is the best time of year in the 'burgh, when the Steelers emerge from the ashes of yet another horrid Pirates season. I mean no disrespect; the same thing even happens in Philly from time to time (although the Phillies have been holding their own again this year).
When I first saw the Eagles' 2008 schedule, I thought, overall, it's not too bad. However, it looked like two of the hardest games on the list came in the first three weeks of the season. Hosting the Rams, away at Dallas, and then the Steelers come to town in week 3. There was a legitimate chance the Eagles could be both a great team and 1-2 to start the season. Considering everyone knows we're not big fans of this type of dichotomy, I think the guys down at the league office are having some fun with us. The Rams at home to open the season was an absolute gift to Philly's football-starved fans though, who drank in the Linc parking lot all morning and got a nice dehydrated sunburn while watching the Birds methodically shred one of the most pathetic excuses for a football team we've ever seen. A 38-3 win is fun no matter how you slice it, but it left our somewhat pessimistic town (no really, we can be) wondering if the lopsided game was proof that the Eagles were a top-tier team, or that the NFL should go to a system like the Italian pro soccer league, whereby the Rams would have been relegated to Serie B after last season.
So with Dallas, an admittedly talented team who won the NFC East last year (before choking in the playoffs, I should add for purposes of completion), hosting the Monday Night Football matchup in week 2, everyone in town saw the game as the proverbial litmus test. The folks in Dallas likely thought the same after the Cowboys picked apart Pittsburgh's favorite punching bag, the Browns, in week 1. It seemed a little early for such an important divisional showdown, something you'd like to see after a few weeks of buildup, and we won't get the rematch until the last game of the regular season. Since the game was on national television, the smattering of you with color TVs probably saw it, so I won't go into all the details. But we got a great look at the identity of the Eagles at this early juncture of the season, and most us think there appear to be more strengths than weaknesses.
Despite Desean Jackson's epic fail of a non-touchdown, the offense is legit, and—potentially bad news for Steelers fans—they're hotter than Hansel right now. That they're putting points up in bunches in a pass-heavy offense minus their two starting wideouts shows their system is on point, demonstrated by 35+ point showings against both a terrible defense and a pretty good one. Like the Cowboys in week 2, the Steelers are by no means a team the Eagles and their fans take lightly; by many accounts, they are emerging as the class of the AFC. With Brady down and out for New England (any chance Gisele waits on him hand and foot?), the Chargers having bad luck and worse defensive showings, and the Colts lacking an O-line for the first time in years, the Steelers could prove to the be the last team standing in their conference. After dropping a close, hard-fought game to one of the best in the NFC, the Eagles get another significant test against the team that could rep the AFC in the Super Bowl.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. When your team is good, it's best not to focus on playoff potential before the leaves start falling. Both the Eagles and the Steelers should be post-season players, but there are a lot of games on the schedule to enjoy/scream at. A lot of things have gone right for the Eagles in two games, despite the missing players on offense. Of course, a few things went wrong too. In Philly, we're thrilled with how Donovan McNabb played for all of the matchup with the Rams and most of the Cowboys game, yet there's been a predictable questioning of his gamesmanship once again. It's hard to criticize the guy in the red pinnie after two straight 35+ point showings, but after some fourth quarter miscues stalled the Eagles in a tight game at Texas Stadium, right or wrong it's bound to happen. Putting that aside, it's clear the Eagles O can play with anyone. The defense and special teams are still the areas most fans are wondering about.
It's early, and facing off against a team like the 2008 Cowboys will quickly expose a young defense's inexperience, or as some might put it, a lack of preparedness. Brian Baldinger pointed out that Jim Johnson was largely unable to adjust to Jason Garrett's playcalling and playmakers. The pass rush that rattled Tony Romo in December 2007 did not create as much pressure for most of the game, although it was good enough to get him to fumble in the end zone, resulting in an Eagles touchdown. Now there's one time I would actually like to have had the Jessica-Simpson-in-the-luxury-suite cam for a few seconds. Thankfully, we didn't have to see her as much as last time.
Asante Samuel got his first interception as an Eagle in week 2, after nearly missing a pick-6 against the Rams. Takeaways might have been the single biggest deficiency of the 2007 Eagles, likely costing them at least a game or two, and possibly a playoff berth, so we'll need a few more of those. The rotation that makes up the Birds' front four is solid, led by Trent Cole on the outside, but it has a lot to prove. Against the Steelers, they'll have to get consistent pressure on Big Ben, which probably won't be easy, and even if they do, he's pretty good at not making a costly mistake with the ball. The injury to his shoulder reminds me of all the years of Brady injury reports though—we have no idea how bad it really is, if at all. If it's severe, it could shape the course of the game, but not necessarily for the better. The Eagles defense can be hit or miss against good running attacks, and Willie Parker has surprised a lot of people with what he's done so far this season (yet most people are wondering, Mendenwho?). Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley are expected to progress as a solid run-stopping tandem in the middle, and second-year MLB Stewart Bradley may be the new most popular Eagles defender. We should find out a lot more about the run D on Sunday.
While McNabb has effectively gotten his little-known wideouts some gaudy numbers through two weeks, the offensive production will depend on how much space they can create for Brian Westbrook, just like always. BWest has already hit pay dirt five times, looking more unstoppable than ever despite not being overused. If Desean Jackson can attract attention with a few downfield plays early, Westbrook becomes extremely dangerous down low, and vice-versa. He can be moved to the slot and wideout, and Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker can work equally well as decoys and ball carriers. The biggest battleground is the offensive line's ability to control the line of scrimmage, particularly in pass protection. Shawn Andrews isn't a lock to play, and the Steelers can bring pressure.
I see this being a close game, one both sets of fans should enjoy, even though one city will undoubtedly be pissed about a loss on Monday morning. If it's the Eagles, there will be some good ol' fashioned overreactin' at the portent of a losing record. We may see a few more stalled drives than in the first two Eagles games (it'd be hard to have less), and both teams could play conservatively at times and rely on some field goals to make sure they get points out of any decent drive. I like the Eagles at 24-20.
In closing (yes, finally), I have no real problem with the Steelers, other than that for years the Philly market has been subjected to their slow-paced matchups with teams like the Browns and the Ravens. FWP and Santonio are exciting players, Big Ben sees the field better than he does oncoming traffic, and the D can at times take hold of a game at will. Steeler fans are more tolerable than the Crosby Cult, despite some obvious overlap, so I offer you some friendly advice. With the 4PM start and its three extras hours of tailgating, the Linc will be partcularly wild and loud. If you're making the trip east, be forewarned, this isn't a good place to be cockily wearing the visitor's jersey. Maybe as a compromise, you should wear this one.
--Thanks again to Matt for his work. Please visit The 700 Level to read my preview, and remember to check in with the guys after the game as well.--
My preview is up:


AJ said...

I think there is something wrong with my monitor because Andy Reid looks really wide in that picture.

Oh?... never mind.

HotDog_Zanzabar said...

Phuck Filly

Broke But Still Drinking said...

Huh! I'll be damned. When did Philadelphia get a football team?