First Impressions – Eagles @ Steelers

| August 19, 2011

Just a week ago there were numerous questions being asked of the Steelers after their disappointing performance against the Redskins. The Eagles starters, meanwhile, were being praised for tearing apart the Ravens. Jump ahead to Thursday night and that’s all been forgotten. Pittsburgh simply dominated the entire first half on both sides of the ball.

Vick was intercepted three times and completed just five passes while Roethlisberger connected on a pair of touchdown strikes and looked in midseason form. It was the middle of the Eagles’ defense, particularly the linebackers and safeties, which seemed vulnerable and while other positions received an influx of veteran talent, none of their starting at the spots has played in the NFL for more than three years. In contrast, the Steelers return all 11 starters from their Super Bowl run.

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Philadelphia Eagles – Three Things of Note

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●   With Winston Justice sidelined because of a knee injury and Ryan Harris experiencing back problems, King Dunlap was given the start at right tackle. On an early pass play, Dunlap worked well with rookie right guard Danny Watkins – the former picking up a blitzing Lawrence Timmons and passing Lamar Woodley off inside. Dunlap had no problem handling Ziggy Hood when squaring off with him on runs or passses. Watkins wasn’t quite able to seal Hood on a toss play, though, allowing him to make the stop. He came back on the next snap however and did a nice job on a draw and a James Farrior blitz also failed to get around him. Watkins flashed the ability that made him a first round pick and both men were perfect in pass protection for two second quarter passes.

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●  The Eagles continue to start rookie fourth round pick Casey Matthews at middle linebacker. His early showing was not good. On the Steelers first play, Matthews was moved out of the hole by tight end David Johnson. Later, he was simply overpowered by Colon and slammed to the ground and, once more, was solved by right guard Tony Hills. He couldn’t get off a later Hills block either, once again being sealed from the play. The rookie even struggled when unblocked, missing a tackle on a short run by Jonathan Dwyer. He did finally he show something positive by skirting a David Johnson block to make a tackle for no gain. Rookie inconsistency for sure, but he’ll need to make strides to avoid being a liability once the season begins.

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●  The Eagles are also starting a pair of second year safeties with the all-pro Quintin Mikell now in St Louis. Nate Allen was caught cheating up on the first third down of the game and, as a result, was beaten for 11 yards by Heath Miller for a first down. He also gave up a completion on 3rd-and-8, but Roethlisberger was afforded all kinds of time on that particular play. On the Steelers’ first touchdown, Allen stopped his blitz on a pump fake by Big Ben allowing time for Samuel to be beaten. A couple of missed tackles (one possibly excused due to avoiding a Mike Wallace block at the same moment) and a role in the Hines Ward TD later summed up his night and left him plenty of work to do in the remained of this preseason.

Pairing with Allen is fellow second-year man Kurt Coleman who made a key mistake on one run play, jumping inside, allowing Mendenhall to get to the edge for a big gain. Coleman does look good in the open field, where he rarely misses tackles and seems to diagnose the run well.

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Pittsburgh Steelers – Three Things of Note

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● The Steelers’ offensive line may be in flux, but one guy they expect a lot from is right tackle Willie Colon. A year removed from injury, Colon struggled early with one run play, unable to make a difficult reach block on defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove who had a chance to make the play, but his efforts improved as the game progressed. Dominating Matthews and Jason Babin on later runs, he was also able to take Daniel T’eo-Nesheim easily past a draw play and nearly removed Derek Landri from the picture on another chance. Colon had a good game in pass protection as he absolutely stoned defensive end Jason Babin thee times and T’eo-Nesheim once. Getting out into space resulted in some trouble, however, as Colon wasn’t able to maintain blocks on matching screen plays, Fokou proving too quick for him.

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●  Although he didn’t get a lot of time due to injury, rookie left tackle Marcus Gilbert predictably struggled. Trent Cole knocked him to the ground on the first pass play of the game but Roethlisburger was rolling out to his right so it did not affect the play. He did well enough on a later pass play at least staying with Cole as he tried to round the corner. Tony Hills, the Steelers’ third left tackle to play with the first unit, flashed his ability as in the shadow of their own goalposts, he put a nice block on Trent Cole, allowing Mendenhall to find room over the left side. As mentioned, he later overpowered Clay Matthews on an ISO run and he also showed some ability at the second level, latching on to complete a nice block on Fokou. Hills did look over-matched at times but his play suggested there is talent there.

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●  Evander “Ziggy” Hood has finally been given the start ahead of the aging but still talented Aaron Smith. Hood’s performance was mixed: on a first quarter run play he did well occupying a double team while moving down the line of scrimmage to make the stop, but Watkins got the better of him, driving him back on a second-quarter run. He didn’t generate any pressure on pass plays in the Eagles’ second, third or fourth drives.

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The Eagles rarely travel well in the preseason but the manner of defeat was alarming, so while it’s not panic stations yet, this game should certainly act as a wake-up call. The Steelers, in contrast, will look to carry their impressive performance forward.

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