This was a nice first game for Pittsburgh’s starters. They travelled the short distance to Philly and left with the upper hand overall, leading the Eagles 13-0 at half time. The Eagles’ backups showed more than the Steelers, and were able to pull off a last second victory, but the performance of their starters will leave many in Philadelphia concerned. Missed tackles and breakdowns in coverage were once again a significant problem for Juan Castillo’s defense. The offense wasn’t much better either, with both of Vick’s drives resulting in three and outs. The Pittsburgh defense looked fast and aggressive, applying consistent pressure and finishing plays, in contrast to their opponents. Let’s take a look at some individual performances in the game.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Three Things of Note
1) Rookie Woes
The Steelers young offensive line took a beating from the Eagles’ front four, who were without three of their starters entering the game. Rookie left tackle Mike Adams had particular trouble in passing situations. It started on the third play of the game, where veteran defensive end Daryl Tapp gave him trouble on an inside spin move. He was then abused by former CFL star Philip Hunt who used his speed to beat him to the outside for the sack. Just a few plays later, Tapp got a sack himself, but Adams did a decent job this time. DT Derek Landri got immediate pressure resulting in a broken pocket and the former Seahawk finished the play off. Later though Tapp showed great strength, rocking Adams back with a bull rush and getting in Roethlisburger’s face. The hurry resulted in a dump off that the Eagles stopped short of the marker on third down. On the Steelers second series, with Byron Leftwich at QB, Adams once again struggled. Adams was smoked by Hunt who was able to force a fumble. His final numbers are not pretty with three sacks and two hurries conceded in just 13 dropbacks.
There was better news in the run game where Adams did a nice job getting to the second level and blocking Mychal Kendricks. He also did a good job on a fourth and short, sealing Daryl Tapp inside, giving the runner enough room for a first down. Adams also did enough on Tapp to keep the lane open on a run between him and the LG later in the quarter.
2) Taking The Bad With The Good
The other rookie starting on the Steelers’ line is RG David Decastro. He showed his athleticism getting out in space on a screen but made a poor attempt at a cut block that Brian Rolle easily avoided. Overall Decastro did well in pass protection. Cullen Jenkins gave him some trouble on one play but he recovered well and ensured Big Ben had space to step up. It was interesting to see him matched up with fellow first round pick Fletcher Cox. The Steelers ran a stretch play right and Cox was able to get off Decastro’s block and help with the tackle for a loss. The next time the two went head to head was on a pass play where Cox was able to drive Decastro back. Again the Steeler guard showed good recovery however and prevented pressure. They went back to the ground back on the very next play, Cox showed great strength to hold his ground against a double team that included Decastro. His work left LB Demeco Ryans clean but he couldn’t finish the play and the runner picked up good yardage.
Decastro had a good start to the second quarter, doing a nice job on an outside run. He worked across the shade of DT Antonio Dixon and was able to seal him away from the play. The highlight of his day came a couple of plays later when he used Cox’s momentum to drive him out of the hole and create a huge gap for the runner. As is the case with rookies however you get a lot of bad with the good. Down in the red zone Cox was able to get off Decastro’s block, with him looking to the second level for some reason, and tackle the runner for a loss. The next play saw him again matched up with Cox and this time he needed help from the C to move the man out of Mississippi State. This left the LBs unblocked and they were able to make the play.
3) Watching for Signs of a Breakout
The Steelers are relying on a couple of young players this year in WR Antonio Brown and CB Keenan Lewis. With Mike Wallace still holding out, Brown once again got a chance to shine. He ran a nice route to beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for a short gain early in the first quarter. Brown later showed nice shake coming off the line as he beat Asomugha on a slant and then broke a tackle for a first down. Lewis meanwhile went largely untested. He did give up a five yard completion on the Eagles’ first offensive play but came up quickly to force the runner out of bounds limiting the damage. The Steelers first defensive unit only saw about six plays, because their offense controlled the ball for most of the first quarter.
Eagles – Three Things of Note
1) Time to Cut Their Loses?
There’s been a lot of talk about Jaiquawn Jarrett recently and his chances of making the team just a year after being a second round pick. He didn’t help himself at all last night, consistently making mistakes. On one early play, Jarrett struggled to get off a block against a screen and allowed the Steelers to pick up a first down. He also bizarrely jumped back just as Pittsburgh snapped the ball on 4th-and-1 meaning the runner reached the marker before he made contact and there was no chance of him stopping the Steelers converting. A few plays later, with the Steelers facing a 3rd-and-long, Jarrett missed a tackle after a completion to Emmanuel Sanders. He was lucky the referees called the play dead because it seemed like Sanders stayed inbounds. There are a lot of similarities between that play and one later in the quarter. Jarrett flew up out of control and missed a tackle on Brown after he had beaten Nnamdi Asomugha. The miss allowed another first down.
Another of Jarrett’s biggest problems is his tendency to take terrible angles. With the Steelers facing 3rd-and-13 at midfield they decided the run a draw perhaps with an eye for going for it on fourth down. After RB Chris Rainey broke through the line Jarrett flew up but left a huge hole to the outside which the rookie running back took full advantage of. Jarrett had help to the inside with Kurt Coleman closing in but showed a complete lack of awareness allowing the runner to pick up a first down. It got a little embarrassing after that for the former Temple safety. After Jonathon Dwyer received a handoff and burst into the secondary, another terrible angle saw Jarrett not only miss the runner, but take out the pursuing Vinny Curry on the play also. If that wasn’t enough, it looked as if Jarrett was responsible for the coverage breakdown that saw Sanders wide open in the end zone for a touchdown.
2) Asomugha’s Struggles Continuing
Last season was clearly Asomugha’s worst of his career and he struggled a little against the Steelers. Facing 3rd-and-long the Eagles dropped into cover 2 (zone is certainly not Asomugha’s strength) and despite having good coverage initially he decided to rush Big Ben as he stepped up, leaving a gaping hole behind him. Antonio Brown also made him look silly on one play, getting off his jam with ease and gaining a first down on a slant. Everyone seems to think Asomugha is a physical player because of his size, but he’s often completely dominated by blockers. On the first play where Jarrett took a bad angle, Asomugha was driven a full ten yards down the field by WR Antonio Brown … not good. The next play saw him retreat about 15 yards of his own accord before finally engaging the receiver. Even then it seemed like it was only with token effort and he got nowhere near making a tackle. There was then a mix-up in zone coverage (surprised?) between him and Jarrett resulting in a touchdown.
3) The Replacement
The Eagles were forced into a change at left tackle this offseason when All-Pro LT Jason Peters went down with injury. His replacement, former Bill Demetress Bell, struggled a little in his first game with his new team. On one stretch run, he had a chance to get to the second level to create a crease but aimlessly ran towards the sideline, allowing the inside linebacker to make the play. There was more bad news on the next series when Bell was beaten in pass protection by OLB Chris Carter. It didn’t affect the play because Vick released the ball quickly but it’s worrying nonetheless. Carter’s speed once again helped him get the better of Bell on the next play as he got by the LT and forced Vick to step up.