When the Eagles have the ball: The offense revolves around QB Michael Vick, who is trying to run less and throw more. Vick has thrown six INTs and four TDs, but he has led the Eagles on last-minute scoring drives in all three of their victories. His top receiver is DeSean Jackson, a big-play threat who leads the team with 20 catches. But Vick will use play-action to get TE Brent Celek (18 catches, 17.6 ypc) down the field. Curiously, though, the Eagles will use a lot of maximum protection on third down, keeping Celek in to block and running a lot of two-man routes with Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. A lot of the Steelers focus will be on former Pitt RB LeSean McCoy, who is second in the NFC with 384 yards rushing. The offensive line has struggled with a season-ending injury to Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters. His replacement, King Dunlap, is 6 feet 9 and could struggle with Pro Bowl OLB James Harrison, who will make his return after missing the entire preseason and the first three regular-season games.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Eagles will try to create havoc up front by rotating eight players and using their defensive lineman to run twists and stunts, opening gaps for their blitzers. Most of their pressure comes from the edge with DEs Jason Babin (2.5 sacks) and Trent Cole (1.5), but rookie DT Fletcher Cox, their No. 1 pick, has been disruptive inside in some packages. The quarterback of the defense is Pro Bowl MLB DeMeco Ryans. He leads the team with 34 tackles, including six for losses. And rookie OLB Mychal Kendricks, a Sean Spence-type at 5 feet 11, 239 pounds, has brought speed to the perimeter. The strength of the defense is the ability of CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to play in single coverage, allowing the Eagles to put blitz pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have been unable to run the ball effectively in three games (2.6 ypc). The return of RB Rashard Mendenhall from ACL surgery should help should help an offense that leads the league in third-down conversions and time of possession.
DEs Jason Babin and Trent Cole ... The defensive-end tandem for the Eagles has been one of the most disruptive in the NFL. They combined for 29 sacks in 2011 -- second most in team history. Since 2010, the 6-foot-3, 267-pound Babin has 33 sacks, third most in the league behind Dallas OLB DeMarcus Ware (40) and Minnesota's Jared Allen (35). And, since 2006, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Cole has registered 64.5 sacks, third in the league.
This will be the 78th meeting between the in-state teams, with the Eagles holding a 47-27-3 advantage. The Steelers have struggled with the Eagles, losing three of the past four and five of the past seven meetings. ... The Eagles are 9-3-1 vs. the AFC North under coach Andy Reid. Opposite that, the Steelers have won 26 of their past 32 games vs. teams from the NFC. ... The Steelers have not lost the week after their off week each of the past four years. What's more, they have shown a knack for bouncing back after defeats. They have not lost back-to-back games since Week 13 of the 2009 season. ... The defense should benefit from the return of Harrison and All-Pro S Troy Polamalu.
To win, the Eagles must ...
1. Have Vick be slick. The Eagles have turned the ball over an NFC-high 12 times, nine by Vick (6 INTs, 3 fumbles).
2. Bar Heath. Miller already has four TD catches among his 15 receptions and could be the "hot" receiver many times with the Eagles pressure.
3. Gird on third. The Steelers lead the league in third-down conversions, resulting in an NFL-best possession time of nearly 36 minutes.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Not let Shady be the real McCoy. The former Pitt running back gets a lot of touches in the Eagles offense and had a club-record 20 TDs in 2011.
2. Stick Vick. They have not generated a lot of pressure on the quarterback, something they hope to improve with the return of Harrison.
3. Cap the gaps. They don't want a repeat of the 2008 game in Philadelphia when Roethlisberger was sacked eight times.
First Published October 7, 2012 4:00 AM