When the Philadelphia Eagles travel to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, they will be facing a defense that is still trying to recover from injuries (1pm ET, Sunday).
The Steelers find themselves against an Eagles team that has always got it done this season, especially when it comes to the last two minutes of the game. On the short season, both of these Pennsylvania teams have not exactly been as advertised.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh it has left them 1-2 and toward the bottom of the standings in the AFC North. Luckily, the Eagles have escaped with three wins and currently sit at 3-1, first in the NFC East.
As yet another chapter of the battle of Pennsylvania is renewed, both teams will be motivated to get the win. The Steelers are the sportsbooks’ favorites at odds of -175 on the moneyline, with the Eagles at +155.
The QB Match-up: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Michael Vick
With the running game virtually non-existent, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has taken on a bigger role in the offense. Responsible now for almost all of the team’s offense, “Big Ben” is off to yet another good season.
In three games so far, Roethlisberger has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He has a QB rating of 109.2 which is second best in the league and a completion percentage of 68.3 which is fifth best. He has also thrown eight touchdowns, which is fourth best in the league.
Although the Steelers are 1-2 including losses to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and the rebuilding Oakland Raiders, Roethlisberger and the passing game is not at all to blame. In fact against the Raiders, Big Ben attempted 49 passes and complete 36 of them. He finished the game with 384 yards and four touchdowns. It marked the third straight game this season that Roethlisberger threw for two or more touchdowns in a game.
For a team that had the NFL’s best defense last season, it may be hard to believe but it has actually been this same defense that has cost the Steelers wins. Against Denver in week one, the Steelers and their banged up defense allowed Manning to throw for two touchdowns and 253 yards. In week three against Oakland, the defense couldn’t contain Carson Palmer as the former Cincinnati QB threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
Opposing Roethlisberger is a quarterback that has really not lived up to his $100 million contract. The Eagles’ Vick has been frazzled, tentative and not making smart decisions this season. He has only thrown for half of the touchdowns that Big Ben did and has another six interceptions to add to his name. He has a QB rating of just 72.7 and is attempting on average 30+ passes a game.
Unlike Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh’s one-dimensional offense, the Eagles do have a running game. They also have a strong crop of receivers led by Desean Jackson, whose 20 receptions for 333 yards, leads the team.
Again unlike the Steelers, the Eagles have actually been able to lean on their defense. It hasn’t been perfect but when needed late in games, this defense has really stood up to the task. They are the seventh best passing defense in the NFL allowing just over 206 yards a game and they are the 12th best rushing defense allowing 91.5 yards a game.
While the Eagles have not won or lost games solely on their QB performance, week five could change this. Against Big Ben, Vick will not be favored to finish the day as the best quarterback. Luckily enough for the Eagles however, Vick is not defending Roethlisberger. The way this defense has been for Philadelphia, they could stall Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense enough to keep Vick and the offense in the game.
The Impact of the Returning Steelers
Both safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison will be returning to give the Steelers their first-string defense for the first time this season. While Palomalu and his 29 career interceptions give the Steelers a better option in pass coverage, it is the return of Harrison that should make the biggest difference.
Against the teams the Eagles have faced this year, running back Lesean McCoy has been given favorable match-ups. He was able to run over the Cleveland Browns and the NY Giants but against better run defenses in Arizona and Baltimore, McCoy could only record 81 and 70 yards on the ground respectively. With Harrison back, McCoy and the rest of the Eagles running game could be stifled.
Also returning for Pittsburgh is their running back, Rashard Mendenhall. Without him, the Steeler run game has been virtually non-existent. They have managed just 65 yards a game on the season which is ranked 30th in the league. The responsibility to champion the offense has been solely on Roethlisberger. While there is no doubt he has done a good job in the increased passing role, the Steelers will benefit from having the threat of Mendenhall back on the field.
For the Eagles, having Mendenhall back puts linebacker DeMeco Ryans in the spotlight once again. Having a great season so far with 22 tackles, one sack and one interception, Ryans will be responsible for limiting Mendenhall’s production. He may not have to do much though as Mendenhall is coming off an ACL tear and his carries could be reduced.
Eagles at Steelers Picks & Betting Tips
The Eagles come into this game leading the season series against the Steelers 47-27-3 including coming away victorious in their last meeting in 2008. The Steelers have been a great home team however and with all of their pieces back, could cause some troubles for the inconsistent Eagles.
That said, Philadelphia’s offense has just too many weapons and if Vick can build off of his improved performance against the NY Giants, the Eagles should walk away with a win.
- Take the Eagles +3 points on the spread @ +110 with BetOnline. It is slightly less attractive at +3.5pts @ -115 with Bovada.
- With a recent Steelers trend favoring the over, take the total to exceed 43 @-110 with BetOnline or Bovada.