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Eagles-Steelers pregame stretch

October 4, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX

Weather – or not?: Showers, 50, NW wind at 6 mph. In c-c-case you haven’t heard, it’s supposed to get c-c-cold this weekend, but with no real wind the fallish weather shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the on-field action.

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Announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman

Annoyance factor: We thought for sure that these two were going to do Packers/Colts and we’d be enduring Siragusa in our game but were pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise. We always find it interesting (and usually amusing) to see how the other conference’s announcers view the Steelers.

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Referee: Tony Corrente

Competence factor: It’ll be great to see Corrente in stripes Sunday for several reasons. First, he’s not a replacement official. More importantly, he’s back in action after recovering from cancer in 2011. Hopefully, things will go better here than the last time Corrente worked at Heinz Field, an off-the-tracks flagfest against the Raiders in November 2010. That’s also the game where Corrente infamously flagged James Harrison for falling on a quarterback “with his full body weight” (as if there’s another way to fall). Anyway, welcome back Tony, don’t foul this one up.

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The line: Steelers -3.5

Smarts say: Vegas seems to buying the Steelers injury report with Pittsburgh opening as and remaining a solid favorite. The Steelers also have a history as a strong October team, coming in at 46-28 against the spread in the month since 1992. The over/under of 43 means the smarts see this one being played close to the vest, something like 23-20 Steelers.

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Key matchup: Steelers pass rush vs. Eagles protection schemes

Because: There are five players in the NFL who have more sacks than the entire Steelers defense at this point in the year (even with a bye week in the mix that shouldn’t be the case). And it can’t continue if Pittsburgh is even going to sniff the playoffs. This obviously should be a critical week in that regard with the return of James Harrison, who not only is a sack threat himself, but immediately makes LaMarr Woodley more of a threat. The Eagles have allowed 11 sacks through four games so we’ll go out on a limb and say if the Steelers record four sacks here, they’ll win.

Quick hits:

+ Was Mike Tomlin being honest when he did not list James Harrison, Troy Polamalu or Rashard Mendenhall on the Steelers’ injury report this week? We’re guessing the answer is “technically, yes, but realistically, no.” Obviously, the NFL has strict rules about accurately listing injuries (that are ostensibly about fair competition but really are about accurate gambling) and it would be very un-Steelers-like to run afoul of those rules. So, we’re guessing that since all three players had two full weeks of rest and went through a single practice with no setbacks, it’s kosher to list them as uninjured. The reality, though, is that we won’t know whether those players are truly healthy until they’re able to compete at a normal level for several games consecutively. It seems highly unlikely to us that all three of them will play all the Steelers’ games in October.

+ We’ve been on the record here for about the past two years that the Steelers’ current problems are directly linked to poor drafting in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 2008 draft was especially putrid, but now with Lawrence Timmons regressing again, the 2007 effort is getting more scrutiny. The 2007 draft was Mike Tomlin’s first and followed Bill Cowher’s 8-8 swan song so Pittsburgh picked 15th, its highest natural slot in years. Picking in the top half of the first round is especially difficult and nerve wracking because there’s more pressure to hit a “home run” and in turn more pressure to select elite athletes with unique physical attributes (what the Jets did with guys like Vernon Gholston and Quinton Coples) rather than “football players” with more mundane measurables. That’s how Pittsburgh ended up taking a raw athlete like Timmons first before selecting a football player like LaMarr Woodley second. Of course, Woodley has turned out to be a much better pro as Timmons has never been able to turn that ability into anything other than zooming nearby or past where’s he really supposed to be on the football field. What hurts even more now, in retrospect, is that nine Pro Bowl players were selected AFTER Timmons and BEFORE Woodley, including a couple of lineman (Joe Staley and Ben Grubbs) who could have filled huge holes in Pittsburgh. To make matters worse from a “what could have been” point of view, don’t forget that 2007 also saw the Jets trade with Carolina to jump one spot ahead of Pittsburgh and select Darrelle Revis. Ouch.

The pick: Reverse trap game, red alert reverse trap game. The Eagles seem to be living charmed lives at 3-1, the Steelers are desperate for a win and likely to have their injured stars back. That means everyone and their mother are picking the Steelers here (our mother, who is a very negative fan, is still picking the Eagles, but we digress), which gives us pause, but we do think Pittsburgh will win. We expect Rashard Mendenhall to look fast. We expect Ben Roethlisberger to look sharp. And we expect the proud Steelers defense to rally behind Troy Polamalu and shut down Shady McCoy (which is much more important than shutting down Mike Vick) … Steelers 27-17.

Last week: We correctly forecast a trap game for the Steelers and a Raiders cover to move us to 2-1 on the year against the spread.

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