By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers visit Lincoln Financial Field for a 4:15 p.m. game against the Eagles on Sunday:
STEELERS ILB LAWRENCE TIMMONS VS. EAGLES RB BRIAN WESTBROOK: A case can be made that Westbrook is the best running back in the NFL, because he's the most complete player. "He is an extremely tough matchup problem, similar to how Marshall Faulk was when he was in St. Louis," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "When Marshall used to line up outside the backfield, you were very cautious of who you put over there, linebacker, safety, etc., not only because he is dangerous, in terms of his pass catching ability, but because of his route running ability. I view Brian Westbrook in the same way. This guy has an extended route tree for a running back. He has great hands and Donovan McNabb obviously has a great deal of confidence in him. He can break you down out there, and you better be conscious about the people you put out there on him." A matchup such as this is why the Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons, but it's doubtful the team would lay all of the responsibility of dealing with Westbrook on only one individual.
STEELERS PUNT TEAM VS. EAGLES PR DeSEAN JACKSON: After two games, the Steelers are allowing an average of 7 yards per punt return, and Mitch Berger's net average of 39.2 yards ranks 15th in the NFL. Jackson, the Eagles' second pick in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, had a career punt return average of 16.7 yards, and that was good enough to rank him second in Pac-10 history behind UCLA's Jackie Robinson, who averaged 18.8 before going on to break the color line in Major League Baseball. Good coverage usually begins with directional kicking, and Steelers gunners Anthony Madison and William Gay will be an important part of that.
STEELERS WR NATE WASHINGTON VS. EAGLES CB LITO SHEPPARD: After putting together a fine training camp and a solid preseason that had him win the No. 3 receiving job with relative ease, Washington does not have a catch heading into this, the third game of the season. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Steelers are disappointed with him. "At this point we are very pleased with how Hines Ward is playing, with how Santonio Holmes is playing," said Tomlin, "and we have to spread the ball around a little more to some other people to make opponents respect those other threats that we are comfortable with." If Washington can break out against the Eagles, it should open up things even more for the rest of the Steelers offense.
STEELERS INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE VS. EAGLES DTs MIKE PATTERSON AND BRODRICK BUNKLEY: The Eagles defense has No. 1 picks on the line, multimillionaires at cornerback and All-Pros at safety, but if there is a weakness, it might be at linebacker. Over the previous couple of seasons, the Eagles cut ties with veteran linebackers Jeremiah Trotter and Takeo Spikes, and the current group is made up of second- and third-year players who were first-day draft picks -- Omar Gaither, Stewart Bradley and Chris Gocong. The Eagles believe they can go with such young linebackers because at defensive tackle are a pair of former No. 1 picks in Patterson and Bunkley, and those guys help to protect the young linebackers. For the Steelers to have success running the ball, they cannot allow the linebackers to run free to the point of attack, and the only way to get bodies on them is to first handle Patterson and Bunkley.