STEELERS 24, EAGLES 14
Steelers' record: 1-1
One year ago: 2-0
Preseason series record: Pittsburgh leads, 15-10
Granted, the nickname was hung on them by a backup signed off the waiver wire, but even though the Eagles bristle at the moniker "Dream Team," their high-profile acquisitions dominated the spotlight during the first few days and had them in the early talk to advance to Super Bowl XLVI. Coming off a sub-par performance against the Redskins at FedEx Field, the Steelers were looking for improvement in this, their second preseason game.
It isn't unusual for a team to take the opening kickoff and drive for a touchdown in a preseason game, as the Steelers did against the Eagles on Thursday night at Heinz Field. But when Ben Roethlisberger converted a third-and-18 with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward on the next possession for a 14-0 lead, the Steelers had control of the game.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
The Steelers had four interceptions, a total of five takeaways, and they finished a plus-five in turnover ratio. The Steelers did not manage four interceptions in any game last season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* A wrinkle that could work. On the second of their first two possessions – the one that went 96 yards in 14 plays and ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward – the Steelers lined up two backs in the backfield and had the fullback run the ball both times. The first time came on a second-and-1, and Jonathan Dwyer was the up-back with Rashard Mendenhall and gained 6 yards. The second time came with Isaac Redman in front of Mendenhall, and he gained 3 yards to convert a third-and-1.
- Fears about Troy Polamalu's health seemed to be groundless, especially after he showed very good burst on a few plays early in the game. Polamalu almost had a pick-six on a play in which James Harrison pressured Michael Vick. Polamalu ended up with an interception that was set up by LaMarr Woodley getting his hand on the ball. Polamalu returned the ball 36 yards to the Eagles 44-yard line.
- Byron Leftwich never has been known as a mobile quarterback, and in fact his immobility has been blamed for the number of injuries he has sustained during his career. But in the first half, Leftwich showed excellent mobility, not only moving within the pocket to buy time to find open receivers, but he also scrambled for a 9-yard gain during the team's third touchdown drive of the first half.
- Keenan Lewis is entering his third season, and as such has entered a critical stage of an NFL career, where potential has to give way to production in order for a roster spot to be earned. Lewis gave a good accounting of himself vs. the Eagles, and he was in good position and then followed that up by making the play on the ball to complete the play for the interception on a pass intended for Chad Hall.
- At first, it was a negative. When Byron Leftwich converted a third-and-14 with a 22-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery, the play was nullified by a holding penalty on Chris Scott. But Leftwich came back on the very next play and converted the third-and-24 with a 29-yard pass to Cotchery.
- In most of the ways that the Steelers' performance against the Redskins was disappointing, their first half against the Philadelphia Eagles was the direct opposite. Some random statistics: the Steelers converted 9-for-12 on third downs; they outgained the Eagles in total offense, 262-71; had more first downs, 16-5; and they possessed the ball for over 23 of the first half's 30 minutes.
- On back-to-back short-yardage plays early in the third quarter – on a third-and-1 and then a fourth-and-1 – Ryan Mundy made the tackle to prevent the Eagles running back from getting the first down. On fourth down, Mundy shot a gap between the center and guard to stuff 230-pound Stanley Havili for no gain to turn the ball over to the Steelers.
- Jonathan Dwyer's talent to run the ball never was in doubt, but his ability to do the other things required of the running back position is what's going to determine how much he plays. Dwyer finished with 44 yards 13 carries, but what opened eyes was his blitz pickup of Brandon Hughes that allowed Dennis Dixon to complete a pass to Tyler Grisham that set up Swayze Waters' 30-yard field goal that gave the Steelers a 24-0 lead.
- On the kickoff after his field goal, Waters stepped up and made a crisp tackle on returner Sinorice Moss after a 28-return to the Eagles 26-yard line.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* Ryan Clark made a very nice play on the ball to intercept a Michael Vick pass intended for DeSean Jackson and his 26-yard return put the Steelers in scoring position after they already had a 14-0 lead. But the offense didn't move the ball, and then Swayze Waters' 47-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
- Mike Tomlin always says that injuries are a part of football, but within the first dozen plays of the game, the Steelers lost two left tackles – Jonathan Scott and rookie Marcus Gilbert – to knee injuries. Tony Hills went into the game trying to win the starting job at right guard, was at left tackle starting with the second series.
- If there was a concern with the Steelers' first half performance, it probably was the pass protection. Ben Roethlisberger (twice) and Byron Leftwich (once) were sacked three times in the half. "Our improvising as it seems always, it's hard to be pleased with it, but it's hard to be disappointed if that makes any sense," said Roethlisberger. "We made a lot of mistakes, I don't think we protected well. It was probably my fault more than anything. We found ways to make plays, and guys found ways to get open. I found a way to get them the ball."
- A 9-yard touchdown pass from Dennis Dixon to Wes Lyons was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on WR Kenneth Moore.
- In addition to having is 47-yard attempt blocked, Waters also missed a 27-yard attempt to the right in the fourth quarter.
- The Eagles avoided a shutout with a 14-yard pass from Mike Kafka to Gerald Jones with 3:47 left in the game, but on the play a hold on Steelers rookie OLB Chris Carter was not called.
Said Mike Tomlin, "Jonathan Scott hyper-extended his knee; he's probably going to be okay as is Marcus Gilbert, same thing, a hyperextension of the knee. Isaac Redman had an ankle injury. He was able to go back in the game. Jerricho Cotchery's hamstring got tight and we pulled him before that became a major issue. It looks like we got out from an injury standpoint pretty good, which is a big part of this team development thing. We need to be healthy so that we can take the reps and improve. We are excited about that. (Shaun Suisham) had his appendix taken out. He had an appendectomy last week. He is fine and back with us. It's just going to be a matter of time before he gets back out there and participates for us."