Game Scout: Eagles @ Steelers

The Philadelphia Eagles will face former running back Duce Staley and the surprise Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Can the Eagles' thwart impressive rookie Ben Roethlisberger, and continue their winning ways? Gameday scouting report inside!

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/07/04
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Cris Collinsworth
2004 RANKINGS: Eagles: offense 7th (20th rush, 4th pass); defense 18th (17th rush, 21st pass). Steelers: offense 15th (4th rush, 25th pass); defense 5th (3rd rush, 9th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: To become the first team in NFL history to sweep back-to-back victories against unbeaten teams this late in the season, the Steelers will need a big game from RB Duce Staley against his former team. Rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown just one interception in his past 116 passes, but the Eagles' weakness is a run defense allowing 4.8 yards per carry. The Steelers have a physical running game with the potential to wear Philadelphia's front seven down. That would also serve to protect Pittsburgh's defense, which is playing without NT Casey Hampton and CB Chad Scott. The Eagles are expected to minus dynamic RB Brian Westbrook, making them an even more pass-heavy offense than normal, and the Steelers' secondary will be under constant pressure.
FAST FACTS: Eagles: WR Terrell Owens has five consecutive 100-yard receiving games. ... Lead the series 46-26-3. Steelers: Roethlisberger's 5-0 record as a starter is second in NFL history among rookies behind Mike Kruczek's 6-0 start with the 1976 Steelers. ... Staley is on pace for 1,616 rushing yards. The franchise record is 1,690 by Barry Foster in 1992. ... RB Jerome Bettis is averaging a touchdown once every 6.5 carries.
   --RB Brian Westbrook practiced Thursday, raising hopes that he might play Sunday against Pittsburgh. Westbrook still is listed as questionable. He suffered a hairline fracture of his first rib two weeks ago and sat out last week's game against the Ravens.
   --S J.R. Reed, who was listed as doubtful Wednesday with a hamstring injury, was downgraded to out Thursday. Reed is the club's main kickoff returner. He'll likely be replaced by fellow rookie Dexter Wynn.
   --CB Dexter Wynn is expected to return kickoffs for the Eagles Sunday against Pittsburgh. The rookie will replace J.R. Reed, who is out with a hamstring injury.
   --RG Jermane Mayberry didn't practice again Thursday. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with a calf strain that kept him out of the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against Baltimore. Mayberry probably will play against the Steelers, but if he isn't effective, he'll be replaced by Steve Sciullo.
   --WR Todd Pinkston didn't practice Thursday. He has a bone bruise on his knee and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Steelers. It's unlikely that Pinkston will be able to play.
   --The Steelers were unable to sack Eagles QB Donovan McNabb during a preseason game this year.
   "We played in that preseason game and we must have swung him around a couple of times where he never came off his feet," said coach Bill Cowher. "This guy will test you. You have to run through him. You're going to have to be persistent in your rushing. You're going to have to be honest with your coverage. He is a big challenge to your defense."
   --RB Duce Staley said he's not worried about proving the Eagles were wrong in letting him leave as a free agent last offseason.
   "No hard feelings. Nothing personal," Staley said. "If it was something personal, I would be showing my teammates I want to be over there, instead of being here. If I go out with an attitude or go out like I have something against those guys over there, they would look at it like 'Duce wishes he was still over there.' That's not the case."
   Running back Brian Westbrook still is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a fractured rib and chest bruise. But he did manage to practice Thursday, raising hopes that he might play this week.
   Westbrook suffered the injury two weeks ago in the Eagles' 34-31 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns. He was listed as questionable on the Eagles' injury report prior to the Baltimore game, but never practiced and wasn't activated for the game.
   Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder said it takes about four weeks for an injury like Westbrook's to completely heal. He said playing before it completely heals depends on the player's pain tolerance, but added that Westbrook can't do any further damage to the rib by playing with it.
   "He's doing a good job (of recovering from the injury)," coach Andy Reid said. "I wasn't sure how much he'd be able to do today. But he felt comfortable. I'm not saying he doesn't any tenderness in that spot, but he's able to do some work. It's just a matter of the comfort level."
   Asked if he'd be surprised if Westbrook played Sunday, Reid said, "No, I wouldn't be surprised. But I also wouldn't be surprised if he didn't play. This is one of those day to day situations."
   Thirty-four-year-old Dorsey Levens started in place of Westbrook last week against the Ravens. Second-year man Reno Mahe also was used there. But neither of them brings to the Eagles' offense what Westbrook does.
   QB Ben Roethlisberger was named the named the NFL rookie of the month for October, during which he led the Steelers to four consecutive victories.
   Roethlisberger had a 116.7 passer rating and six touchdown passes against just one interception.
   His success has been predicated on good decision making that starts with a 70.1 completion percentage. The rookie record for a quarterback with at least 150 pass attempts is 58.4 by Dan Marino in 1983.
   And Roethlisberger isn't being asked to simply manage the game like so many other young quarterbacks. The Steelers coaches have gained enough confidence in their first-year signal-caller to attempt many of the most precise passes, such as fade routes.
   The fade was a particular route that had all but disappeared from the game plan in recent seasons. But Roethlisberger completed one to WR Plaxico Burress for a 4-yard touchdown last Sunday.
   "For the past four years that I've been here it's always been a throw where they wanted to go for the pylon," Burress said. "They kind of wanted me to outrun the guy at the line of scrimmage and beat him to the pylon, it has to almost be a perfect throw.
   "Just give me a chance to go make a play on the football. That's something we hadn't done. It's always a throw to the pylon. It has to be a perfect throw for that. I said just throw it up there and put some air under it and give me time to set my feet and jump, man."

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