Week 9: Philadelphia at Pittsburgh

If you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you probably look at this game and shrug your shoulders. If the wins are going to come in 2004, they will have to be found somewhere else. Since the AFC North is matched up against the NFC East this year, at least the division rivals of the Steelers face the same problem. Can the Philadelphia Eagles possibly lose the Battle of Pennsylvania?

On paper, this might look like no contest. The Philadelphia Eagles are stocked with nationally recognized stars. QB Donovan McNabb, DT Corey Simon, OT Jon Runyan, FS Brian Dawkins, SS Michael Lewis, DE Jevon Kearse, and, of course, WR Terrell Owens lead a team likely headed to another appearance in the NFC Championship game.

Looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers, you might be tempted to think about the one that got away, C Hank Fraley. An undrafted free agent, Fraley impressed the coaches of the Steelers in camp, but not enough to hold on to him. C Jeff Hartings is the big money guy, but Fraley now looks like the much better investment and starts for Philadelphia.

Simply put, the Eagles have flourished where the Steelers have floundered.

This might be "the year" for the fans in Philadelphia, while Pittsburgh looks more and more like a backwater of professional sports.

Philadelphia is currently basking in the glow of two new sports stadiums, while the honeymoon in Pittsburgh is already over. Sure, both cities have struggled, but Philadelphia is a large market team and Pittsburgh is a small one. The have/have-not dichotomy never looked starker.

However, Andy Reid's tenure as the head coach of the Eagles has been littered with playoff disappointments, much akin to Bill Cowher's experience in Pittsburgh. Neither are great tacticians and both suffer from swelled egos.

Still, the Eagles find a way to win and Reid's early success mirrors that of Bill Cowher. But high expectations can set up a long fall back down to reality. The fans will apply the pressure and the Eagles could come apart at the seams. They almost did after an 0-2 start last season.

Owens won't help matters and there may be too many big heads in Philadelphia. Certainly, Kearse's health is no given and the defensive prowess seems to have peaked during the 2002 season. If anyone can beat the Eagles, it is the Eagles themselves.

Philadelphia struggles to put the ball in the end zone and if a team can hang around long enough, the Eagles might implode. 2003 was all about making the right plays at the right time. McNabb can help sustain that magic, but he can't do it alone.

The Steelers can run on the Eagles defense, which is geared to stop the pass with a fierce rush. The Eagles give up some size in order to gain speed. Statistically speaking, Philadelphia looks vulnerable. The whole must be greater than the sum of the parts.

Thus, additions of Kearse and Owens may prove to be subtractions and certain keystones may have aged beyond their primes or left town altogether.

RB Duce Staley is one of the keystones to Philadelphia's success. Healthy, he's a threat on the field, but he's a constant in terms of locker room presence. When a team loses the statistical battle, but wins the game, a few players of outstanding character are almost always the reason for such an unexpected outcome.

If the Steelers do something unexpected, such as go 3-1 against the NFC East in 2004, Staley will likely be the reason. Staley, along with Hines Ward, may be able to will a few wins this year. Hard to say if a similar player exists on the defensive side of the ball for the Steelers, we suspect that's part of the problem there.

Right now, this game still looks like mismatch, but if Duces are wild, everything will add up to a most unexpected final score.

Steel City Insider Top Stories