Steelers-Eagles: Battle of styles

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> On third-and-10, Ike Taylor blitzed and thought he was coming clean for a sack.<br><br> A 6-foot-1 cornerback, Taylor's 191 pounds were propelled by 4.3 speed, but none of it mattered to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

McNabb flicked Taylor aside and scrambled 27 yards for a first down. Three plays later, McNabb threw a touchdown pass to L.J. Smith for a 17-14 halftime lead.

The preseason game, of course, didn't matter, but it still lives in Taylor's mind.

"He's a running back," Taylor said of McNabb. "I was real surprised he didn't go down when I hit him in preseason. Then I was looking at tape and saw D-linemen and linebackers do the same things, so I kind of got over it. But man, that's like tackling a running back. Just like a running back."

McNabb did the same thing in the same game to 270-pound rush end Alonzo Jackson. He's probably done the same thing every week, and he'll try to do it again at Heinz Field today in the 1 p.m. showdown for Pennsylvania, matching the 7-0 Eagles against the 6-1 Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers, of course, are bracing for the deep game of wide receiver Terrell Owens. He leads the NFL with 9 touchdown catches. But the Steelers are also prepared to tackle McNabb.

"You're not just going to get him by the shoulders. You've got to follow through," Taylor said. "You've got to load up when you try to tackle McNabb because he's a load.

"Hey, my eyes got big. I got through the running back and my eyes got real big. I tried to grab his shoulders and he slung me instead of me slinging him. All I could say was Ohhh."

While McNabb has made many an NFL player say "Ohhh," the Steelers are making them say "Owww."

While McNabb presents perhaps the most physical package of any quarterback in the league, the Steelers present perhaps the most physical overall offense.

Last week the Steelers bludgeoned the New England Patriots for 221 rushing yards on 49 carries. It was their largest rushing total since the 2001 regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns (221) and their most carries since the 2001 playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens (49). The Steelers also controlled the ball an amazing 42:58, meaning they sacrificed points for clock. The score against the defending NFL champs could've been worse.

"Just pounding it and driving it and running - we fed off it," said guard Alan Faneca.

Is it 2001 all over again?

"I was wondering when that question was coming," Faneca said with a laugh. "Well, I haven't seen the film but walking off the field we felt like we played a really physical, tough game. 01? It's tough to say. We had a great team then, too. I can't make that comparison. I just can't. It's early on with us right now. But that definitely was probably one of the most physical games we played as an offense and defensive line."

"It's a different team, different make-up," said Jerome Bettis, the feature back in 2001. "The 2001 team, everything seemed to be real easy. This one is not as easy as it's been early on."

The facts back him up. In 2001, the Steelers averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 173.4 rushing yards per game. This year, they average 4.0 per carry and 147.7 per game.

This year, though, the Steelers have a better passing threat with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Also, while receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward are still in their physical primes, they have matured. The Steelers also have dangerous slot man Antwaan Randle El and, because of a new officiating emphasis, open secondaries to attack.

According to Len Pasquarelli of, illegal contact calls are up 167 percent over the same point last year; passing yardage is up 28.4 yards per game; yards per attempt are up; yards per completion are up; plays over 20 yards are up; and completion percentage is a staggering 60.8 percent.

Those stats seem to fit the Eagles' style, in which the running game is more of a complement to a passing game that features the rough-and-tumble McNabb and big-play threat Owens. It appears as if the Eagles have also built their defense to cope with the new wave. They rank 31st by allowing 4.8 yards per carry, and allow almost that - 6.1 yards per attempt (2nd NFL) - with their pass defense.

The Steelers, though, have stepped back to their traditional identity, and it's working. The difference is they now have Duce Staley, who didn't fit the pass-oriented Eagles anymore, and an offensive line that's not only healthy but improving.

"Keydrick (Vincent) and Oliver (Ross) are getting better and better every week," explained line coach Russ Grimm. "Again, can they do it on a consistent basis? I think they take a lot of pride in what they're doing, but again it's only one game. We'll wait and see what happens."

Today's game will answer that question. And it will answer a question of style in one of the NFL's swing states this season.

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