Four years ago, the Steelers went to Philadelphia and were handed The Massacre at The Linc. Nine sacks of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, three times as many hits and pressures, the Eagles thoroughly dominated the Steelers up front.
Defensive coordinators and philosophies have changed, but getting after the quarterback is still the weapon of choice for Philadelphia, who, standing at 3-1, enters the game a team capable of beating its opponent in many different ways.
When the Eagles have the ball:
The Steelers should expect heavy doses of former Pitt star LeSean McCoy. Unless, of course, the Eagles don't want the all-purpose machine to factor into the game's outcome.
He had 26 touches in a Week 1 win over Cleveland, 27 touches in a Week 2 win over Baltimore, 16 touches in a Week 3 loss to Arizona and 26 in a win against the Giants in Week 4.
A very simple formula emerges. If McCoy = 26 > touches, then Eagles = win. It's not rocket surgery. It's also unlikely the Eagles plan was to limit McCoy against the Cardinals, Arizona did a great job on the defensive side of the ball. That's like the film the Steelers studied the most this week.
Complimenting McCoy on the ground is quarterback Michael Vick. Already entrenched as the best rushing quarterback in NFL history, Vick is averaging a shade under five yards a carry on roughly six carries a game. The key for the Steelers will be to limit McCoy between the tackles, and force Vick to throw the ball, where he's completing just 56.8 percent of his passes.
Even with a less-than-desired rate of completion, the Eagles have dynamic playmakers, having at least one play of at least 32 yards in each of their first four games. The key for the Steelers will be to put pressure on Vick in an effort to contain him first, getting the sack second. Sticking with a Cover 2 shell and zone under coverage while squeezing Vick in the pocket will likely result in some poor throws and opportunities for turnovers.
When the Steelers have the ball:
If Pittsburgh was going to revive its beleaguered running game, Week 5 would be a good start. The Eagles front seven is playing particularly well, and are as aggressive and athletic as any group in the league. The Steelers aren't likely to win a physical battle with them up front, and won't be able to gain much yardage between the tackles in the run game, but they must establish their intent there anyway. Zone stretch running, if executed properly (not something the Steelers have done to this point) will work due to the Wide Nine alignment the Eagles defensive ends use. Selling power runs can open up the play action, and give one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, Roethlisberger, a chance to exploit the Eagles man coverage
To do that, they will have to get nasty up front. Center Maurkice Pouncey is as strong and athletic a center as any other in the NFL, and using him and left guard Willie Colon to cave in the defensive right side of the line will help establish screen passing and counter traps.
Look for the Steelers to get running back Chris Rainey involved in the passing game. The more the Steelers can set him in the slot or motion him wide, the more advantageous a match-up he'll receive. The Eagles defensive linemen are very athletic for their positions, but the Eagles secondary cannot match the athleticism - speed in particular - of the Steelers' receivers. Utilizing Rainey will either result in a safety playing closer to the line or having him covered by a linebacker. That means Philadelphia would either expose themselves to the deep speed of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown in single coverage without deep help, or it would put a player who's at least two steps slower than Rainey in exclusive coverage.
Eagles special teams:
Eagles punter Chas Henry is top 10 in the league with a 48.5 average, but his 38.3 net average is in the bottom third of the league, and he's only put two of his 16 punts inside the 20.
Kicker Alex Henery is 8-for-9 on field goals so far, with 3-of-4 from 40-49. The Eagles are dead last in touchbacks off kickoffs, with only 22.2 percent of their kicks resulting in no return.
The Eagles' kick coverage unit is allowing 30.4 yards per return, with much of that magnified by New York's 36.2 yard average in their Monday Night game of Week 4. Philadelphia only averages 19.1 yards per kick return, second to last in the NFL.
Their punt return unit is also ranked 31st in the NFL, averaging five yards per return.