Jared Wickerham - Getty Images
While the Eagles' Wide Nine defensive front (defensive ends are in a four-point stance from the 9-technique, which is past the outside shoulder of the tight end) might suggest the use of multiple tight ends, the Steelers will find ways to get Philadelphia's rookie nickel back, Boykin, on the field. With two sizeable cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, they like to play bump ‘n run coverage on outside receivers. It may be a situation where the Eagles shadow either Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown with Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, leaving the rookie on Sanders.
It's a breakout kind of match-up for Sanders, who's been a quiet but effective contributor for the Steelers through three games. He has 10 catches on 16 targets and boasts a healthy 12.1 yards per catch average. Look for the Steelers to counter the aggressive Eagles' pass rush with quick timing routes in their passing offense. Sanders could be a benefactor of this scheme.
Years ago, the last time these teams met, Cole had a career day against former Steelers LT Marvel Smith. Six pressures of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went along with a sack and a hit in their 2008 meeting, and the Eagles' pass rush put on one of the more impressive clinics the Steelers would see for the next few years. Cole has had other games like that in his outstanding career, and he'll attack the edge with the same intensity in Week 5.
Starks has been decent in pass protection through three games, but Cole is probably his toughest assignment to date. He's relentless in his pursuit, and his quickness off the snap combined with his ability to dip low when rushing to the outside of the tackle make him extremely difficult to block. Cole only has 1.5 sacks through the Eagles first four games, but he should be expected to make an impact in this one.
With Polamalu back in the lineup, the Eagles would be wise to test him early, with runs at and away from him, to see where his speed is after his two-week absence. Expect the Steelers to utilize him in situations around the line of scrimmage to help provide support against one of the better all-around running backs in the league, LeSean McCoy, but they'll need Polamalu to mirror Vick at certain points as well.
Vick can and will escape pressure to either side, but doesn't throw as well on the move. He has a tendency, when pressure, to speed through his progressions and escape with intentions to run weighing more heavily than passing. The Steelers should look to take a disciplined approach when rushing Vick, and look to contain him in the pocket as opposed to aggressively pursuing a sack, allowing him to elude and get outside. If the front seven of the Steelers can apply pressure while Polamalu is playing in the near flats, the Steelers should be able to make a few of the splash plays they've been lacking this season.
OLB James Harrison vs. LT Demetress Bell
Bell, the Eagles left tackle filling in for injured King Dunlap, has been underwhelming in his three games in 2012. It's the perfect assignment for Harrison's first game since Jan. 8. If Harrison's knee is able to hold up, he should have the ability to lock down the offensive left edge against the run, and create enough discomfort for Vick to put the Steelers in a few more advantageous situations on long downs.
Philadelphia has been giving Bell help with tight ends and running backs, but their varied shorter passing game requires multiple receivers running patterns, so there will be instances in which Bell is left on his own to block Harrison. Vick is not the strongest passer in the game, but he is one of the best runners, which makes Bell's job even harder. Harrison doesn't have to get sacks as much as he needs to advance into the backfield and make Vick uncomfortable while not letting him escape to his outside.