It started off like an absolute nightmare. The Steelers only had 30 yards of offense after their first three possessions, and hadn't threatened to score. Two Michael Vick turnovers saved the game for them, and allowed the Steelers to gain some momentum.
Sometimes you only win by maintaining possession. The Steelers started off poorly, ended on the strong side and protected the football. That's a winning formula.
Here are my first half thoughts, upon a second viewing.
- The Eagles tested James Harrison immediately, running a stretch zone at him on the first play. He held up to the double-team well, sealing off the original path of the run, forcing McCoy to cut way back. He was still able to get three yards, before Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Clark were able to head him off, but a lesser talented running back would have taken that for a yard, maybe no gain.
- I figured going into this the Eagles were going to test the Steelers' deep secondary early. They went after Ike Taylor in coverage on Jeremy Maclin on the game's third play.
- And for all you no-huddle fans out there, on the Eagles' first drive, from the no-huddle, they went: incomplete, false start penalty, run for 0 yards, sack.
- We're going to get into the Steelers "diamond" formation in Behind The Steel GIFs, coming probably Tuesday. Not sure if I've ever seen them use two tight ends, both off the line, but as I alluded to in this morning's article about the decision between Leonard Pope and David Paulson, this formation all but confirms Pope will be the one to go.
- If Maurkice Pouncey was snapping to Tyson Chandler, the shotgun fumble on the second snap of the game wouldn't have happened.
- Neither quarterback looked particularly comfortable in this game, and you saw it from Vick early. You might remember a Behind The Steel GIF in which we broke down a blitz that resulted in a sack against Oakland. The Steelers ran the same blitz on the Eagles' second possession, but with Timmons stunting in off Woodley's rush.
- It says something about the execution of the play and the speed of Timmons that Vick couldn't even escape the pocket in time to throw the ball away, so he does the next best thing: He throws it straight in the air toward the sideline, like he was playing 500. No one comes down with it, and Vick takes his first hit of the game.
- It was at this point you started to notice Timmons seemed to have a particularly high level of acceleration in this game. Not that he never did before, but he was motivated. Why he was, or why he didn't seem to be before this game is something we may never know, but the guy we saw Sunday is the guy the Steelers signed to a big extension last season.
- Timmons again, stuffing McCoy for a two-yard loss, but this time the credit goes to James Harrison and Brett Keisel, who do an outstanding job of controlling the line against the zone run. They bounce McCoy halfway to Beaver Falls, and Timmons stays disciplined to the cutback, but doesn't hesitate when he sees McCoy break for the edge.
- Rashard Mendenhall's 24-yard run negated by an illegal formation penalty (that had zero effect on the play) is without question the best executed run of the season. It's the perfect play call against an Eagles defense that had been slanting in gaps. The end and tackle both attack the gap to their right, a defensive line call to cut off an expected run to the right side. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster both do a great job of picking them up, which accentuates Pouncey's recognition of the play, causing him to advance to the second level to take out the linebacker. Fullback Will Johnson stones the linebacker, Mendenhall makes safety Kurt Coleman miss, and goes for 24 yards that didn't count.
- Few other things on this. First, an Eagles fan opined about Coleman's impact in this game. I let him know I didn't even know who Coleman was, and he assured me I would after this game. He's right. I do know him now. He's a shoe-throwing, back-jumping punk who blew a tackle in the open field and was part of a defensive unit that gave up 138 rushing yards to a team averaging less than half that in three previous games. Thanks for the heads up.
- Second, not sure if Jason Babin is celebrating or relieving frustration after hustling all the way from his left defensive end position to make the tackle down the field, but I sure hope he isn't celebrating.
- Third, while I think Mendenhall ran very well in this game - along with the line blocking very well, as exemplified by this play - the fact a defensive end ran him down in the open field shows he is not 100 percent yet. It was almost a benefit, though. He had to be more decisive - maybe it was him being more selective - with his moves. Before, he ran as if he always had one last option. In Week 5, he patiently took what was there, and made it work.
- And Philadelphia is not the run-stopping team their fans fancied them to be before this game. So Isaac Redman was right in some way.
- Timmons' forced fumble came off the wide stunt blitz again, this time, with Harrison off the offensive left side. The Eagles picked it up well, and Timmons' sack/forced fumble came when Vick stepped up in the pocket and tried to escape to his left. Timmons ran him down like a dog (heh).
- I hate it when Polamalu gets that look on his face. That "I'm not going to play for a while" look, hiding slightly behind his mask of serenity, peace and calm. Unfortunately, yes, it's fair to speculate whether we've seen the last of one of the best Steelers players ever.
- Vick's first 10 dropbacks, seven hits and five knockdowns. What about that pass rush?
- Speaking of it, Timmons blows up yet another play on what was clearly a designed run on 3rd-and-12. They credited Ziggy Hood with a sack, but I would expect them to change that this week. The Eagles offensive line is run blocking, if that was a pass, they would have been penalized for illegal men down field.
- Another play they'll look at again, Mendenhall's touchdown. Looks to me like they could call it a lateral or a pass. Remember the Antonio Brown catch and fumble ruled as a touchdown? Maybe this is the great equalizer. More on that later.
- Someone's going to have to explain that fourth down call. I get that it's a shorter field, and that's fine. I also understand it's a moot point if Brown actually catches the ball on 3rd-and-10 (covered by Brandon Boykin, and I use the word "covered" very loosely. I swear I remember Eagles fans talking about how good he was. Brown completely fried him on that route). Pouncey's snap is there for Roethlisberger, and I'm not sure if he just took his eyes off it, his hands are drier than notebook paper or what, but it wasn't raining at this point. The whole play blew up, so Roethlisberger throws it into double coverage in the end zone to the receiver who won't fight in the air for a pass. Just stupid, all around.
- If the Eagles and Steelers meet in the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh's entire game plan is going to be getting Brown in coverage on Nnamdi Asomugha, The plan will be to make Brown the MVP. And if he catches the ball, he would be. Brown's hands are bordering on liability status now, and Wallace is starting to creep up there as well. Three drops and a fumble for Wallace in the last two games. Four drops and two fumbles for Brown in the last two games.
- Asomugha is not nearly as great as advertised. The rest of the league is seeing this now. While the Eagles are a decent team, they haven't had the recent success the Steelers have because the Steelers sign Ike Taylor for half of what the Eagles paid Asomugha, and get comparable production from them. Philadelphia, to their credit, bailed themselves out by trading a quarterback they don't need and a second round pick for their top corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who played very well (since officials didn't call defensive holding in this game. I'm writing something else if they did).
- Just a great drive by Roethlisberger to get to Mendenhall's touchdown. He attacked all over the field. Whether it was scored a lateral or not, he threw the ball to Mendenhall, giving him two passes to Mendenhall, two to Brown, one to Wallace and two carries, leading to the game's first touchdown. Roethlisberger's numbers may not have been outstanding, but he played winning football for 60 minutes.