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Pregame Zone Blitz: 'Dream Team' Comes To Town

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A small tidbit in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was the mandate for at least one Preseason Pregame Zone Blitz. And what better game to run it than Preseason Week 2, at Heinz Field, against the purported Dream Team assembled by the Philadelphia Eagles?

Read up on Stephens' notes from the disaster in Washington, because the game may not matter to the veterans, it surely will for some of the future core members of this team.

When PZB started in 2009, we highlighted rookie WR Mike Wallace's camp battle with Shaun McDonald. Ziggy Hood was being noted for his work ethic at camp, but wasn't near significant playing time. Something called Justin Hartwig was the unquestioned center of the team.

My, how things change in two years.

Not PZB, though. The preseason is all about highlighting the future as best we can. Is Stevenson Sylvester the future replacement of James Farrior? How much do we love Keith Williams' potential at left guard? How many guys need to be drafted to give William Gay a run for his one-year contract as the nickel back?

In non-Steelers news, there is a situation brewing in which a few teams are libel to flip out, all thanks to our buddy, Commissioner Goodell, who has provided yet another reason why we shouldn't - can't - trust him. 

All of that and more in the start of Year 3 for the PZB. 

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

The Eagles will not play DT Antonio Dixon (back), DE Juqua Parker (calf), DT Mike Patterson (seizure), LB Greg Lloyd (ankle), WR Steve Smith (knee), OT Fenuki Tupou (knee) CB Jamar Wall (hamstring), DE Brandon Graham (knee), and S Marlin Jackson (sports hernia).

Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News talks about Eagles defensive ends playing the 9-technique (fancy term meaning "way the hell off the tackle") this season. Their Des had five of the team's six sacks from this formation in a preseason win against Baltimore.

Eagles Hall of Fame WR Pete Pihos died Tuesday morning at the age of 87. JasonB of Bleeding Green Nation has a nice write-up about him.

Jody Battista of the New York Times says the Eagles free agent splurge was something the team had been preparing for since 2008.

Last Game

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin summarized it the best: "Quite frankly, we got outplayed in just about all areas - blocking, tackling, running, throwing, kicking. That team was better prepared than us. They showed it."

Yeah, teams don't typically win games when they lose battles in all of those areas. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, though, considering the Redskins kept their starters in the entire first half, and the Steelers yanked theirs not long into the game.

Winning and losing isn't the whole story in the preseason, anyway. Ignoring the fact the 16-7 loss in Andover was the Steelers first preseason opening loss under Tomlin, the performance of some of the younger players left some room for improvement.

OLB Jason Worilds looked slow and/or weak at times. G/C Doug Legursky held his own at guard, but was manhandled at center. ILB Sylvester didn't do as much as people hoped he would.

On the flip side, though, WR Antonio Brown looked fast, caught the ball and blocked aggressively down field. P Dan Sepulveda showed his knee is just fine (for now). Larry Foote is going to make cutting him an extremely difficult decision.

Heading into Thursday's tune-up against the Eagles, there's a sense a fire has been lit under a lot of guys.

Opponent Spotlight: QB Vince Young

These are a bit tougher to do in the preseason, considering no player who's really worth watching on the opposing team will play long enough to be memorable. However, two reasons stand out in Young's candidacy.

First, there was the comment he made during training camp that will require the Eagles to answer questions about it for the remainder of the year. "Dream Team." Philadelphia signed a slew of free agents, including big names like Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown and Young (FYI, Young placed himself in that category. You didn't see Mike Miller proclaiming the Heat's dominance because of his arrival), while trading QB Kevin Kolb for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. 

Maybe this is the Obvious Statement of the Year, but the absolute last thing any player should do in a major sports market is associate his team with the word "dream" and any and all other nouns, rhyming or otherwise. Young - the back-up quarterback, mind you - uttered the phrase, and the rest will be a pain in Eagles coach Andy Reid's backside for the rest of the year.

Secondly, though, there's the James Harrison Five Grand Suplex he laid on Young last year, as the Steelers defense essentially ended Young's time in Tennessee. Again, it's a preseason game, and this isn't suggesting Young will be out for revenge or anything, but in the eyes of Steelers fans, he is the symbol of the most dominant Steelers defensive performance in recent memory.

Let's watch it again: 

Steelers Spotlight:  RB Jonathan Dwyer

If Dwyer wanted an opportunity to prove himself worthy of the fourth running back spot behind Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore, he'll have it tonight.

His ability to lock down a roster spot is one of the key roster decisions this preseason. Considering rookie Baron Batch's season-ending injury, it's Dwyer's job if he wants it.

The problem is, showing up at camp at 240 pounds and failing the run test doesn't show that he wanted it.

After dropping 20 pounds during camp, and eventually passing the test, Dwyer may not be completely out of Tomlin's doghouse, but he'll get his chance to full exit it tonight. He'll likely receive the bulk of the carries with both the first and second teams, giving him plenty of chances to show whether he belongs.

Undrafted rookie John Clay will also see time - despite a bizarre incident in which running backs coach Kirby Wilson told him to get off the field, causing Clay to return to the locker room (Wilson meant for him to go to the sideline). All eyes will be on Dwyer, however, and his ability to show the speed and power combination that left so many people excited about last year's 6th round pick.

We'd love to note a defensive back among the worthy of your attention, but with four cornerbacks out with various injuries, maybe even Young will have some success in the air against a hodge-podge of defenders. The Steelers will be without Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, Crezdon Butler and Cortez Allen, so perhaps rookie Curtis Brown will be the guy to keep your eyes on the defensive side of the ball.  

I See You

I see you, Cameron Heyward. PZB loves the guys who mix it up in training camp, and aren't afraid and won't back down. That makes us love any guy who has a sit-down conversation with the offensive linemen about the intensity in which he's playing.

Your scrums with Jonathan Scott and Ramon Foster were publicized and I'm sure it wasn't just for show. You're here to work hard, earn respect and eventually, turn into an outstanding player. While it's not likely you'll contribute much on the field this year, you're already showing the level of passion and effort we've come to expect from Steelers defenders, and that in itself is a beautiful thing to watch.

Just don't beat on the offensive linemen from your own team too much.


Who Says Goodell Doesn't Care About His Players?: In an interview with GQ, Eagles QB Michael Vick said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell steered the former free agent to sign with the Eagles, instead of either Cincinnati or Buffalo. 

PZB doesn't boast any legal expertise, but the head of the league steering a free agent to one team, and away from two other teams, sounds an awful lot like collusion. It's certainly a clear conflict of interest, to say nothing of the fact it's a kick square between the legs of the small market teams in the NFL. He dissuaded an experienced veteran quarterback away from two teams that would garner him less attention for the sake of the large market team, which, incidentally, was set at the position he played. 

What's even more perplexing is the fact, which is the official web site of the league, boasts it as if they're looking to credit Goodell with a wise decision. 

Keep in mind, this is a league that doesn't allow teams to talk to players about coming over to their side while they're still under contract - the least followed rule in the league. Now, 32 teams have the undeniable concern that their commissioner chooses to take an aggressive stance with high-profile free agents, and has direct influence over where they decide to play. 

Teams lose money and draft picks over tampering. What do you think the reactions of the front offices of Cincinnati and Buffalo are going to say about this? What Goodell did wasn't tampering, but why should they be forced to accept the message they're being force-fed; that their teams' success are not in the best interest of the league as a whole? 

Congratulations, Mr. Goodell, you've done it again. 

Eskin Stepping Down: Philadelphia radio legend Howard Eskin is leaving his drivetime talk show on WIP. There are very few local radio personalities known as well nationally as Eskin. In the time I lived in Philadelphia, I listened to his show frequently, and his acerbic wit, vastly superior <ahem> knowledge and general bluntness made his show my basic introduction to the people of Philadelphia - most of whom hate him, despite being very similar to him.

I genuinely really like him, as I feel his challenging opinions and caller-based format are exactly what a radio host should do.

Eskin will continue with Eagles pregame and game day coverage.