Well here we are “Steeler Nation.” It is Week 5, Pittsburgh is 1-2, and the 3-1 Eagles are coming to town this weekend. As far as matchups go, the one that I am most intrigued to watch centers around the battle between perceived “weakness” versus perceived “weakness”. In spite of both of their early-season struggles, this duel will be arguably one of the most crucial of the contest, and should have an enormous impact in Sunday afternoon’s outcome. With this “Vick & His Turnovers” vs. “The Steelers’ Defense” matchup in mind, I thought that I would share my thoughts on the matter below, and discuss which “weakness” could gain the upper-hand on Sunday and why.
Introduction & Why Areas are Weaknesses
Over Philadelphia’s first four games, Michael Vick has been nothing short of a “Turnover Machine.” Although he protected the ball well during Sunday night’s win versus the Giants, Vick has coughed the ball up NINE times during the Eagles’ 3-1 start. In terms of Interceptions thrown, Vick has been picked off 6 times, and was picked off a season high 4 against the Browns in Week 1. As far as his “Fumble-itis,” Vick has already put the ball on the deck three more times over the course of the 2012 season as well.
Even though the Eagles are 3-1, Vick’s Turnovers, like any team’s Quarterback’s Turnovers, have cost them numerous points/scoring opportunities over their first four games. In fact, one could make a strong argument that the Eagles won in spite of Vick’s mistakes against Cleveland in Week 1, and Baltimore in Week 2.
If Vick is classified as a “Turnover Machine,” the Steelers’ Defense barely know what a Turnover looks like after their first three games. Whether it has been their inability to create/design pressure (scheme and talent at fault), or their Defender’s inability to cover and sometimes tackle down the field, this Defense just cannot seem to get on the right track to get the ball back into their Offense’s hands (0 Punts in 2nd Half versus Broncos and Raiders). Because of these short-comings, opponents have been able to not only protect the football and sustain drives all season long, and have had success against this Defense for the last season and a half. Don’t believe me? Over Pittsburgh’s last 19 regular season games, the Defense has only forced 17 Turnovers!
Matchups This Weekend
Like it or not fans, but the onus will be on the Steelers’ Defense and their group of under-performing, inexperienced, and calcified personnel on Sunday. Sure, the Eagles might have their issues finishing drives so far this season, and have struggled to put up massive amounts of points (16.5 PPG, 30th in NFL). Despite their scoring problems, Philadelphia’s Offense has actually moved the ball well at times this year, and ranks 5th in the League in Total Yards per Game (417.8). And even though the Steelers have had almost two weeks to correct their Defensive issues, Philadelphia has plenty of Offensive fire-power to cause Pittsburgh’s Defense some problems. If these players can make themselves available for Vick, they can make the necessary plays to help him stay Turnover-free.
Not only will the Steelers have to contain LeSean McCoy (384 Rushing Yards, 1 TD, 14 Catches for 59 Yards) in the running and passing games, their Secondary and Linebackers must also find ways to contain DeSean Jackson (20 Catches for 333 Yards and 1 TD), Jeremy Maclin (9 Catches for 126 Yards and 2 TD’s), Jason Avant (11 Catches for 128 Yards), Brent Celek (18 Catches for 315 Yards), and to a lesser extent, Damaris Johnson (8 Catches for 124 Yards) and Clay Harbor (5 Catches for 42 Yards and 1 TD).
To even force Vick to have an off-day, the Steelers will likely need to neutralize McCoy in both the running and passing games. Something I might add is no easy task for even a good Defense to do. McCoy ranks 3rd in the League in Rushing Yards, is currently averaging 4.7 Yards per Carry, and does a fantastic job of cutting back and making teams pay when they forget to back-side contain on running plays. These things would be bad enough for any Defense. But all of these talents McCoy possesses are things the Steelers’ Defense has struggled with in the past, and did so most recently against Oakland and Darren McFadden two weeks ago.
If by some awesome happen-stance the Steelers are able to put the clamps on McCoy, or Andy Reid decides to attack through the air and ignore him, Pittsburgh must find a way to exploit Philadelphia’s banged-up Offensive Line to get after Vick. To their credit, the Eagles’ make-shift Line only allowed 2.0 Sacks to the Giants’ monster pass-rush. Sack numbers aside, Vick still was hit multiple times, and made some nice athletic plays and did evade a couple of more Sacks last Sunday night. Solid performance notwithstanding, the Eagles have given up 11.0 Sacks over the first four games, and still could remain a liability this weekend. Thus, it is extremely important that the Steelers’ Front Seven must find a way to take advantage and force the slightly banged-up Vick (knee contusion) to make mistakes inside and outside the pocket due to their presence.
It is of the utmost importance that the Defense (especially the Front 7) is able to collapse the pocket somewhat on Sunday, because each of Pittsburgh’s Cornerbacks have been eaten alive at times during the first three games. Philadelphia’s talented pass-catchers will tear the Secondary up just like they did against Baltimore if the veteran Vick is allowed to take his time. As long as Vick stays patient and is not harassed by pressure, Philadelphia will be able to drive the ball with ease, something they have been able to do during the season’s first month.
As much as I want to believe that the possible return of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison will help this Defense, as well as an early Bye Week, the Defense will still need to bring their “A game” on Sunday afternoon if they want to have any shot at winning. Vick might be turnover-prone and inconsistent, but he proved on Sunday night that when he is patient, not forcing passes into tight spots, taking care of the ball, and using his running game effectively, the Eagles can beat some of the top-tier teams in the League like the Giants.
The McCoy mis-matches in the running and passing games are extremely hard to ignore. And if Vick is not pressured, Philadelphia has just too many pass-catching weapons for the Steelers’ Secondary to deal with over the course of the game. Granted, the Steelers Defense might be ranked 5th in the League against the pass as their most loyal defenders might crow. Yet a large amount of that ranking has to do with the fact that Pittsburgh’s Offense has possessed the ball for over 35:00 minutes in each and every game, and have in turn not forced the Defense to spend an unusually large amount of time on the field. In addition, these apologists choose to ignore some of the most glaring Defensive stats of all:
21st in Points per Game Allowed (25.0)
21st in Yards per Carry Allowed (4.3, 70 Carries for 303 Yards)
25th in QB Rating Against (99.8)
T-29th in Sacks (5)
30th in 3rd Down % Converted Against (48.5%)
I am crossing my fingers though that the Steelers’ Defense can awaken from their “Lack of Turnover” slumber, because if there is any Quarterback in the League which can give the ball away at any time, it is Michael Vick. I hope that Dick LeBeau will be dialing up some more 5+man pressures, or even bringing some heat off the edge with a Defensive Back. You know, like Arizona did to force the fumble against Vick which went for a Touchdown in Week 3. It would also be nice to see the Defensive Backs sticking with their men, or at least preventing a few easy pitch-and-catches.
My hopes and dreams aside, no matter what inevitably happens, watching the Steelers’ Defense try to get back on track and force turnovers against one of the League’s most turnover-prone Quarterbacks will be something worth watching on Sunday afternoon.
Share your thoughts readers: Will the Defense finally come through this weekend? Or will Vick & Co. be allowed to slice and dice them?