If Troy Polamalu and James Harrison take the field this Sunday as expected, fans and coaches are going to wonder just how much these two defensive stars are going to impact the defense. The consensus is that both the passing and rushing defenses will fare much better with an elite pass rusher and premier playmaker in the secondary returning to action. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Philadelphia is no slouch.
Michael Vick, Desean Jackson and LeSean McCoy make up a talented trio of playmakers that will challenge the Steelers defense. With Vick at quarterback, you know that every drop back can still become a running play if the secondary does their job right. The best way to defeat the Eagles? Run the zone blitzing scheme that Dick LeBeau has perfected.
Philly has a turnover bug that doesn’t look to go away anytime soon and the best way to create turnovers is to confuse and fluster Mike Vick. When he can sit back and wait to throw, Vick has a laser arm with terrific strength and can spread the field with his weapons and McCoy as an excellent fallback option. Therefore, the Steelers HAVE to pressure Vick. They need to be able to rush five or six guys in different looks in order to ensure that the offensive line of the Eagles cannot quickly pick up blitzes to protect Vick. The second half of this equation is the secondary disguising coverages. With Troy and Ryan Clark finally reunited, expect lots of movement pre-play in an effort to confuse Vick even more.
With a running back as dynamic as LeSean McCoy, the Steelers defense will once again be tested and need to hold firm. Taking away the safety net of McCoy will force Vick to throw more and thus create more chances for turnovers. With James Harrison back, many expect Brett Kiesel to break out with more help on his side of the line. I think that if Harrison is 100%, then McCoy can be held under 100 rushing yards. If not, the Steelers will need to stack the box and rely on man coverage if they want to effectively stuff McCoy.
So while all of this sounds daunting, why is this the perfect test for the Steelers D? The Steelers are facing a balanced opponent who makes mistakes IF the Steelers play the way they want to play. Michael Vick will be flustered by a typical Steelers pass rush. It happened last time, and the Steelers need a repeat performance if they’re going to get back on the right foot.