Air Attack Leads the Way; Gay Saves the Day Again
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Wednesday, August 29, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
After the running game was the focus in the Steelers' first three preseason games, the passing game was on display on Sunday night, as Pittsburgh racked up 322 passing yards in picking up a 27-13 victory over the Eagles.
Ben Roethlisberger played the entire first half, and left with an impressive 247 yards passing and a 13-3 halftime lead. The Eagles got on the board first, as the Steelers played sloppily for most of the first quarter, but a Willie Parker touchdown run and two Jeff Reed field goals turned things into the home team's favor for good.
The Eagles got within 13-6, but the Steelers answered with a touchdown run by Kevan Barlow. But, the Eagles were a pesky bunch on Sunday night, and didn't go away until the Steelers put them away late in the game, and for the second week in a row, cornerback William Gay had a hand in it.
After a touchdown with 4:14 left pulled Philly within 20-13, only 40 seconds ran off the clock as the Eagles forced a quick three-and-out. Rookie backup QB Kevin Kolb led his team from the 22 inside the Pittsburgh 30 in only four plays, but that's when last week's hero saved the day again. On a first-down completion, Gay stripped the ball from Eagles receiver Kevin Curtis. Jovon Johnson picked up the loose ball and scampered 78 yards the other way for a touchdown to put the game away, right at the two-minute warning.
Looking at the numbers, you'd think the Eagles should have won going away. They held the advantage in yards (404-398), first downs (26-19), and had a huge edge in time of possession (35:15 to 24:45). But, the Steelers had the advantage where it mattered, and that was the difference between them improving to 3-1 on the preseason, and the Eagles dropping to 1-2.
And now, for the good (and bad) stuff.
The passing game, obviously. Big Ben shredded the Eagles' defense in the half that he played. He spread the ball around to several receivers, and especially got the backs involved, connecting with Parker, Najeh Davenport, and fullback Dan Kreider on 20+ yard gains. If he can keep this up into the regular season, then it certainly adds an extra dimension to the offense, and takes the pressure off of having to rely on the receivers too much.
Even though the defense wasn't at its best, it was a plus to see them continue to improve with their pass rush, picking up four sacks on Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb.
Better yet, the offensive line took care of its guys, not letting the Eagles pick up a single sack on Sunday night. That might be a sign that the O-line is finally coming together, and it's just in time.
It'd be nice to say that there weren't any negatives on Sunday night, but unfortunately I can't do that.
The defense did great in the first half, but once Kolb came into the game, they disappeared, giving up well over 300 yards. Fortunately, all the Eagles got for it was 10 points. But, it couldn't have made Mike Tomlin feel too warm and fuzzy to see Philly move the ball almost at will on his second-teamers. You might think that the starters are the only ones that matter, but hey, you need to be able to rely on a guy to come in on certain packages, and in case one of the starters gets nicked up.
Just as a little note, it couldn't have made Mr. Chunky Soup feel too hot about it either, since Kolb has looked nothing like a rookie so far, and McNabb, well, he just needs to stay healthy, because if he suffers another long-term injury, well, this kid looks like he's better than Jeff Garcia, A.J. Feeley, or the Detmer brothers - combined.
Moving on, since this is after all about the Steelers.
Really, it could have been over much, much earlier than it was. Two of the first three possessions were ended by turnovers in Philadelphia territory, Roethlisberger's interception on the opening drive and a Parker fumble at the Eagles' 1-yard line after the Steelers had driven 73 yards. All told, there were three turnovers in the Eagles' end of the field. They did a better job of converting their opportunities, but they're still having trouble getting in their own way when they hit the opponent's side of the field.
The Steelers will wrap up their preseason on Thursday night, with a trip to Carolina to face John Fox's Panthers. The Panthers are 1-2 on the preseason, and haven't looked good in losses to Philly and New England after opening the preseason with a win over the Giants.
With the season opener looming, and the desire to rest and not risk the key players, we won't be seeing too much of the starters, as they'll only see a couple of series before the backups step in.
From there, it'll be time to look ahead to the season opener at Cleveland. But, before then, we'll be looking to see if the Steelers can round out a successful preseason and be ready to start off the regular season with a bang.