Steelers plan to attack Eagles’ nickel corner
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers believe they might have a sweet matchup when they drop back to pass in Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field.
No, not against three-time Pro Bowl corner Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia’s top cornerback and long considered one of the best coverage men in the NFL.
Nor do they necessarily feel testing Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, who has 16 career interceptions in 65 games – including three this season – is a great idea.
The Steelers (1-2) will be looking for a more advantageous matchup when they host the Eagles ( 3 1) Sunday, namely, whoever is matched up with Philadelphia’s third corner, rookie Brandon Boykin, a fourth-round pick out of Georgia.
“That’s the candy bar,” said Steelers Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown with a sly smile.
Snickers or Milky Way?
“Snickers,” he replied.
At 5-9 and 182 pounds, Boykin doesn’t offer the same physical matchup problems as Asomugha (6-2, 210) and Rodgers-Cromartie (6-2, 182), a pair of physical corners who like to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.
That can disrupt the timing of an offense and allow the defensive line of the Eagles (3-1) more time to get to the quarterback.
But the Steelers feel like their passing game, which is averaging 284.3 yards per game, matches up with the Eagles well, particularly with Boykin.
Brown leads the Steelers with 18 receptions, while Mike Wallace, another Pro Bowl player, has 17. Tight end Heath Miller is off to the best start of his eight-year career with 15 receptions and four touchdowns in the first three games, while No. 3 receiver Emmanuel Sanders already has 10 catches as well.
“As long as we block stout, (passing) shouldn’t be an issue,” said left tackle Max Starks. “We have a great (core) of receivers that can all get open and make plays. Plus, you add Heath Miller in the middle, and you don’t really have enough guys who can cover. I think it’s going to be a great matchup for us. Outside of Asomugha and Cromartie-Rodgers, their nickel is a rookie. You have some guys who are inexperienced in there. Hopefully, we can get into some sets and be successful in those things.”
Thus far, it’s worked out OK for the Eagles, who rank seventh in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 206.8 yards per game – though that number was somewhat skewed by a 118-yard passing game by Cleveland rookie Brandon Weeden in Week 1, his first career start.
Since then, the Eagles have given up 232 yards and a touchdown to Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, 222 and two scores to Arizona’s Kevin Kolb and 309 yards and two touchdowns to the Giants’ Eli Manning.
The Steelers hope quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is second in the NFL with a 109.2 passer rating, can be the difference, identifying who Boykin is matched up against and taking advantage of it.
“I know he’s a rookie. In these early games – that’s the only thing you can go by – and the film from the preseason, you can see his athletic ability,” said Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery of Boykin. “He’s getting some valuable experience on the inside right now. He has some great guys to learn from.”
The Steelers feel he still has a lot of learning to do.
“ He’s all right,” said Brown. “He’s given up a lot of plays. Whoever gets that guy definitely has to take advantage.”
Odds and end zones
Every active player on the Steelers’ roster participated in practice Wednesday, including offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, who missed the previous three practices with a groin injury. ... The Steelers have won 26 of their past 32 games against NFC teams.