Eagles-Steelers: What We're Watching

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick attempts to elude Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Not So Special (Teams): The Eagles’ special teams are a mess. They’re 31st in the league in kickoff and punt returns, and their kickoff coverage unit very nearly cost them the Giants game Sunday night. They gave up five kickoff returns of 36 yards or more, including 45-, 48- and 53-yard returns. Rookie punt returner Damaris Johnson’s judgment is so fuzzy, they’ve had to give him a spotter to help prevent him from fielding punts inside the 10.

The Money Down: That’s what they call third down. Despite playing behind shaky protection, Ben Roethlisberger has been money on third down in the Steelers’ first three games. He’s first in the league in third-down passing with a 145.1 rating. He’s completed 75 percent of his passes and has averaged 9.83 yards per attempt on third down. But the Eagles’ third-down pass defense has been pretty good too. Opposing QBs have completed just 21 of 41 passes v. the Eagles on third down.

Vick’s Turnover Tale: Mike Vick was a turnover machine in the Eagles’ first three games, throwing six interceptions and losing three fumbles. Seven of those nine turnovers came on the other side of the 50. But last week against the Giants, for only the third time in his last 26 starts, Vick had a turnover-free game. On the road in Blitzburgh, Vick must protect the football again if the Eagles hope to improve their record to 4-1.

Sack Time: The last time the Eagles faced Ben Roethlisberger in a regular-season game was September of ’08. Made his life miserable, sacking him eight times in a 15-6 win. After leading the league in sacks last year, the Eagles have just seven in their first four games and are ranked 23rd in the league in sacks per pass play. They’ve been putting consistent pressure on quarterbacks, they just haven’t been sacking them. Maybe this week if they can keep Roethlisberger from escaping the pocket.

Solving the Mystery of the Red Zone: The Eagles have converted just 3 of their last 11 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Last year, with All-Pro LT Jason Peters to run behind, LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing touchdowns and converted 39 of 51 short-yardage situations (2 yards or less. Nine of his 17 rushing TDs were two yards or less. Without Peters, getting those one or two yards has become significantly more difficult.