Thursday, October 4, 2012

Return Of Key Steelers Players Important But Unknown Element vs. Eagles

"The most elementary and valuable statement in science, the beginning of wisdom, is 'I do not know.'" -

The post from the Pittsburgh Steelers official Twitter site Thursday said that Rashard Mendenhall, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison all practiced fully. Add to that Stevenson Sylvester who will return to play this Sunday and, again, it's all hands on deck.

The fact that these players is back is one thing. They're potential effectiveness is quite another. Thus the quote above. While we love getting our stars back, we still don't know what we'll exactly get from them.

In a recent article we asked if James Harrison had maybe played his last down. Seeing that Harrison practiced two days in a row is very encouraging. His practicing Monday and coach Mike Tomlin saying that he worked out heavily last week is nothing short of surprising.

This is a situation where we love being wrong. Even so, as alluded to above, the question is how effective he'll be. How many snaps or series will he see? We're still talking about a man who didn't participate in any OTAs, minicamps or Training Camp. It will be interesting to see his snap count and how many series he'll see on the whole.

Polamalu shouldn't be as much of a concern as he saw all of those offseason camps and has seen game action. From all that has been reported, he seems good to go. Coach Dick LeBeau says, though, that neither of them may "play the whole game." -

As for Mendenhall, running backs coach Kirby Wilson has already said that it isn't as if Mendy will get 55 snaps Sunday, but said that they would like him to get "a significant amount of work." -

That makes since. Since it sounds like he's ready, he should get the work. His balance and vision will be welcome. As long as he just hits the hole, that is. And providing there are any.

With the offense in mind, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that an array of 11-personnel packages may be used to spread the Eagles defense out. The Steelers will want to get one-on-one coverage against the Eagles dangerous bump-and-run cornerback tandem of Nnamdi Asomogha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with Pro Bowl wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.

Though Asomugha has not been quite the ballhawk so far that he was for years with the Oakland Raiders, rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin and veteran Brandon Hughes have helped make up for it. Hughes has been more than effective filling in for Asomugha when he has been sidelined, and Boykin has been impressive in the slot. Emmanuel Sanders could see a lot of him. Read Neal Coolong, and follow him (@NealCoolong) on Twitter, of Behind The Steel Curtain break that probability down beautifully. -

So spreading them out to give the wide receivers room to hit their routes and hot reads will be important. The use of the tight end and the running backs out of the backfield will also be important as the Eagles will press the edges with the Wide 9 formation they use. A defensive front that almost dares you to run it up the middle. They shave the edges as good as anyone with Jason Babin and Trent Cole and look to apply constant pressure. They can be run on, though.

"They're pretty much trying to sack the quarterback, they're not really worried about the run," said Isaac Redman regarding the Eagles defense. "They're not built to stop the run."

Defensive end Cam Heyward spoke on their defensive formation also. "They rotate like nine guys on their D-line. We don't have as many guys, but I'd like to think our line gets the job done."

The Steelers run game has been insultingly bad this season, so don't expect them to run it up the gut 30 times against them. They must attack the middle enough, though, to slow down the Eagles excellent pass rush. They must get effective yards, not necessarily a lot of yards. Having Mendy back can aid in that, but we still expect a balance of carries between the backs.

To that end, Jonathan Dwyer, on the possible running back rotation, said: "We're going to do what works at the time. If (someone) has a hot hand, we'll keep going with the hot hand."

The Eagles defense has allowed 91.5 yards per game rushing and 3.81 yards per carry. Something to which the Steelers should look to attain. The way things have gone this season, though, if the Steelers offense would attain those numbers sunday, I'll go back to bed assuming that I was asleep and still dreaming anyway. But, I digress...

If Mendy does make it to the field Sunday, it should help the running game, but it will by no means be a panacea. Like Max Starks said regarding the run game, "It just takes a rhythm and a tempo. You look at certain games, you try and take advantage of other team's weaknesses."

Still, Jonathan Dwyer looks forward to the return of Mendenhall. "He's a great player. He's a Pro Bowl caliber running back and he got drafted in the first round for a reason. He just adds more athleticism and talent to the group. It makes us more talented, more special, and more dangerous."

Even so, the key is still Ben Roethlisberger. The nine-year pro is playing some of the best ball of his career early in the season. Big Ben is second in the NFL in passer rating, second in fewest interceptions, fourth in touchdown passes, fifth in yards per game, fifth in completion percentage and is tops on third down with a 146.8 passer rating. Per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, he's 28 of 37 for 374 yards and five touchdowns. Dwyer sums it up succinctly.

"Ben's on fire right you can't take away the fire from the guy with the hot hand."

Steelers offensive line has to protect Big Ben against that Wide 9 attack. If they can hold their blocks just a hair's breadth longer, especially Marcus Gilbert, Big Ben can connect with his receivers. Even if the Eagles do get pressure, Big Ben is showing himself to be adroit at completing the short pass, the dump off, to his running backs and tight end Heath Miller, a top red-zone target. -

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been pleased with his production but knows there is still work to do. He said he doesn't "care whether we throw it 50 and run it 10," he just wants the production. -

Stevenson Sylvester is a key special teams player and looks to make his season debut against the Eagles to help the special teams unit. His return will be a welcome sight.

Special teams hasn't exactly been stellar on defending kickoffs so far through three games. Steelers kick coverage has been pathetic allowing a 33.2 yard average, which is 31st in the league.

All-in-all, the return of such key players is a definite bonus for the Steelers this weekend. How much they'll be able to contribute is another consideration. If Harrison can look like Deebo, if Polamalu can look like The Tasmanian Devil and if Mendenhall can look like...Mendy, then we should see the Steelers come away with a close, needed victory.