The Philadelphia Eagles made the wrong kind of headlines on defense last season. But although Eagles fans like myself called for a complete overhaul - especially when it came to defensive coordinator Juan Castillo - Philadelphia's defensive prowess has returned with a vengeance this season. However, it will be matched up against a much more battle tested defense this coming week - albeit a banged up one.
Despite all the strides the Eagles' defense has made in September, it will start October by going up against the cream of the defensive crop. Yet the Pittsburgh Steelers have had better days stopping opponents, since they haven't had a healthy Troy Polamalu and James Harrison on the field together this year.
That may change when the Steelers host the Eagles on Oct. 7, as Polamalu and Harrison are both expected to return from injury. If they do and if they aren't too rusty, we will get to see if Philadelphia's defense can really match an elite one.
Of course, the Eagles already looked pretty good shutting down the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 16, while the Ravens' legendary attackers were shut down - save for four turnovers that were mostly the Eagles' fault. But when the Birds faced the increasingly elite defense of the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 23, they were shut out of the end zone while Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald carved Philadelphia up. So which version will show up in Pittsburgh?
Normally, the Eagles would be ready for a low-scoring slugfest with the Steelers. Yet with Harrison out and Polamalu injured as well, Pittsburgh has already been burned by both the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. In fact, the Raiders stunned the Steelers by erasing a 10-point fourth quarter deficit on Sept. 23 - which never would have happened against a full strength Pittsburgh defense on all cylinders.
The Steelers have won two Super Bowls and reached a third with Polamalu and Harrison leading their defense. As such, their unit is one of those that sets the bar for every other in the NFL - including the Eagles. Philadelphia used to have a feared defense for years, although that didn't get it any rings in the end.
If Castillo has really built an elite defensive unit after all, he will continue to prove it against other elite opponents. Of course, the offense needs to help out too, and this is as good a chance for the Eagles to have their way with the Steelers as any.
With Polamalu and Harrison rusty and banged up, and with the other Steelers' defensemen not pulling their weight so far, Michael Vick and company could have a pretty good day. And if Philadelphia can shut down Ben Roethlisberger and company like it has shut down almost everyone else, it may prove that for once, the Steelers don't have the best defense in Pennsylvania right now.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Eagles since he was eight years old.
Other stories by this contributor
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- the Eagles
- Troy Polamalu
- James Harrison
- Pittsburgh Steelers