Steelers expect little love in Philly

September 21, 2008 6:02:41 AM PDT
Willie Parker expects fans in the City of Brotherly Love to be even tougher on the Pittsburgh Steelers than the Dawg Pound.

One thing is certain: The Philadelphia Eagles are a more difficult opponent for Pittsburgh than the Cleveland Browns.

The Steelers (2-0) extended their winning streak to 10 over their closest rival, beating the Browns 10-6 last week. Now they'll try to win in Philadelphia for the first time in 43 years.

"It's going to be crazy in Philly," said Parker, who has 243 yards rushing and three touchdowns in two games. "It's probably worse than Cleveland. I think they don't like us more than Cleveland doesn't like us. It's going to be a hostile environment and a physical game."

Parker and the Steelers shouldn't take it personal. The rowdies in feisty Philly don't like anybody who isn't wearing midnight green and silver.

This interstate matchup really isn't much of a rivalry, though, because the teams play each other once every four years. Still, bragging rights are at stake.

The last time they met, the Eagles were 7-0 and on their way to the Super Bowl. But the Steelers thoroughly dominated Philadelphia in a 27-3 victory at Heinz Field on Nov. 7, 2004.

That was the game where Terrell Owens stalked Donovan McNabb along the sideline, shouting words of "encouragement" at his quarterback. It also was the only loss for the Eagles in a game that mattered. They finished 13-3, losing the final two regular-season games with mostly backups.

The Eagles are coming off a 41-37 Monday night loss to the Dallas Cowboys, their fiercest rival. Coincidentally, T.O. took center stage in that game, too. He caught two touchdown passes to help the Cowboys win the wildly entertaining, back-and-forth shootout at Texas Stadium.

With a short turnaround, the Eagles (1-1) didn't have much time to dwell on missed opportunities against Dallas. They quickly had to shift their focus to stopping the Steelers.

"It definitely puts that desire to get back out on the field in you," McNabb said. "You look forward to that opportunity to step back out and erase what happened last week."

Two games in, McNabb looks like he's finally back to his old form. He's completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 642 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. However, McNabb made a costly mistake that directly led to the Cowboys' winning touchdown. He fumbled a handoff to Brian Westbrook with the Eagles driving in Dallas territory. He also took a pair of sacks in the final minutes after Philadelphia was near midfield.

The Steelers' defense saw enough of McNabb making plays to be concerned about the five-time Pro Bowl pick.

"His mobility and how strong he is, even if you get your hands on him, he's hard to tackle," Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith said. "And when he gets out, he still knows where all his guys are and he can throw to them, too. He looks like the same (he was in his prime). I've got a lot of respect for him. He's a great quarterback. He looks just like he did in the past."

The QB on the other side isn't too bad, either. Ben Roethlisberger, despite a sprained throwing shoulder, is the highest-rated passer in the NFL at 136.3. He's thrown for 323 yards, three TDs and no interceptions while completing 75.8 percent of his passes.

Roethlisberger has been pressured often because teams are blitzing him more and he's gotten sacked five times. The Eagles certainly will come after him with exotic blitzes and complicated schemes.

"I think what they're trying to do is exploit what they think is a weak offensive line," Roethlisberger said of facing the blitz so much. "We gave up a lot of sacks last year, so I think teams are trying to really exploit that and I think my guys up front are doing a good job of shutting people down."

At 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, Big Ben isn't so easy to bring down no matter how much pressure he faces.

"Obviously, you have a quarterback of that stature, you know that when you come in on a blitz, when you get to him, you have to make sure that you bring him down," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "You can't just shoot at him as a smaller quarterback. You have to make sure that you go in with some thump in there to get him down because if you don't, he'll just spin and get out of it or he'll throw the ball with you hanging on his waist."

The Steelers haven't played in Philadelphia since Eagles quarterback Bobby Hoying beat them in his first career start in 1997. They've lost seven straight in Philly since a 20-14 win at Franklin Field on Oct. 24, 1965.

"I know the fans are going to get behind their team and the crowd is going to be into it," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "It's a big game for both of us, us and them."


Load Comments