By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles may not have put together a 3-1 record in the most impressive fashion, but after slipping by the New York Giants Sunday night, the feeling is this team is ready to take that next step. That mission begins this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Though things looked ugly at first, the Eagles played well on both sides of the football in a win against the defending Super Bowl champs. Head coach Andy Reid said Monday the ability to pass some early hurdles the way the team has, for the most part, has been a good sign moving forward in to week five.
“The perseverance that we had through all three phases of the game I thought was important,” Reid said during his Monday press conference. “We have a ton of work ahead of us coming out of another win here where we have plenty of things to work on during the week, and we’ll do that.”
“I honestly don’t feel like we’ve come close to playing our best football yet,” said Reid. The Eagles protected the football Sunday night after a few weeks in which turnovers were abundant. With the Steelers preparing to welcome back safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison, ball protection will again be critical.
The Steelers are also hoping to get their running game going, ranked 31st in the NFL entering the weekend. In addition to getting a couple of star defensive players back, the Steelers will also look forward to having Rashard Mendenhall back on the field, an addition Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is happy to have.
“To get another difference-maker back will, hopefully, will be a big deal for us,” Haley said. Having Mendenhall healthy and on the field could also take a toll on an Eagles defense that has battled depth and injury concerns throughout September and is coming off a typically physical division game against the Giants.
While the return of some key players for Pittsburgh should draw plenty of attention for the game-planning for the Eagles, Philadelphia is also focusing on improving their special teams game this week. Reid saw some positives in the team’s special teams performance on Sunday night, but noted there is still room to improve.
“We had guys in position around that 25-yard line at the catch,” Reid said. “So you’ve got to make sure that you work the right techniques, have the right scheme, right techniques. We should be OK. And the kicker’s got to do his job too.”
With the return of safety Colt Anderson and possibility linebacker Akeem Jordan is available, the Eagles should see some better play on coverage. If the Eagles continue to struggle on special teams, the importance of protecting the football comes back in to play in a big way.
“We won the turnover battle,” Reid said, “but we lost the field position battle.”
Against a team like Pittsburgh, who comes off a bye week starving for a victory, the Eagles not only need to see quick improvement in special teams, but also need to show last week’s ability to not turn the ball over was not a fluke. Guys like Harrison and Polamalu have made a living on creating turnovers, and if they can get Eagles quarterback Mike Vick under pressure, the Steelers could create some opportunities of their own.
Kevin McGuire covers college football for Examiner.com and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB). His work can be found on Examiner.com.