Grounding the Eagles: A Week 5 Analysis

This weekend’s win over the Eagles may have been tight, but it was also the Steelers’ best performance of the 2012 season so far.

This was a crucial game for the team, considering the quality of opponent and their 1-2 record, and the win really helped make the prospects for this season look a lot rosier.

The return of Rashard Mendenhall from his knee injury was the big story of the day, as his 81 yards and 5.8 yards per carry helped transform the offense into a complete unit. I really thought that Isaac Redman and company could hold down the fort in Mendenhall’s absence, but this game really underscored how badly the team needed him, given the incredible improvement that took place.

The return of Lawrence Timmons was similarly meaningful. Timmons hadn’t looked like the same player of the past few seasons until this game, and although I don’t know why it took five weeks for him to play well again, he flew all over the field on Sunday.

He registered a team-high nine tackles, including two for loss, as well as two hits on Michael Vick that were very nearly sacks. The middle linebacker position has desperately needed someone to step up and make plays, and that’s exactly what Timmons provided. Both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were quiet this week, but if Timmons keeps playing the way he did yesterday, the pressure on them won’t be nearly as great.

Antonio Brown was typically brilliant as well, and I continue to be impressed by how Todd Haley has worked Heath Miller into the offense. It really seemed like Bruce Arians would forget that Miller was a viable pass-catching target at times, yet Haley has transformed him into a big play threat. He averaged 10.3 yards a catch against Philly, more than any other receiver on the team, and it’s been a real treat to watch him make linebackers look foolish and bowl over people in the open field.

Mike Wallace was a little less than brilliant, however. All the experts were convinced that he would struggle coming out of the gate after missing the preseason, but considering that this was his first game without a touchdown, that hasn’t been the case, but he looked lost on Sunday. He was targeted eight times, yet caught only two passes, and while some of his issues can be blamed on the quality of the Eagles’ secondary, he certainly didn’t look his best either.

The offensive line didn’t exactly have its best performance either. It’s great that they didn’t allow any sacks, especially considering that Jason Babin and Trent Cole are so good at getting to the quarterback, but Willie Colon got called for what felt like a million holding penalties. Part of it was the quality of his opposition, part was the refs insisting on calling absolutely every last penalty they could, but the line just didn’t play up to par. The Eagles’ defense played well, but what really held the offense back for much of the first half was the constant penalties on the line and Maurkice Pouncey’s uncharacteristically poor shotgun snaps. With the running game finally coming to life, it’s clear that it will once again be the line that holds the offense back from being an elite unit.

Despite this unsurprising negative, this team really showed something Sunday. This was a game they had to have to stay competitive in the division going forward and they came through when it mattered against their cross-state rival. Ben Roethlisberger continues to have a knack for fourth quarter comebacks, and if continues to play the type of efficient, turnover free football he’s displayed so far, this team can definitely make the playoffs and even win the division.

The team doesn’t have any time to rest on its laurels, as it heads to Tennessee pretty quickly for a Thursday night matchup. Troy Polamalu will once again be out of the lineup, but the Titans will be without quarterback Jake Locker once again, so here’s hoping they can turn this into a win streak.

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