Steelers will test starters against the Eagles

August 20, 2014
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu should see significant playing time against Philadelphia tonight. - Associated Press

The Steelers showed last week that their no-huddle offense can work well within the friendly confines of Heinz Field.

Tonight, they might give it a shot on the road when the Steelers play their third preseason game at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

In their opening preseason game at New York against the Giants, the Steelers began the game in a two-tight end set and ran the ball on five of seven plays on a field goal drive before the first team was done for the night.

Last week against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field, the first unit ran the no-huddle exclusively in the three possessions it had with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the field, scoring a pair of touchdowns.

Against the Eagles, the team could look to mix things up and take a look at both facets of its offense as the starters see at least a full half of playing time.

Roethlisberger, who is 9 of 13 for 174 yards and two touchdowns in limited playing time this preseason, would like to give the no-huddle a try on the road in this game. Typically, the starters will see their most action tonight and play sparingly in the fourth, and final, preseason contest.

“That’s usually the good part about trying to get at least one series of no-huddle on the road because the communication is a little tougher,” Roethlisberger said.

On defense, the Steelers should see plenty of no-huddle from the Eagles.

Philadelphia runs its offense exclusively out of the no-huddle and tries to run as many plays per game as possible, often snapping the ball early in the playclock.

“I feel sorry for our defense,” said Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro. “With our no-huddle, we’re not necessarily snapping the ball quickly. They will run a play and run right back to the line of scrimmage and run another.”

The Eagles’ offense will be a good test for the Steelers. Philadelphia runs the football well out of its fast-paced no-huddle with 2013 NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy. The Eagles also added speedy third-down back Darren Sproles as a free agent in the offseason.

“They’ve got McCoy, and he’s maybe the best in the league,” said Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas. “And then they added Sproles as well. You have to be careful with both of those guys. They can hurt you.”

How much the Steelers see of those players remains to be seen. McCoy has just seven preseason rushing attempts, and Sproles has three.

The Steelers expect to have most of their starting defense on the field, a rarity in the preseason. Defensive end Brett Keisel, re-signed Wednesday, is listed as the starter at right end and will not play.

Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier missed the opener with a knee contusion, and starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones sat out against the Bills with a groin injury.

Jones had a sack in the opener, and Shazier had a promising debut, recording nine tackles, an interception and two special teams tackles in less than a half of play against the Bills.

Tomlin, however, was quick to point out Shazier’s mistakes.

“It wasn’t hard to find lapses in performance,” Tomlin said. “They had a third-and-27 that they got 24 yards on. They kicked a field goal and that was his coverage. I could go on, but not in an effort to beat him up; it’s just the reality of the process. He’s going to have some good plays; he’s going to have negative plays.”

With the first cutdown from 90 to 75 players coming by Aug. 27, this will be the final opportunity for some players to make an impression in hopes of sticking around.

But Tomlin said he puts no credence into depth charts at this point. The play on the field is what matters.

“I don’t get too much into preseason depth charts,” he said. “I fill them out because I’m asked to (by the NFL).”

Odds and end zones

To make room on the roster for Keisel, who signed a two-year deal, the Steelers released first-year defensive tackle Al Lapuaho. ... Today’s game will mark the 27th time the Steelers and Eagles have played in the preseason since 1973. ... Former Steelers and Eagles running back Duce Staley is running backs coach for Philadelphia.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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