Ea­gles look to main­tain hot start

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

It’s not a state se­cret.

Ev­ery­one knows if you take away the quick throws, pro­long the pass rush and fill the gaps in the run game you have a real shot at de­feat­ing Ben Roeth­lis­berger and the Pitts­burgh Steelers.

It’s just a lot eas­ier said than done.

The Ea­gles are so full of adren­a­line from an un­beaten start — sparked by the de­fense and rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz — that they can­not wait to be­gin pound­ing that rock Sun­day when the Steelers step onto Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field (4:24 p.m., CBS, WIP 94.1-FM).

“They run the ball down­hill and they’ve got good, ath­letic run­ning backs,” Birds line-

Na­jee Goode said. “I mean, that’s their main goal I would say. But we’re go­ing to stop it. We’re go­ing to come out and do what we do. We’re go­ing to rush the passer and we’re go­ing to shoot gaps and we’re go­ing to run down­hill and knock the mess out of them.”

Ea­gles fans have been the 12th man in the se­ries as the Ea­gles are 8-0 against the Steelers in Philly dur­ing the Su­per Bowl era.

In the first two games, the Ea­gles have played turnover-free foot­ball and reg­is­tered four take­aways, one an in­ter­cep­tion by strong side line­backer Nigel Brad­ham, who has a his­tory with Big Ben.

“I’ve played the Steelers plenty of times in my ca­reer with Buf­falo so I’m kind of used to what they like to do in their zone block­ing scheme and the way they pull,” Brad­ham said. “So it’s pretty much just one of those things where we’ve just got to be pre­pared and mov­ing out there and do­ing our thing as a de­fense. It’s al­ways your front that tends to dis­rupt the quar­ter­back. You can do it by go­ing af­ter him, by blitz­ing ev­ery now and then. He’s good in the pocket and has the abil­ity to make guys miss but we also want to still con­tinue to put pres­sure on him and make him move in the pocket and pretty much just keep at­tack­ing all game.”

Roeth­lis­berger, in his 14th sea­son, is aware of the plan. He’s de­feated it much of his ca­reer, one of the ex­cep­tions in 2008 at the Linc. The Ea­gles sacked him eight times in a 15-6 vic­tory, Brian Dawkins jump­ing over an of­fen­sive line­man for a strip sack and re­cov­ery that reg­is­tered 9 on the Richter scale in South Philly.

“Coach (Jim) Schwartz,” Roeth­lis­berger said of the Ea­gles’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, “when he was at Buf­falo, Detroit, we watched a lit­tle bit of all those films and that’s his M.O. — let guys get af­ter it. Have a great de­fen­sive line to get af­ter the passer. Lineback­ers fill­ing and speed off the edges. This is go­ing to be a heck of a test for us.”

Roeth­lis­berger’s pen­chant for pro­long­ing plays breaks games open for the Steelers, who have outscored Wash­ing­ton and Cincin­nati, 62-32, in their 2-0 start. It’s all but im­pos­si­ble to cover all-world re­ceiver Antonio Brown when Big Ben is im­pro­vis­ing. The Steelers also have a sta­ble of deep threats, with Markus Wheaton ex­pected to re­turn this week.

For the Ea­gles, it starts with dis­rupt­ing the smash­mouth ground at­tack fea­tur­ing DeAn­gelo Wil­liams, who leads the league in rush­ing.

And it’s up to Wentz and the Ea­gles, who have outscored their op­po­si­tion, 58-24, to do a bet­ter job of man­ag­ing third down. Then again Doug Ped­er­son, bid­ding to be­come the first Ea­gles head coach to win his first three games, is 4 for 4 on fourth down calls.

“You never want a team to dic­tate to you, one way or the other, what is go­ing to hap­pen,” Ped­er­son said. “We just have to do our jobs. We have to put our guys in the best po­si­tion pos­si­ble. We’ve got to do a bet­ter job in the third­down area of­fen­sively. I think we’re eight-for-30, some­thing like 26 per­cent. We just have to fo­cus on our job. We un­der­stand the power and the weapons they have on of­fense but we can’t fo­cus on that. We just fo­cus on what we do and get our guys ready to play.”

Ped­er­son and Wentz, who is one vic­tory from join­ing Mark Sanchez (Jets, 2009) as the sec­ond rookie quar­ter­back to win his first three starts, would like the re­ceivers to get over their drops. They’re tied for third in the league with five dropped passes, a con­ser­va­tive fig­ure.

Jor­dan Matthews leads the Ea­gles with 13 re­cep­tions for 185 yards and one touch­down. He also tops the Birds with three drops.

Wentz nonethe­less is con­nect­ing on 60.6 per­cent of his at­tempts with three TDs, no in­ter­cep­tions and a 94.1 rat­ing. It’s the four sacks that con­cern Ped­er­son, who doesn’t want his kid quar­ter­back to get an­other rib cracked try­ing to fig­ure out when to give up on a play.

Roeth­lis­berger has been there, and done that. He told a Pitts­burgh ra­dio sta­tion he was so beaten up he al­most retired af­ter that loss to the Ea­gles in 2008.

“Now I un­der­stand that there’s a time and a place to sell your body out and a time and a place to get down and get out of bounds,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “As a young guy, though, kind of the same shoes that Car­son is in now, you don’t see that. You just want to do ev­ery­thing you can for the team. And you know your guys love it when you’re sell­ing your body out to get a first down or try­ing to get an ex­tra yard.

“At some point he’ll re­al­ize that it’s more im­por­tant for him to be on the field than to be in­jured and get that ex­tra yard.”

JARED WICKERHAM — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The red-hot Ea­gles de­fense will try to slow down Pitts­burgh Steelers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger to­day.

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