Eagles, Steelers off to slow starts
PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles were in the middle of another fourth-quarter meltdown when the chant began echoing through the Linc: "Let's Go Phillies!"
The best team money can buy may have been overhyped. Michael Vick and Co. are off to a 1-3 start, drawing the ire of fans who've put all their hopes on the Phillies to win the World Series.
Football has long been No. 1 in Philadelphia, but the City of Brotherly Love is a baseball town nowadays.
So, when the Eagles blew a 20-point lead and lost 24-23 to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, fans didn't boo as much as usual.
Instead, they started cheering for the Phillies, who played Game 2 of the NL division series later that night a few blocks down the road.
Across the state, fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers don't have the same luxury.
The Pirates haven't reached the postseason since 1992, so there's no October baseball in the Steel City to take attention away from the struggling Steelers.
The defending AFC champions are 2-2, and don't look like a team that could make another deep playoff run.
It's been 12 years since the Keystone State didn't have a winning NFL team. With three-quarters of the season remaining, it's still too early to panic.
"We've got some work to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after a 17-10 loss at Houston on Sunday. "It's not anything mystical."
The Eagles have bigger problems. They've blown leads in the fourth quarter in three straight losses.
"We've got to make sure we fix it. I obviously don't like what I'm seeing, and I'm a part of that problem, so we've got to try to fix it," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
"Each guy needs to take a close look at himself and I've got to make sure I'm looking at it even closer, because we're not finishing games the way we're supposed to finish games. That's the bottom line."
At least the Steelers are undefeated at home. They beat Seattle 24-0 in Week 2 in their only game at Heinz Field. The Tennessee Titans (3-1) will visit Pittsburgh this Sunday.
The Eagles are 0-2 at home after losing to the Giants and 49ers in consecutive weeks.
They'll be on the road for the next two games, starting with a trip to Buffalo (3-1) this week.
"I think right now we just have to figure it all out," Vick said.
"You know, you take the coaches out of the equation and you rely on the players, my teammates, to figure out what needs to be done. Our coaches can only give us so much. We have to take into consideration ourselves, that we go out and make it happen and that's about it. They can't come on the field and play for us. We have to go out and make it work. How we've got to get it done is how we've got to get it done."
Both teams are having trouble on defense.
The Steelers are ranked 22nd overall against the run, allowing 4.8 yards per carry and 119.5 yards rushing per game. Arian Foster had 155 yards rushing against them in Houston's win.
"We are not tackling right now, but it's all things we can fix," cornerback William Gay said. "You look at the film and that is all you see -- we just missed tackles. We have to correct that. That is a must for our defense. That is what we are going to do starting on Wednesday."
It's not that simple for the Eagles.
Poor tackling is just one of the problems for a defense that looks completely lost. Even the additions of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive linemen Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins haven't helped this unit.
Overall, the Eagles are ranked 16th in total defense and only two teams are worse against the run.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is taking much of the blame for the troubles. But Reid is the one who made the bold decision to move Castillo from his longtime spot as offensive line coach to the defensive side. So far, Castillo seems overmatched.
"Obviously he's trying to put out his best," said Asomugha, a two-time All-Pro who hasn't played up to his $60 million contract.
"This is his first year with a defense that he didn't get an offseason with. Everybody is sticking by Juan and the calls he is making and everything like that. No one is pointing fingers; no one is getting on Juan at all -- not in here, anyway. We're sticking behind Juan and we know we can play better as a defense, especially in the fourth quarter."
The Eagles have struggled on defense for three seasons now.
In Pittsburgh, they're used to the Steel Curtain shutting opponents down.
James Harrison isn't happy about the recent defensive letdowns.
The four-time All-Pro linebacker can't help anytime soon because he will be out indefinitely after fracturing the orbital bone in his right eye. But that didn't stop Harrison from speaking his mind.
"Every man needs to do his job, take care of his responsibilities," Harrison said. "It's not the scheme, it's not other (stuff); it's each man doing his job, and, right now, every man is not doing his job, period.
"We have to get things shored up. Whether that's changing this and changing that, I don't know, but we have to get something done because it's not working so far."
Injuries are adding up for both teams, too.
Ben Roethlisberger is expected to start at quarterback for the Steelers, despite a sprained left foot. Harrison will missed, however.
The Eagles lost Vick during their first two losses. He bounced back and had his best passing day against the 49ers.
But defensive end Trent Cole, left tackle Jason Peters, and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon got hurt. Dixon is done for the season, and it's unlikely Cole or Peters will play against the Bills.
Maybe a solution would be to merge the teams like they did during the 1943 season. The Steagles were formed that year because many players from both teams had to serve in World War II.
The quarterback controversy -- Big Ben or Vick -- would be far too much for either city to handle.