Keystone Konfrontation: Unbeaten Steelers at unbeaten Eagles
Here come the unbeaten Steelers from Western Pennsylvania, crossing the Keystone State to meet the unbeaten Eagles.
They only play every four years, but how cool it is that each is 2-0 and looking strong when they meet Sunday?
Even without star running back Le'Veon Bell and emerging receiver Martavis Bryant - Bell finishes his three-game league suspension this weekend, while Bryant is suspended for the entire season - Pittsburgh's offense has hummed. DeAngelo Williams leads the NFL in rushing in his 11th pro season, Antonio Brown is the game's most dangerous wideout, and Ben Roethlisberger is making big plays.
''They don't ask for a birth certificate before the game,'' Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says of the 33-year-old Williams.
''They don't give you 9 yards (to gain a first down) if you are over 30. You've still got to get 10. He's a patient runner, he's compact, and he's strong. He can test every area of your run gaps.''
The Steelers don't have many run gaps; their rush defense ranks second. So Philly might need to rely once more on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. He's made a strong debut in wins over Cleveland and Chicago, but Pittsburgh isn't anything like those two tailenders.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson pays Wentz quite a compliment when asked if he saw some Roethlisberger in the second overall draft pick.
''Little bit, little bit,'' Pederson says.
''Carson has the ability to extend plays with his legs. Ben is big, strong, physical in the pocket, hard to bring down and continues to have great vision down the field.
''I think that's one thing with Carson's strength is he continues to have that vision down the field when things begin to break down.
''So, yeah, there are a lot of similarities there. The fact that they're both very good throwers outside the pocket is a tribute to both of them.''
As would be a 3-0 record.
The action began Thursday night with New England's 27-0 home victory over Houston.
Jacoby Brissett had a 27-yard touchdown run in his first NFL start, LeGarrette Blount added scoring runs of 1 and 41 yards for New England (3-0). It was the Patriots' first shutout win since 2012, and the first time the Texans (2-1) have been shutout since 2003.
Brissett started in place of Jimmy Garoppolo, who was inactive because of an injured right shoulder. It was the first time since Drew Bledsoe in 1993 that New England had started a rookie quarterback.
Atlanta (1-1) at New Orleans (2-0), Monday night
A rematch of the biggest regular-season game in Saints history, their return to the Superdome after being displaced for 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. A blocked punt by Steve Gleason - there's a statue outside the stadium honoring it - sparked a 2006 win over Atlanta, and the Saints wound up in the playoffs.
''There's a lot of symbolism in that game,'' Saints coach Sean Payton says. ''That idea of rebirth. ... You have this event that coincides with the reopening of an area that was used to shelter people. There were a ton of things that were somewhat unreal about it. ... Obviously that was an emotional night, and it was loud.''
Falcons coach Dan Quinn lost both of these rivalry games in his initial season in Atlanta.
Denver (2-0) at Cincinnati (1-1)
The Broncos hit the road for the first time, and you can be sure they'll be hitting anything that moves in a Bengals uniform. Denver's defense is hellacious once more, especially against the pass, ranking second. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller already has four sacks.
On the other side, Cincinnati is dead last in rushing defense, and Broncos RB C.J. Anderson leads the NFL with seven runs of at least 10 yards. The Broncos have an NFL-best record in September over the past three seasons of 11-1.
Cincinnati opened with two road contests and now tries to get its running game in gear at home. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have combined for less than 100 yards rushing in the first two games.
Minnesota (2-0) at Carolina (1-1)
A tough test for the Vikings minus Adrian Peterson, sidelined by knee surgery. At least Sam Bradford looked sharp as he stepped into the QB void created when Teddy Bridgewater went down in the preseason.
''Obviously, when Adrian's in the game, everyone's loading the box, trying to stop the run, which gives us a lot of one-on-one matchups on the outside,'' Bradford says. ''It also makes our play action pretty effective. When they see him coming downhill, everyone's stepping up to stop the run.
''We'll have to see how defenses try to play us from here on out.''
The Panthers have won 14 straight home games, including playoffs. They're getting terrific production from WR Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of 2015 with a knee injury after a strong rookie season. He has 13 catches and three TDs in two games.
The game is in Charlotte, which was declared to be in "state of emergency" Wednesday by Gov. Pat McCrory due to police shooting protests.
Detroit (1-1) at Green Bay (1-1)
Coming off their sloppy loss at Minnesota, the Packers get their first home game - against a Lions team that was even sloppier in blowing a lead to Tennessee.
The previous time the Pack visited Ford Field, they won on a desperation pass from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers.
''Well, we actually don't call it `Hail Mary,' '' Packers coach Mike McCarthy says. ''We call it `Rebound Pass.' ... We've got the ball thrown at the right time clock to give our receivers enough time to get down the field and it was definitely at the angle that you're looking at.''
San Francisco (1-1) at Seattle (1-1)
The 49ers haven't won in Seattle since late in the 2011 season. But Blaine Gabbert has thrown a TD pass in 12 straight games, had a 98.2 passer rating in his previous meeting with the Seahawks, and has found two unexpectedly proficient targets so far in TE Vance McDonald and WR Jeremy Kerley. Kerley leads the team with 10 receptions and McDonald has caught two of the 49ers' three TD passes.
Seattle can't find its offense and has some hobbled players in RB Thomas Rawls (shin), WR Doug Baldwin (knee) and WR Tyler Lockett (knee). All are expected to play, and Rawls rushed for 209 yards and a TD in the previous game vs. the 49ers.
Los Angeles (1-1) at Tampa Bay (1-1)
Tampa is one of three teams without a takeaway so far, joining Seattle and the Giants. Even worse, the Bucs have an NFL-high six giveaways, with five interceptions thrown by Jameis Winston.
The Rams have the NFL's worst offense statistically, but they woke up last week against Seattle in their first game back in Los Angeles after a debacle of an opener at the 49ers.
New York Jets (1-1) at Kansas City (1-1)
The beginning of a gantlet for New York: four straight 2015 playoff teams. At least the Jets come into this one with a potent passing attack featuring Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and RB Matt Forte offering balance. They also can get after the passer on defense.
KC, coming off its first regular-season loss in 12 games, might get back star running back Jamaal Charles (right knee). The way to penetrate the Jets' defense right now, though, has been to challenge cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Chicago (0-2) at Dallas (1-1)
Dallas benefited from some poor play by Washington QB Kirk Cousins a week ago, and now could be looking at Bears backup Brian Hoyer or a banged-up (thumb) Jay Cutler. Both can be turnover machines.
Shockingly, the Cowboys have lost eight straight at home dating to last season's opener. It might be tough for the struggling Bears to sneak out with a victory: Chicago also will be without LBs Lamarr Houston (knee) and Danny Trevathan (sprained thumb), along with the likely absence of DL Eddie Goldman (sprained ankle).
Washington (0-2) at New York Giants (2-0)
The intrigue here centers on the rematch between Giants star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. Last December, during Norman's All-Pro season with Carolina, he so frustrated Beckham that OBJ committed three penalties and wound up suspended for the next game.
Both guys were playing relatively nice during the week, refusing to stoke the fire. Let's see if that approach holds up Sunday.
Baltimore (2-0) at Jacksonville (0-2)
Like the Redskins, the Jaguars have tempered high expectations with a stumbling start. A close home loss to Green Bay is acceptable, but a rout at the hands of San Diego is not. Another defeat and all of those prognostications that Jacksonville was on the come will begin to look foolish.
The Ravens have ridden a hot defense that ranks second overall and first against the pass. If they can handle the Allens - dangerous wideouts Hurns and Robinson - they could have their first 3-0 start since 2009.
Cleveland (0-2) at Miami (0-2)
The Dolphins are somewhat schizophrenic in 2016. They showed solid defense in a loss to Seattle, then fell apart early at New England and were blitzed for 24 first-half points. But they also rallied to fall by only seven against the Patriots.
At least Cleveland is consistent: banged-up and losing. Rookie Cody Kessler becomes the third Browns QB this season - and the 99th (well, actually the 26th) since the franchise was reborn in 1999.
Arizona (1-1) at Buffalo (0-2)
Rex Ryan fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman and we'll see what effect it has as the discombobulated Bills face one of the NFL's best. The Cardinals head to the road for the first time, and their multi-pronged offense will severely challenge Ryan's underwhelming D.
''Well without question we've had a lot of setbacks. You know, through injury, suspension, whatever,'' Ryan notes. ''Nobody's feeling sorry for us, we certainly understand that, and we're not feeling sorry for ourselves. We know we have to get better and we have plenty of capable guys that are playing for us, so there's absolutely no excuses.''
Oakland (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1)
The Raiders have shown lots of offense by averaging 470 yards and with Derek Carr throwing four TD passes and not being intercepted. But they also have given up 69 points.
Oakland needs to watch out for tight end Delanie Walker, who has become a major force in Nashville and had six catches for 91 yards against the Raiders last season. In the win at Detroit, Walker went for six receptions for 83 yards and a TD.
San Diego (1-1) at Indianapolis (0-2)
Two more injury-plagued clubs. Indy's secondary is a real mess, and the Chargers lost top receiver Keenan Allen and versatile running back Danny Woodhead for the season.
The Chargers have won six of the past seven in this series, including three straight, and are 12-3 on the road against the Colts. Philip Rivers needs four more TD passes to tie John Unitas (290) for No. 10, and could get it against Indy's damaged D.
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