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Sunday NFL News and Notes

Sunday NFL News and Notes

NFL Preseason Preview - Philadelphia (1-1) at Pittsburgh (2-1)

(Sports Network) - A battle for bragging rights in the Keystone State will be the feature attraction at Heinz Field on Sunday night, as the Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the Philadelphia Eagles in the next-to-last preseason tune-up for both teams.

The Steelers will be looking for a touch of offensive consistency after managing just one touchdown in their past 10 preseason quarters. Pittsburgh was forced to settle for four field goals in a 12-10 win over the Washington Redskins last Saturday, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger failing to execute his first touchdown march since the initial drive of a Hall of Fame Game win over New Orleans on August 5th.

Despite the lack of sustained drives, Roethlisberger has played reasonably well in his first preseason under new head coach Mike Tomlin, completing 12- of-17 for 174 yards and a passer rating of 103.6.

Running back Willie Parker has not enjoyed as much success, rushing four times for four yards in his first appearance of the preseason last week. Parker and all the starters should see their most extensive playing time of August versus the Eagles.

Among the notable position battles that could become clearer after Sunday night is the one at right tackle, where Max Starks is attempting to hold off Willie Colon in a quest for a No. 1 job.

The Eagles, meanwhile, will be looking to maintain the momentum garnered from a 27-10 win over the Panthers last Friday.

In his first live action since tearing an ACL last Nov. 19th, Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb looked sharp, completing 6-of-9 passes for 138 yards in his quarter of play. McNabb is expected to play an entire half against Pittsburgh before yielding to backups A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb.

Defensively, all eyes will be on middle linebacker Omar Gaither, who takes over for recently-released veteran Jeremiah Trotter. Gaither started in five games on the weak side for the 2006 NFC East champs, but faces a much tougher assignment in the middle of Jim Johnson's defense.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid is expected to be on the sideline Sunday night despite continued family problems. Reid's youngest son, Britt, was taken into custody after failing a sobriety test in a suburban Philadelphia shopping center on Thursday afternoon. The younger Reid is out on bail awaiting sentencing following a guilty plea on a weapons charge handed down in January.

Philadelphia holds a 17-15-1 edge in the all-time preseason series with Pittsburgh, including a 16-7 home win prior to last season.

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Sunday's NFL starter report

Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3, 35)

Eagles coach Andy Reid told reporters his starters would play the entire first half and possibly some of the third quarter. He would not release his quarterback rotation, only saying Donovan McNabb would start. He also hinted McNabb may be pulled earlier than the rest of the first-string offense.

Top tight end L.J. Smith will not play on Sunday making it three consecutive games he’s missed. Smith wasn’t concerned about being absent from the preseason matchups.

“That’s the best thing about it: that it’s the preseason,” Smith said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. “I’m not missing any real games or anything. Sure, I appreciate the help that the preseason brings, but the reality of it is I can’t make up any of the lost time so all I can do is hope and pray I’ll be ready for Sept. 9.”

The Steelers will have their best players on the field for the first half before giving way to the backups in the second. Head coach Mike Tomlin said backup QB Charlie Batch won’t see much action meaning the third and fourth quarters should belong to Brian St. Pierre and Bryan Randall.

Tomlin would also like to give Willie Parker the most action he’s had this preseason. The starting running back had four rushing attempts last week against the Washington Redskins.

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What bettors need to know: Eagles at Steelers

Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3, 35)

Unethical behavior?

Most teams treat the third week of the preseason as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Steelers are going the extra yard and actually preparing a gameplan for the Eagles.

This isn’t common, but not unheard of either. Last weekend the Denver Broncos were creamed by the Dallas Cowboys and one veteran said unfair tactics were used.

“They came out and game-planned us, blitzing every play,” Broncos safety John Lynch told the Denver Post. “They came after us. It’s no excuse for the way we played. But I think they might have broken the code of ethics for the preseason.”

So much how time did Pittsburgh devote toward studying its opposition this weekend?

“Quite a bit more than we’ve done for the preseason,” head coach Mike Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You got to make decisions along those lines when you’re installing and zeroing in on an opponent … giving guys things they’ve been working on to see how they are making plays.”

The times they are a changin’

There were many shocked faces among the Eagles players when the management cut ties with middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. The four-time Pro Bowler was a mainstay in Philadelphia and a vocal leader in the locker room.

“He still looked like he could play the game,” running back Brian Westbrook said of the 30-year-old Trotter. “He was still making plays, causing disruptions, calling out all our plays on defense. He still looked very good.”

Philadelphia made the move because of its faith in young linebackers Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong and Stewart Bradley. Free-agent pickup Takeo Spikes is the lone LB expected to play who has started a regular season game.

Closer to the heart

It was a trying offseason for Eagles head coach Andy Reid. His son, Britt, was accused of flashing a gun out of his car window at another driver. When the police caught up with the 22-year-old they found marijuana and cocaine in his car.

Those memories were rehashed this week when Britt was arrested for drunk driving.

“It’s a disappointing day for Andy Reid and his family,” Britt’s attorney William J. Winning told the Philadelphia Inquirer after Judge Steven T. O’Neill revoked bail.

Reid has not left the team but this could certainly be a season-long problem for the two-time NFL Coach of the Year.

Trademark strength

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won five Super Bowl titles while staying competitive over four decades with defense as their backbone. The linebacker position has always been the franchise’s heart and soul.

Jack Lambert and Joe Greene were staples of the championship teams of the 1970s while Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene were the face of the 1995 AFC champion Steelers. Even though Kendrell Bell, Earl Holmes, and most recently, Joey Porter have all left, the Steelers are still in good hands.

Rookies LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are both expected to have large roles this season for Pittsburgh’s defense. Woodley, a fourth-round pick from Michigan, played defensive end in college but is a good fit as a pass-rushing OLB in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 front.

The Steelers used their first-round selection to pick up Timmons. There were some concerns whether he’d be ready for the regular season after missing extensive time in camp due to a groin injury. But he played well last week against the Washington Redskins and is expected to play with the first unit for parts of Sunday’s contest.

“We’re seeing him catch up, but that’s pretty much what we expected,” Tomlin told reporters. “He’s a sharp guy, a very talented guy. All he needed to do is get back on the field.”

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2007 NFL Preseason Notes

Philadelphia Eagles - QB Rotation: Donovan McNabb, A.J. Feeley, Kelly Holcomb, rookie Kevin Kolb.

The first-team offense and defense will play the entire first half, and possibly longer. Certain backup receivers, including Jason Avant, and defensive backs will get work with the starting units.

Other than starting Donovan McNabb, Reid had not decided on the quarterback rotation, but the coach did not rule out rookie Kevin Kolb's getting snaps with the first-teamers. Running back Correll Buckhalter likely will get some action with them, and Sav Rocca will start as the punter, with Dirk Johnson playing the second half.

TE L.J. Smith likely won't play; whether veteran defensive tackle Ian Scott plays will be a game-time decision; guard Nick Cole will start in place of Shawn Andrews at tackle; and free safety Brian Dawkins likely will play most of the first half.

QB Kelly Holcomb has a sore knee.

It was an emotional week for the Eagles, as LB Jeremiah Trotter, one of the more popular players in team history and a four-time Pro Bowler, was released in a surprising move. Following an emotionally charged 20 hours that culminated with a tearful meeting with his former teammates and coaches, Trotter agreed that the decision made by head coach Andy Reid to let him go was the correct one. "This one hit me like a ton of bricks," Brian Dawkins said. "I was shocked," QB McNabb said.

Defensive line thin: DTs Montae Reagor and Ian Scott continue to miss practice time with knee injuries.

Secondary thin, with safety Brian Dawkins (Achilles tendinitis), CB Marcus Paschal (leg spasm), and CB Lito Sheppard has missed the majority of training camp with a strained oblique muscle.

Pittsburgh Steelers - QB Rotation: Ben Roethlisberger (first half and into the 3rd), Charlie Batch, Brian St. Pierre, Bryan Randall.

HC Mike Tomlin said QB Ben Roethlisberger and the first-team offense will play the first half against the Eagles. Charlie Batch will replace Roethlisberger in the third quarter, but Tomlin said he likely won't play long and will give way to Brian St. Pierre and Bryan Randall.

Tomlin would like to get more carries for running back Willie Parker, who had just four rushing attempts against the Washington Redskins last week. "Our tentative schedule is to play them a half, but we'll play it by ear," Tomlin said.

Fourth game for the Steelers, after opening in the Hall of Fame Game (8/5).

Outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (groin), the team's No. 1 pick, continued to do light workouts in uniform, but has not participated in any contact drills.

HC Mike Tomlin, the former defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, was hired by the Steelers. He is just their third coach in 38 years.

The Steelers plan to zone block more often this season.

The Steelers will break out their no-huddle offense soon in a preseason game.

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