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Key matchup: Eagles pass rush vs. Steelers pass protection

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By Mike Wilkening

As the Steelers try to claw their way back into the thick of the AFC North race, their ability to give QB Ben Roethlisberger the time he needs to deliver the ball downfield remains a concern. We take a closer look in Saturday's key matchup:

Eagles pass rush vs. Steelers pass protection

In the last meeting between these teams back in 2008, the Eagles' pass rush caused major, major problems for the Steelers. Philadelphia sacked QB Ben Roethlisberger eight times in the Eagles' 15-6 home win. For the game, Roethlisberger completed just 13-of-25 passes for 131 yards with one interception.

Four years later, the Eagles' ability to generate pressure again looms as a major concern for Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia has a deep, talented DE corps led by Jason Babin (left side) and Trent Cole (right side). Both are top-caliber, hardworking, relentless pass rushers. They are tough to stop whether they are charging off the edges from a three-point stance or moving around and rushing from a standing-up position. Moreover, the Eagles, who at 3-1 are a game up in the NFC East, also can turn to capable DEs Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt in relief.

The Eagles' pass rushers can come at the opposition in waves, and the more fresh legs the Philadelphia defense can bring to the battle against Pittsburgh, the better.

Though the 6-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger has taken an incredible pounding (323 regular-season sacks) in his eight-plus NFL seasons, his strength and mobility surely has prevented other takedowns. (Though, to be fair, his daring, hold-the-ball-until-the-last-instant style leads to some of the sacks, too.) For someone who's sacked so often, Roethlisberger is far from easy to take to the ground.

The Steelers' offensive line, so often criticized for the many hits Roethlisberger takes, will need to be at the top of its game against Philadelphia. The bye week certainly will help, as will being at home, which should reduce the risk of communication problems. The Steelers' tackles, Max Starks (left) and Marcus Gilbert (right), have good size for the position, but the Eagles' edge pressure could pose problems for them.

The Steelers shook off their humbling loss to Philadelphia four years ago and won a Super Bowl. The defeat, for the record, was their first of the season, with two wins already in hand.

The 2012 Steelers have lost two of their first three games, and they already are 1½ games out of first place in the AFC North. Another defeat Sunday will cause more than hurt feelings for the Steelers; they don't want to give up too much ground to Baltimore and Cincinnati before it's too late.

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