PITTSBURGH – Even with Nnamdi Asomugha on one side and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the other at cornerback for the Philadelphia defense, don't think the Steelers might be a little gun shy about throwing the ball Sunday when they host the Philadelphia Eagles.
While the Steelers (1-2) have a great respect for Asomugha, a three-time Pro Bowl player, and Rodgers-Cromartie, who is tied for second in the NFL with three interceptions, the same apparently can't be said of Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia’s rookie nickel corner.
The Steelers receivers are looking forward to what they consider a sweet matchup with the fourth-round draft pick out of Georgia.
“He’s all right,” said Steelers Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown. “He’s given up a lot of plays. Whoever gets that guy definitely has to take advantage.”
Not quite finished there, Brown continued.
“That’s the candy bar,” he said with a smile.
Snickers or Milky Way?
“Snickers,” he replied.
At 5-9, 182 pounds, Boykin doesn’t offer the same physical matchup problems as Asomugha (6-2, 210) or Rodgers-Cromartie (6-2, 182), a pair of physical corners who like to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. That can disrupt the timing of an offense allow and the defensive line of the Eagles (3-1) more time to get to the quarterback.
But the Steelers feel their passing game, which is averaging 284.3 yards per game, matches up with the Eagles well, particularly with Boykin.
Brown leads the Steelers with 18 receptions, while Mike Wallace, another Pro Bowl player, has 17. Tight end Heath Miller is off to the best start of his eight-year career with 15 receptions and four touchdowns in the first three games, while No. 3 receiver Emmanuel Sanders already has 10 catches as well.
“As long as we block stout, that shouldn’t be an issue,” said left tackle Max Starks. “We have a great (group) of receivers that can all get open and make plays. Plus, you add Heath Miller in the middle, and you don’t really have enough guys who can cover. I think it’s going to be a great matchup for us.
"Outside of Asomugha and Cromartie-Rodgers, their nickel is a rookie. You have some guys who are inexperienced in there. Hopefully, we can get into some sets and be successful in those things.”
Thus far, it’s worked out OK for the Eagles, who rank seventh in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 206.8 yards per game - though that number was somewhat skewed by a 118-yard passing game by Cleveland rookie Brandon Weeden in Week 1, his first career start.
Since then, the Eagles have given up 232 yards and a touchdown to Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, 222 and two scores to Arizona’s Kevin Kolb and 309 yards and two touchdowns to the Giants’ Eli Manning.
The Steelers hope quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is second in the NFL with a 109.2 passer rating, can be the difference, identifying whom Boykin is matched up against and taking things from there.
“I know he’s a rookie. In these early games – that’s the only thing you can go by – and the film from the preseason, you can see his athletic ability as well,” said Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery of Boykin. “He’s getting some valuable experience on the inside right now. He has some great guys to learn from.”
But, it’s obvious the Steelers don’t feel he’s quite where he needs to be just yet.
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)