Steelers, Eagles vie for Keystone State supremacy

The Battle of Pennsylvania takes on a different feel this season as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles own 2-0 marks and are riding high in the saddle behind rough and ready quarterback play.

The Keystone State rivals will settle their difference at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sunday (4:25 p.m.).

The old general, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, continues to be the steady hand that has led Pittsburgh to two Super Bowl wins in his time at the helm.

The young lieutenant, Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, has declared his independence as the leader of the upstart Eagles.

The Steelers have two impressive wins over the Washington Redskins in Week 1 and the AFC North rival-Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. But those wins were somewhat expected due to the veterans returning to the team and the stability of the roster.

The two Eagles wins, granted against lesser opponents, may be more impressive. Wentz wasn't named the starter until a week before the opening game, thanks to the trade of quarterback Sam Bradford. The turnover on the roster, a new head coach in Doug Pederson and a front-office shakeup in the offseason led to many pundits and fans alike to view this as a major rebuilding year in Philadelphia.

Wentz wants none of that. The signal-caller from North Dakota State became the first rookie to win his first two season-opening starts and not throw an interception. Wentz hasn't thrown a pick in 71 attempts.

"(Ball security) is something I pride myself on and it's something this offense prides itself on," Wentz said after a mistake-free game versus Chicago on Monday. "Just controlling the ball. Protecting the football. Making smart decisions. Being aggressive, but also being calculated. Knowing when to take chances.

"He can see the entire field that way," Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, said of Wentz. "When people are falling around his feet and the pocket is collapsing, he's always looking to make a play down the field. Even on some scrambles Monday night, he took some shots down the field. We didn't capitalize on them, but it's great to see he can see that part of the field.

"He's commanding the huddle, and the dialogue on the sideline with players and coaches and him is something that a nine- and 10-year vet would do. It just shows his maturity and the ability that he has to play quarterback."

Those are positive signs and fit the narrative of Wentz's comparison to a player like Roethlisberger.

Wentz faces his first true test this week against a Steelers' defense that has only allowed only two touchdowns. Both of those scores have come in the fourth quarter when the games were well in hand.

The secondary has given up 695 passing yards in two games but that statistic is deceiving. Each play they have defended has only been for a 7.2-yard average. Starting cornerback Ross Cockrell has been a major spark for a back half of a defense that has struggled in years past.

"He's growing in all areas," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's got the things that excite you: he's tough, he's smart and he's got a good above-the-neck game, he's a worker. All of those things kind of make it a very natural thing, this progression he's going through, this improvement. I don't think any of us are surprised by it. I think we all expect it to continue.

Cockrell has no issue following the opponent's best wide receiver all over the field. The problem for the Eagles is that they do not have a true No. 1 wideout. Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor have been solid NFL players but have had their share of drops and lapses in concentration.

That has not been the issue for the Steelers' young wide receivers like Sammie Coates.

Veteran Antonio Brown was not happy after the Bengals' win because he only had four catches for 39 yards.

Brown, Coates and the entire passing attack could see that frustration come to a head against a feisty Eagles' defense. The Jim Schwartz-led unit is fifth in the NFL in pass defense allowing only 194 yards a game. They have only given up an average of 12 points a game as well.

Look out for Brown or Coates on deep routes. The Eagles' secondary has given up three passes of 40-plus yards already this year.