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It's only preseason, but Pittsburgh-Philly matchup has buzz

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers cornerback William Gay understands the buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. Turn the frenzied NFL free agency period into your own high-end shopping spree the way the Eagles did, and it's hard not to notice.

Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Quarterback Vince Young. Defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin. Running back Ronnie Brown. Wide receiver Steve Smith. The list of impact signings goes on and on.

Impressive? Yes. A guarantee the Eagles, who visit the defending AFC champions on Thursday, will play into February?


"When have you known talk to win a Super Bowl?" Gay said. "You can't worry about that. You've got to let the media do all that."

Not that the Eagles haven't done a little chirping of their own. Young dubbed Philadelphia the "Dream Team," a moniker Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark politely called "interesting" even if it's just August.

"You're talking about one of the best college players of all time, a No. 3 draft pick and he's the backup," Clark said. "Look at the talent they have lined up, it's all over the place. Those guys feel that way and if Vince wanted to say it he has every right."

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has remained quiet, mainly because there hasn't been much to talk about following a lethargic 16-7 loss to Washington last Friday in the preseason opener.

The defense couldn't get off the field -- giving up 452 yards of total offense -- and the offense couldn't stay on it -- converting just 2 of 11 third downs.

"That was a wake-up call and it's time to start playing football," defensive tackle Chris Hoke said. "I don't think anybody was happy with the way they played on Friday night."

Asked whether he's looking for more intensity or execution against Philadelphia, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said "all of the above."

The return of defensive stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu should help. The duo sat out the preseason opener for precautionary reasons. They're fresh and ready to test themselves at full speed.

"I feel great now," said Polamalu, who spent the end of last season nursing a nagging Achilles injury. "Coach has given me a lot of rest and allowed me to do the things I need to do to get healthy."

Polamalu and the rest of the starters will play between 20-25 snaps, which should give the Steelers plenty of face time with Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick.

Though Pittsburgh led the NFL in scoring defense and was second in total defense a year ago, the Steelers had trouble when opponents spread the field. Green Bay did it with ease in the Super Bowl, and the Eagles could be just as tricky to defend now that wide receiver DeSean Jackson is back in the fold after ending his holdout.

"They've got great skill offensively," Tomlin said. "They're a great football team."

One that looked pretty good during a 13-6 victory over Baltimore last week. Vick led the offense to a touchdown while the defense kept the Ravens out of the end zone. Coach Andy Reid is impressed with how quickly the free agents have assimilated, yet knows his team will get a better barometer of where it's at when it steps onto Heinz Field.

"You're playing a Super Bowl team, a Super Bowl caliber team," Reid said. "(This game) allows you to get good work against the best, and I welcome that."

Even if some of the best on both teams will be watching from the sideline due to injury. Cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden are out for Pittsburgh while wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, tackle Winston Justice and defensive tackle Trevor Laws will sit for the Eagles.

Gay and third-year man Keenan Lewis will start at corner for the Steelers, and they'll be tested while facing Vick, who was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year last fall.

Now confidently in command after Kevin Kolb was traded to Arizona, Vick is embracing his role as a leader.

"I think he's putting pressure on himself to be a better football player," Reid said. "I think he's putting pressure on the guys around him to be a better football player and at the same time, rallying them to try to bring out the best in them. I think he's doing an excellent job of that."

Vick will have to for the Eagles to meet their sky-high expectations. If they take some of the shine off the Steelers in the process, Clark says all the better.

"Those guys can deal with the limelight and the pressure of calling themselves the 'Dream Team' and that's a lot of pressure, but when you have the guys that they have together, why not?" he said. "They probably have the most exciting quarterback in football, cornerbacks you can play all over the field man-to-man. Why not be excited about that? Why not accept that pressure? As for us, you can't pay attention to that.

"We're just going to keep going about our work."

Notes: The Steelers placed wide receiver Limas Sweed on the waived/injured list and waived tight end Eugene Bright. Sweed, a second-round pick in the 2008, struggled during his three seasons with the team. ... Pittsburgh signed defensive backs Kevin Dockery and Macho Harris to give their secondary some needed depth. Veterans Ike Taylor (broken thumb) and Bryant McFadden (hamstring) have been limited in training camp. Dockery spent 2010 with the St. Louis Rams. Harris played with the Washington Redskins last season.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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