Date & Time: October 11th – 1:00 P.M.
Location: Pittsburgh, PA – Heinz Field
Philadelphia: DeSean Jackson (OUT), Alshon Jeffery (OUT), Avonte Maddox (OUT)
Pittsburgh: Marcus Allen (OUT), Derek Watt (OUT)
The 80th edition of the Battle of Pennsylvania takes place this Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles are coming off their first win of the season over the San Francisco 49ers. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-0 and are out to prove that their record is no fluke (combined record of teams they’ve beaten: 1-11). Here’s our preview for the Eagles:
For the Eagles offense, last week they showed they could move the ball downfield against a depleted San Francisco secondary. This week will be even more of a challenge. This Steelers defense is one of the top units in the league. The starting front 7 of T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, Cameron Heyward, Devin Bush, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu have been absolutely dominant, leading the league in sacks with 15 through 4 weeks. The Pittsburgh secondary has been the lesser of the unit. They are currently allowing 236 passing yards per game which is good for 12th in the league. Number one corner, Joe Haden has been stellar in coverage allowing a 52.4 passer rating when targeted. Slot corner Mike Hilton has given up 107 yards in coverage but is one of the best blitzing corners in the league, as he has 2 sacks, 1 hurry and 4 pressures on the year. The corner to attack on this defense is number two corner, Steven Nelson. He’s allowing a 127.1 passer rating and 14.2 yards per completion on the season. Overall, the front seven is the engine that makes this Pittsburgh defense go.
For Carson Wentz, he has a chance to continue building off of what was an improved outing last week against San Francisco. However, as stated, the key will be the protection up front for him. Pittsburgh leads the league in blitz percentage at 49.2%. This team is going to attack using a variety of disguises, stunts, and situational blitzes. According to Next-Gen Stats, the Steelers blitz on 60% of first and second down dropbacks and just 22% on 3rd and 4th down. The Eagles offensive line has been in peril most of this early season, but this week they get some resemblance of continuity. Jordan Mialata will make his second career start and look to build off the good first outing he had where he allowed just one pressure. Mialata has to be strong up-front and not allow defenders to get into him and drive him backwards. This can be said for the entire offensive line, however.
The keys for this game for the Eagles offense should be the utilization of quick passes and more no-huddle to tire out the Steelers suffocating pass rush. The trio of young wideouts, Fulgham, Ward and Hightower will have to be decisive and intentional with their routes and make plays in the passing game. Carson Wentz will have to be accurate in the passing game and play mistake free football against this attacking front. The one place where the Eagles can get things going in the passing game is in the intermediate levels of the field, which is where Greg Ward and Zach Ertz succeed the most. Pittsburgh safeties, Minkah Fitzpatrick and 2nd year player Terrell Edmunds have given up plays over the middle. Fitzpatrick is allowing a 100.4 passer rating and 13.7 yards per completion and Edmunds is allowing a 94.8 passer rating when targeted along with 15.6 yards per completion. Passes down the seams and on digs or deep outs should be there for the taking for the Eagles offense. Doug Pederson should also work on getting Miles Sanders involved in the passing game as Pittsburgh is giving up 9.5 yards per catch to running backs through 3 games. Ultimately, it starts up front with the protection. If the Eagles can protect then they’ll have a chance.
This is the area where the Eagles can turn the tide and pull out a victory. The Philadelphia defensive line has been flat out dominant this season. The Eagles rank 9th in defensive pressure and 1st in sacks. The Eagles depth at defensive line may allow them to wreck this game and with 38-year old Ben Roethlisberger who isn’t a candidate to scramble, it could be long afternoon for this Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers offensive line is composed of LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Matt Feiler, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, and RT Chukwuma Okorafor. According to Pro Football Reference, the Steelers offensive line is last in the league in pocket time (per Pro Football Reference), which is the amount of time the QB had between the snap and throwing the ball or pressure collapses the pocket, at 2.2 seconds. The Eagles defensive line has the opportunity to repeat their performance of a week ago when they absolutely rattled Nick Mullens, leading to several hurried throws and bad decisions.
For the Eagles secondary, Darius Slay will draw Juju Smith-Schuster in coverage and Jalen Mills, who is making his second start at corner in the season, will likely draw Diontae Johnson in coverage. Slay has been one of the best corners in the league, allowing just 18 completions on 27 targets and 0 touchdowns (per Pro Football Reference). In his first game back at corner, Mills allowed just 2 catches on 7 targets and a 39.6 passer rating when targeted. Against a sharp route runner like Johnson, Mills will need to have a repeat performance. Mills physical style will likely help his cause against a receiver like Johnson who has been reported to struggle with physical corners. Elsewhere, the Steelers have Chase Claypool who can flat out, out-physical defensive backs for contested catches downfield and James Washington in the slot. Washington draws either Cre’Von Leblanc or Nickell Robey-Coleman who split snaps in the nickel with Leblanc last week.
Once again, the weak spot for the Eagles defense will be the linebackers. Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald will have the chance to devour these linebackers. Ebron and McDonald have combined for 154 yards and 1 touchdown through three games. The Eagles defense has allowed 26 catches for 276 yards and 5 touchdowns through 4 games. This game will likely be no different. The NFL is a game predicated on finding mis-matches and exploiting those mis-matches and the Eagles linebackers are at a disadvantage no matter who they line up against in most Sundays.
These coaches have met once in the past. Doug Pederson’s rookie year in 2016 in which the Eagles absolutely dominated the Steelers in a 34-3 victory. Mike Tomlin has had a week off due to the Titans COVID-19 situation and that means he’s had a week to prepare for this matchup. Tomlin’s history coming off of bye’s is 7-4. Tomlin will most definitely have his team ready to play, as will Doug Pederson. For Jim Schwartz defense, once again, he has to simply let his dogs up front hunt. The obvious mismatch for the Eagles to exploit is the Steelers offensive line on the Eagles defensive line, using a variety of looks to pressure Ben Roethlisberger.
The Eagles are coming off a win. The Steelers are 3-0 but there are questions about the overall strength of opponents they’ve faced. The Steelers can absolutely suffocate and confuse offensive lines with pressure and exotic looks out of their 3-4 scheme. The Eagles depth and talent at defensive line can allow them to do the same (minus the exotic looks). Many are expecting this to be an easy victory for the Steelers, but I view it as being a much closer matchup. The Eagles put it together last week and played sound and mistake free football. The momentum will carry over in a low scoring affair.
Bold Prediction: The Eagles defense gets over 5 sacks
Pick: Eagles 18, Steelers 16