As we look ahead to the week 5 matchup between the Eagles and Steelers, one matchup that will certainly get a lot of play are the defensive lines for both teams.
Heading into the year, Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 defensive lines in the league. The Steelers were first, followed by the Eagles at two. Four weeks into the 2020 season, PFF’s ranking rings true. But when it comes to rushing the passer, the Eagles have outperformed Pittsburgh’s defensive front thus far.
The Eagles are first in sacks (17), the Steelers are second (15). The Eagles are first in QB hits (45), the Steelers are second (39). The Steelers do have a higher sack percentage, though (12.3%), which ranks as the best in the league. The Eagles are right behind them with a sack percentage of 10.4%, good for second highest in the NFL.
Some of that has to do with the Steelers already having their bye week, but it’s undeniable that these defensive fronts are the two best in the league at this point in the season.
What makes the Eagles pass rushing stats more impressive, is the fact that they’ve only blitzed on 23.2% of their snaps, the eighth lowest blitz rate in the league. The Steelers, on the other hand, have blitzed a league high 51.2% of their snaps. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler runs a very aggressive 3-4 scheme — he has faith that his blitzes will always get home. And so far this season, they have.
Jim Schwartz has never relied on blitzing the quarterback to generate pressure. Throughout his tenure as the defensive coordinator in Philly he’s always had a deep defensive line with an assortment of talent. This year, he may have the deepest defensive line unit in the entire league. Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Genard Avery, Fletcher Cox, Hassan Ridgeway, Malik Jackson, Vinny Curry, Javon Hargrave and T.Y. McGill all have at least half a sack this year. That’s 10 different defensive lineman getting in on the action so far this season.
When it comes to stopping the run, the Steelers have outperformed the Eagles defensive unit. Pittsburgh has allowed just 162 yards on the ground so far this year, while the Eagles have allowed 435. Again, the Steelers rushing total allowed would be higher if it wasn’t for their early season bye, but it’s still pretty clear they’ve done better against the run than the Eagles have.
Pittsburgh’s rushing defense is stronger than the Eagles mostly because they have legit linebackers in their front-seven. Whereas the Eagles best backer is Nate Gerry — he wouldn’t even sniff the field if he was on the Steelers.
I’m excited to see this matchup unfold on Sunday. This game will probably come down to which offensive line can protect their quarterback the best, and which one is able to create running lanes for their running backs. The Eagles d-line has been on a roll the past two weeks, so hopefully it’ll carry over for the third straight week against Pittsburgh.