This three game stretch the Eagles are in the middle of — San Fran last week, Pittsburgh this week, and Baltimore the following week — is arguably the toughest stretch of games the Birds will face this season.
Going at least 2-1 in these slate of games would be huge for the Eagles. Not only because it’ll instill a lot of confidence in this team, but it’ll give the team momentum heading into back-to-back NFC East matchups between the Giants and Cowboys respectively.
While the Steelers are unbeaten sitting at 3-0, they can be beaten if Philly’s coaching staff employs an effective game plan and executes it.
Here are some of the key factors and matchups to watch this week against Pittsburgh.
Coaching matchup: Doug Pederson vs. Mike Tomlin
Around the NFL, Doug Pederson and Mike Tomlin are considered among the best head coaches in the business right now. Aside from the X’s and O’s, what makes these two so great is their ability to consistently motivate their team, even when their backs are against the wall.
Tomlin has never had a losing season as the HC in Pittsburgh. He nearly had his team in the playoffs last year without Ben Roethlisberger for the entire year, mostly because of his elite defense. That’s Tomlin’s calling card, and Pittsburgh’s defensive units over the years reflect that.
This year is no different. Tomlin’s defense is at the top of the league in nearly every defensive category. It’s not just because of his coaching savvy, though. Tomlin has a plethora of playmakers all over his defense — from his defensive line to his secondary. You’d be hard pressed to find any kind of significant weakness in this bunch.
Pederson, on the other hand, is an offensive guy, as we all know. His offense hasn’t played nearly as well as many expected them to through four games this season. Most of that has to do with the play of Carson Wentz, who’s off to the worst start of his career. Having his top three receivers, half of his offensive line and Dallas Goedert on the IR certainly doesn’t help. But this offense found ways to move the ball and score points last week against a solid 49ers defense, and they can do it again this week if they implement a similar game plan.
Quick passes, the screen game and RPO style play action passes should work against this aggressive Pittsburgh defense. They blitz more than any defense in the league, which leaves their back end vulnerable to screens and quick passes. The Steelers run defense is the best in the league, so getting the ball in Miles Sanders’ hands without handing it off to him will be imperative.
Tomlin probably already knows what Pederson is going to try and run. It’ll come down to which of these coaches makes the proper adjustments.
Quarterback Matchup: Carson Wentz vs. Ben Roethlisberger
The last time these two quarterbacks met was in 2016, Wentz’s rookie season. In that matchup, Wentz completely outplayed the veteran Roethlisberger, throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns with a QB rating of 125.9. Big Ben didn’t have his best day in that one, finishing the day without a single touchdown as his team got embarrassed to the tune of 34-3.
A lot has happened between that game and their matchup this Sunday. Wentz has struggled throughout the year, while Roethlisberger is having a solid bounce back season after missing all of last year. He’s thrown seven touchdowns to just one pick, he’s completing 67% of his passes and has a QB rating of 105.2 through three games played. Big Ben has as many touchdowns as Wentz has interceptions heading into week 5.
Big Ben is the superior signal caller right now, but the Eagles defense is certainly capable of making life miserable for Roethlisberger in this game. He’s been pressured on 25% of his dropbacks so far this season. The pass rush of the Eagles has really picked up in recent weeks, racking up 33 hits on the QB and 13 sacks over the past two games. That consistent pressure with the front four helped force three turnovers last week. If this defense is going to slow down the Steelers attack, it’ll start with the big guys up front.
The Steelers have a ferocious pass rush as well, sitting right behind the Eagles in total sacks this season with 15.
Whichever quarterback is able to weather the storm from these pass rushing units the best will more than likely be on the winning end of things when the clock hits triple zeros on Sunday.
Defensive turnovers need to carry over into this game
Like I said earlier, forcing turnovers almost always starts with the defensive line. Last week it was a bit easier because the defense was facing a backup QB in Nick Mullens. But any quarterback can be susceptible to turning it over if enough pressure gets home.
Even though Big Ben has only turned the ball over once this year, he hasn’t faced a pass rush like this.
Regardless if the Birds defense can force Big Ben into mistakes, punching the ball out ball carriers’ hands and making plays on tipped balls in the air are also on the table. Turnovers usually come in bunches in the NFL, and the Eagles have all that momentum riding for them right now. If they bring that same kind of juice into this contest and give their offense short fields to work with, the chances of the Eagles snagging the W are much higher.
Containing the running game
The Steelers have one of the better rushing attacks in the NFL this season, averaging 139.7 yards per game on the ground.
James Conner leads the backfield in yardage, tallying 224 yards in three games with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Benny Snell hasn’t seen much action since Conner returned after week 1, but he did have a nice outing when he was lead back on opening weekend, recording over 100 yards on the ground.
While Pittsburgh’s passing attack is formidable, making them one dimensional with the passing game is the best strategy for the Eagles in this one. It’ll allow the pass rush to tee off and likely cause a turnover or two. The Eagles are 12th in rush defense this season, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh still has playmakers on the outside, and they’ll surely try to exploit the Eagles linebackers by targeting tight end Eric Ebron, but if the Steelers find a groove with their run game, their offense will be damn near impossible to stop.
Losing this game to the Steelers wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Eagles. They’d still be in the drivers seat in the NFC East most likely. But if this team really wants this city to start believing in them again, a win over the undefeated cross-state rival would be a great start.
This team really found an identity in their win over San Fran last week. They played tough defense and got after the passer, while playing ball control offense on the other end. With all the injuries this team is dealing with right now, that’ll be the formula for success for the next few weeks at least.
The Steelers are a good team, but it seems like every pundit thinks they’ve been absolutely dominating this year. That hasn’t been the case at all. They’re 3-0, but the combined record of the three teams they’ve defeated is 1-11, and they only won one of those games by more than one score. The Eagles will be the best team they’ve faced so far. A win is there for the taking if the Eagles want it, they just need to stick to their identity.
I’m taking the Eagles in this one 20-17.
Predictions from the Full Scale writers:
Ryan Haynes: 23-17, Steelers
Anthony DiRenzo: 21-17, Eagles
Connor Longen: 24-16, Eagles