In week three Carson Wentz and the Eagles will face their toughest test yet. The Pittsburg Steelers are coming to town (my pick to win the Super Bowl this year by the way), and I hope the Eagles are ready. The Steelers bring a smart game plan, a great coach, a first ballot HOF QB, the best receiver in football right now, the leagues leading rusher who seems to be defying time, and a well balanced defense. That’s a lot. If the Eagles want to have any chance of winning there are a few key things they need to do, including setting the edge and getting the run game going.
The Steelers have perhaps the most potent offense in the NFL. Ben Rothlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Deangelo Williams bring a three prong attack that will beat you in all sorts of ways. Figure out a way to slow down Brown (you can’t totally stop him) and Williams, despite his 33 years of age, will pick you apart with patient, well timed runs. Rothlisberger is good enough to elevate even the rest of the mediocre receiving core to a high level and because of that the Steelers pack a deadly core of receivers and tight ends that can both stretch the field with speed and beat you over the middle. So how can the Eagles hope to stop them? One of the most important things the Eagles will have to do is set the edge. Contain Rothlisberger and Williams in the pocket, and Fletcher Cox and Bennnie Logan will get to them sooner rather than later. The Eagles are well equipped to do this. Brandon Graham has been perhaps the most impressive player of defense, racking up two sacks, one hit, and six hurries so far per Pro Football Focus. He’ll match up against right tackle Marcus Gilbert, one of the best at his position. Pay close attention to this particular matchup as it may just decide who wins the game.
It will be the Eagles secondary that will face the toughest test on Sunday. Antonio Brown is extremely versatile, and the Steelers will line him up all over the field to exploit matchups. The Eagles need to jam him at the line and bring safety help over the top to limit his effectiveness. Another name to watch is Sammy Coates, who had 97 yards on just two catches against the Bengals, and is extremely quick. The Eagles corners are probably the weakest unit on the entire team and you can expect a talented, experienced QB like Big Ben to take advantage of that. The Eagles will need to take away the long ball (something they’ve struggled with) and pressure Big Ben early and often to keep points off the board.
On offense, the Eagles have just a slightly easier task. While it’s not Steel Curtain, the Steelers defense is still full of talent. To get things going, the Eagles will need to establish the run game very early, something they didn’t do against the Bears. This is easier said then done, as the Steelers boast the second best run defense in the NFL, allowing a measly 50.5 yards per game. The Eagles will need to use every back at their disposal to confuse that D-line and will probably line up in a lot of 3-TE sets, with backup offensive lineman Matt Tobin playing the third. Ryan Mathews will need to have a big game against a defense allowing just 3.4 YPC and a long run of just 12 yards.
Carson Went and the Eagles receiving core should have an easier job of things than the run game come Sunday however. Playing in a true 3-4 defense, the Steelers have only one sack this season and rank 30th against the pass, giving up 695 total passing yards for an average of 7.2 per attempt. With Wentz having more time in the pocket, look for the Eagles to look deep more than they’ve done in the past two games. Where the Steelers D excels however, is in the red zone. They rank number one overall in red zone defense, and have given up only one touchdown to opponents in the red zone. Conversely, the Eagles have had some struggles in the red zone. While settling for field goals worked against low level teams like the Browns and the Bears, the Eagles will need to get into the end zone early and often if they want to beat a team as good as the Steelers.