Eagles-Steelers Preview: The Eagles Need "The Schwartz"
Apparently the Pittsburgh Steelers haven't won a game in Philadelphia against the Eagles since 1965. Of course, that's only 8 games and as with most inane statistics you see, this one has absolutely no bearing on how the game will go on Sunday when these two teams meet at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles are a surprising 2-0 with a rookie QB, but they have beaten two really bad teams in Cleveland and Chicago. The Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, with a future Hall of Famer at QB and possibly the best offensive player in the NFL. Let's take a look at the matchup.
Eagles Offense Versus Steelers Defense
Carson Wentz has looked more like a seasoned veteran than a rookie, with all of two NFL starts under his belt. Of course, the Steelers are much better defensively than the Browns or Bears. The good news for Wentz is that the Steelers also run a 3-4 defense, so he is certainly used to seeing that front so far in his brief NFL career. The bad news for Wentz is that after two teams that played primarily man-to-man defense in coverage, the Steelers like to play zone coverages. The Steelers will look to keep everything in front of them and confuse Wentz with different looks. And Pittsburgh LB Arthur Moats said they "definitely want to beat [Wentz] up." Watch out, Carson. Even with the home crowd behind him, this could be a tough day for the rookie.
The Eagles are definitely trying to keep the pressure off their rookie QB by running the ball. Their 66 carries are the 6th most in the NFL. That explains why they lead the NFL in time of possession (37:43) through two games. (Thank God Chip Kelly is off destroying the 49ers franchise now) And while they are 10th in rushing yards per game (116.5), they are only 21st in yards per carry (3.5). That is not good news against a stout Pittsburgh defense that is 2nd in the NFL against the run, allowing just 101 yards in two games. Ryan Mathews was supposed to be the lead back this season, but Darren Sproles had more carries than he did last week. I know Mathews has a history of injuries, but that still seems a bit strange. The Eagles need Mathews to at least have a decent game if they have any chance of winning this game.
The problem for Mathews and the other Eagles RBs is that the Eagles are not opening holes in the middle of the line. I'm looking at you Jason Kelce. Kelce is an undersized center and he does not excel when he has a big NT lined up in front of him. Steelers NT Javon Hargrave is an effective run-stopper along with the rest of their defensive front. The Eagles offensive line will also have to deal with Pittsburgh's talented LBs, led by ILB Ryan Shazier. Shazier moves all around the defensive formation and excels against the run, in coverage and blitzing. But the Steelers don't win with their pass rush. They have only one sack and three QB hits through two games, so at least Wentz should have time to find his receivers.
Jordan Matthews has emerged as Wentz's go-to receiver.....basically by default. Nelson Agholor is doing better, but he's not exactly demanding double teams, like other first round receivers. Dorial Green-Beckham is still learning the offense and Josh Huff still stinks. So look for the Eagles to use a lot of two TE sets with Brent Celek and Trey Burton. In spite of his nice showing last week, Burton isn't much of a threat. That leaves Matthews as the Eagles best bet for receiving yardage. Veteran CBs William Gay and Ross Cockrell are solid, but expect to see a lot of Matthews in the slot, so the Eagles can exploit the matchup with him against CB Sean Davis. Matthews (13 catches for 185 yards and a TD) should be able to beat the rookie, Davis.
What Nickname should the Eagles have for their defense
Steelers Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Most people don't realize how great Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberg really is. He currently leads the NFL with 6 TD passes and is 2nd in TD percentage (8.1). Many analysts have compared Wentz to Roethlisberger, pointing out that he is what Wentz should aspire to be. Big Ben isn't as fast as Wentz, but he is good at moving around in the pocket to buy time for his receivers to get open and he is huge, which helps him fight off sacks. He also has the arm strength to make any pass. Meanwhile, the Eagles ranks 5th in the league in sacks per pass play and have given up zero TD passes this season. This matchup should determine the game.
Eagles fans were probably excited when the NFL reduced RB Le'Veon Bell's 4-game suspension to 3 games, which meant that he would miss this game. But those people obviously don't realize how good DeAngelo Williams is. Williams leads the NFL in rushing with 237 yards. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Steelers are 6th in the NFL in rushing attempts (tied with the Eagles, actually), but it also has to do with the fact that Williams is a patient runner, who waits for the holes to open and then still has the speed to scoot through the openings. The Eagles are ranked 10th against the run, but keep in mind that they had second half leads in both games this season, so the other teams had to pass more to catch up.
One of the reasons the Steelers are so good at running the ball is their great offensive line. C Maurkice Pouncey and RG David DeCastro are both Pro Bowlers and RT Marcus Gilbert probably should have been one as well. The only weak link is former Eagles training camp body (as a DE), LT Alejandro Villanueva. The former Army Ranger has already allowed two sacks and 8 hurries this season. DE Connor Barwin must be licking his chops at the thought of lining up opposite this guy. The problem for the Eagles is that they need more out of DT Fletcher Cox. Cox has been good this year, but they are paying him, and need him, to be great. That will be a tall order against this O-line, but he's talented enough to do it. This matchup in the trenches is going to be fun to watch.
Of course, the big show on offense for the Steelers is the guy who is arguably the best player in the NFL, WR Antonio Brown. Brown has caught 265 passes over the last two seasons, so this is not a good time for the Eagles to be without CB Leodis McKelvin, who will miss his second game on Sunday. That means that CBs Nolan Carrol will need to play the best game of his life just to keep Brown from killing the Eagles. On the other side, rookie Jalen Mills will be matched up against Markus Wheaton, who is playing for the first time this season. Mills will need to handle Wheaton by himself because the Eagles safeties, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will need to shade over to Brown's side of the field all game to bracket the explosive receiver over the top. If the pass rush doesn't get pressure on Roethlisberger, it is going to be a long day for the Eagles secondary.
The Eagles have had the best special teams in the NFL for the last two years, but last week they allowed the Bears' Eddie Royal to return a punt for a TD. Of course, that's the only punt that Donnie Jones has had returned this season in 11 kicks. That is not good news for the Eagles, though, with Antonio Brown returning punts for the Steelers. Kicker Caleb Sturgis apparently only had cramps last week, so he'll continue to kick. Sturgis has hit 5-of-6 kicks, including a 53-yarder last week. Darren Sproles is always a threat to return a punt for a TD. Besides Brown, the Steelers special teams are pretty bad. Their coverage units are especially terrible. That should not come as a surprise to any Eagles fan who remembers Danny Smith. The former Eagles coach currently runs Pittsburgh's special teams. At least kicker Chris Boswell has been good, making 31 of 34 FGs, dating back to last season.
Obviously the coaching matchup tilts heavily in favor of the Steelers here, with Mike Tomlin being a Super Bowl Champion. But did you know that since the 1970 NFL merger, only two rookie head coaches have won their first two games by 15 points? Of course, the answer is Tomlin (2007) and Eagles rookie head coach Doug Pederson. Stupid statistics aside, Pederson is doing well so far in that he is not Chip Kelly and he hasn't learned how to waste timeouts and get delay of game penalties from his mentor, Andy Reid. The Eagles defense is using "The Schwartz" this season. Defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, that is.
The Steelers are favored in this game for a reason. If the Eagles somehow pull off the upset, it will be one of the biggest shocks of this season. The Steelers have a solid defense that is great at stopping the run, which will force Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz to put the team on his shoulders. On the other side, the Steelers have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL with Roethlishberger, Brown and Williams giving the Eagles defense something to worry about in all facets of the game.
The game is in Philly, which will be an advantage for Wentz, but I just can't see how the Eagles will score enough to keep up with the high-powered Pittsburgh offense. It won't seem like it now, but just keeping it close and getting a good game out of Wentz should be enough for Eagles fans. I know that will never happen with Eagles fans, but it's true.
Steelers 31 - Eagles 23