By Connor Donald, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
It is a cross conference rivalry game for the leaders of the NFC least. The Eagles faced the Steelers one week after taking over first place in the NFC East. The Steelers comeback after a week off due to Covid concerns with the Titans prior to last week's game. The Steelers entered 3-0, but their opponents have a combined record of 1-11. While the Eagles entered 1-2-1 after a come from behind victory in primetime last weekend.
The first half was a nice back and forth affair after a slow first few minutes. Chase Claypool and Miles Sanders had themselves a half each getting their respective teams two touchdowns. While a little bit of help from the refs on a ticky tacky pass interference call, led to the first Claypool touchdown. The Eagles weathered the storm with a 74 yard Sanders touchdown run and then a nice ten play, 76 yard touchdown drive. The Steelers ultimately left the first half with a three point league thanks to a late Boswell field goal.
The third quarter started out with a huge 58 yard Ray-Ray McCloud run that led the Steelers to inside the ten yard line and ultimately to the third Claypool touchdown of the day. Then Wentz’s dear friend reared its ugly head as he threw his league leading eighth interception of the season to Steven Nelson on a pass intended to Zach Ertz that set them up just outside the red zone, which ultimately led to a James Conner touchdown. Thankfully, Carson Wentz led a beautifully orchestrated drive seven play, 75 yard touchdown drive thanks to another huge Fulgham catch and a Greg Ward TD grab plus a successful two point conversion to make it a nine point game.
After some back and forth to end the third quarter, Wentz led a beautiful ten play, 80 yard drive capped by a Travis Fulgham touchdown grab on a historic day for the youngster. The Eagles were able to force a fumble on an Ebron catch and then fumble strip by Duke Riley, recovered by Cre’Von Leblanc. However, that led to a missed 57 yard field goal, which gave the Steelers solid starting field position, which led to, I kid you not, a fourth Chase Claypool touchdown! Nate Gerry did very little justice completely missing the play and falling over. This ended up burying the Eagles and Carson Wentz would throw another interception on an ugly overthrow with just over two minutes to go.
It seems as though the same things are broken down week in and week out: Missed tackles, offensive line depth, the linebackers in the open field, Wentz’s decision making, third down defense and so on. The only thing missing this week was injuries had less of an impact then usual on the Eagles game for once. Minus of course Lane Johnson leaving by cart late in the third, Lanes ankle is clearly far from 100% as he has yet to complete a game. However, with every passing week the fact that these issues remain, means that Howie and Pederson are suffering from insanity. Doing the same thing and expecting the same result every single week. This quite simply cannot continue.
After a strong showing against the 49ers on defense, Schwartz and his defense came up bland against the Steelers in the first half and for the early part of the second half. The Eagles gave up 30 points for the second time this season and we are only five weeks deep, something they only did twice all of last season. They allowed well over 300 yards of offense and allowed the Steelers to complete 10-14 third downs. Granted the team has not been able to play 60 minutes of football at all three phases this season so the offense did them no justice when they did make stops, but this is just too much to give up. The Eagles entered today with 43 total missed tackles and it will absolutely be increasing. They marched out two LBs who ranked as the 54th and 56th ranked LBs out of 74 on Pro Football Focus, one, Nate Gerry, is bound to continue dropping and somehow will have a job next week.
On the offensive side of the ball Carson Wentz continues to struggle, he went 20-35 for 258 yards and threw two TDs and two interceptions. The offensive line looked good at points, but seemed to struggle at points. The Steelers defense did rank tops in the league in their run stopping, which Miles Sanders looked quite strong against, but the offensive line did give up five sacks. The Steelers entered the game with the highest average sacks per game at five. The offensive line's depth clearly remains an issue, but Carson Wentz and his decision making is not to be forgotten, he now has six touchdowns and nine interceptions, which easily leads the league and remains concerning for a quarterback who’s career average interception percentage is 1.9% and is close to 5% for 2020. And I will also briefly express my concern for the disappearing act of Zach Ertz for two straight weeks, after four receptions for nine yards a week ago, he put a one reception on six targets for six yards. Howie is starting to look quite smart for holding out on letting Ertz get his payday. Needless to say Goedert will be welcomed back with wide open arms.
Although there were some ticky tacky plays called and you can consider that we were up against two opponents in the refs and the Steelers, but at the end of the game the Steelers had two more penalty yards, 86 to the Eagles 84, and the Eagles had only one more penalty. We can be frustrated with the refs all we want, but there are far more concerning points on offense and defense to worry about in house. The Eagles lost the turnover battle, the defense was on the field for nine more minutes then the offense and gave up more yardage, 367 - 336. We have had a tough start to the season, but there is a realistic possibility this could have been an Eagles win, but we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Time for some positives, I believe two to be exact. Miles Sanders, who struggled over the last two weeks had a really good week against a stout defensive line that had only allowed 121 rushing yards in three games. Miles Sanders finished with 11 carries for 80 yards and tagged on two receptions for 19 yards. The other positive was Travis Fulgham, that's F.U.L.G.H.A.M, who was Wentz’s favorite target this week. Wentz targeted him 13 times and he made ten receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown. He was making contested catches, opening catches, touchdown catches! In a year where we have seen very little from Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey who are eating up over 20% of the cap this year, Fulgham was a pleasant surprise and we need performances like this going forward to help Carson Wentz.
So, 1-3-1 it is. The Eagles will end up second or third in the NFC Least after the Cowboys and Giants game this evening. The Eagles continue to look like a team in a deeply rooted identity crisis, and it is a bad season for this, as some big decisions will need to be made by Howie in the offseason to become cap compliant. The road doesn’t get any easier either as we face Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens next week.