By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
The Eagles are coming off of their first win of the season and now sit atop the NFC East. Yes, you read that correctly.
The 1-2-1 Eagles will travel to the other side of Pennsylvania for a rare cross-state date with the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh had their game postponed last week after a COVID-19 outbreak within the Tennessee Titans organization. Therefore, the Steelers will be coming into this matchup healthy and rested.
As is the case every week, the Eagles cannot say the same. Alshon Jeffery will miss yet another game, this time due to a “non-COVID related illness.” Hm.
DeSean Jackson is also going to be out, as he will miss his third straight game. This means we will be seeing the practice squad all-stars (and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside) back in action at receiver. You know what that means? It’s time to officially add that Travis Fulgham jersey to your cart.
Eagles Offense vs. Steelers Defense
Don’t look now folks, but Carson Wentz and the boys have shown some signs of life. Wentz didn’t play great, but he made some plays that needed to be made in order for the Eagles to win last week’s game.
While there were some times where I found myself dumbfounded at how inaccurate Wentz can be, the throws like the one he made to Fulgham give me hope that he’s turned a corner. He has also used his running ability to his advantage, which is something he hasn’t done effectively since 2017. I still wince every time he takes a hit, but you cannot deny the impact he has made on this offense with his legs.
The offensive line didn’t play great last week, but played much better than I anticipated considering who was out there. Left tackle Jordan Mailata looked great last week, as the audience hardly even noticed he was in there. That’s a great sign for an offensive lineman, especially one that has never started a football game at any level. He will have a much tougher matchup this week against guys like T.J. Watt, Cameron Hayward, and Bud Dupree.
Jordan Mailata allowed just 1 pressure in 38 pass blocking snaps, per PFF. Very good showing for his first start ever in a football game at any level. #Eagles— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) October 5, 2020
The running game didn’t seem to work too well last week at first glance. However, it seemed a little bit like Doug Pederson gave up on the run in the second half, as Miles Sanders totaled just 13 carries. That cannot happen.
Against a great Pittsburgh defense, the best players on the Eagles offense need to have the football in their hands. I sound like a broken record at this point, but Sanders needs to have at least 20 touches a game. With this week being a homecoming for the Pittsburgh native, you know he’s chomping at the bit to show out in his hometown. Let your playmakers make plays, Doug.
The Eagles receivers and Zach Ertz will have a tough matchup this week. As we well know, the Eagles receivers are unproven and albeit pretty underwhelming. Last week, Ertz was essentially taken out of the game by the Niners linebackers, as he had just four catches for...nine yards? How is that even possible?
That cannot happen again. As I mentioned earlier, the Eagles big play guys are going to need to step up for the Birds if they want to have a chance. Ertz wants to be paid like a top tight end in the league, it’s time for him to go earn it. Two yards per catch is not going to get it done.
On the flip side, the Steelers have one of the best defenses in the league. There is not a single hole on this defense. Pittsburgh has allowed the least rushing yards per game and has the most sacks per game of any team in the league so far this season. The front seven is as good as any in the league with guys like Watt and Dupree setting the edge and Devin Bush manning the middle at linebacker.
Play action is not going to be the way to go for the Eagles offense this week. It’s got to be a lot of runs up the middle and quick passes. Wentz is simply not going to have enough time in the pocket, and the Steelers set the edge too well to run outside the tackles. Good luck, Doug.
Eagles Defense vs. Steelers Offense
The Eagles defense took advantage of a banged up 49ers offense and some truly poor quarterback play by Nick Mullens, as they should have. Give the defense their credit, they stepped up in a game they absolutely needed to win.
The defensive line has balled out to start the season, as the Eagles defense leads the league in total sacks though four weeks. They added five sacks last week, and thank the heavens above they finally forced some turnovers. Was that due to poor quarterback play? Absolutely. Do I care? Absolutely not.
Darius Slay continues to show his dominance, as he has allowed just 37 yards per game through four weeks. I’ve said this every week, and I will continue to say it. The Eagles have finally gotten the production they paid for out of a cornerback. On the other side of the field, my dislike for Jalen Mills remains unconditional. He stinks no matter where Jim Schwartz lines him up.
Where oh where to begin with the Eagles linebackers. First of all, the Eagles have lost T.J. Edwards for at least the next three weeks because of injury. He’s been decent against the run and truly awful against the pass, but he’s a sure tackler, which will be sorely missed.
Why is that, you ask? Let me introduce you to Mr. Nathan Gerry. How this man has a starting job in the NFL is far beyond me. Alex Singleton did more in one game than Gerry has done in three years with this team. Gerry, the guy who was assigned with guarding elite tight end George Kittle last week, was straight up abused on national television.
Sure, guarding Kittle is no small task, but it was like Gerry wasn’t even there. Kittle caught all 15 (fifteen!) of his targets for a staggering 183 yards. Is that good? It was certainly good enough for a career high! It truly seems like Gerry cannot do anything right. He can’t cover, he can’t make open-field tackles, and he can’t defend the run.
What exactly can he do? Uhh, stay healthy? That’s about it. The day he’s out of an Eagles jersey will be a joyous day indeed.
Nate Gerry has allowed 19 catches for 212 yards this season.— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) October 6, 2020
He’s played 280 out of 284 defensive snaps on the year. At least he stays healthy.
The Steelers offense isn’t exactly overwhelming, but through three games this season they’ve capitalized on big opportunities. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not the player he once was, but he doesn’t have to be. He’s still been extremely efficient, as he has seven touchdowns to just one interception. He’s not going to make any outstanding plays to beat the Eagles defense, but he also won’t put the Steelers in a position to lose. A true veteran.
The Steelers offense isn’t anything impressive on paper, but much like their defense they are solid all around and don’t have a lot of holes. The offensive line is very good and very experienced. The clash in the trenches between Steelers o-line and Eagles d-line will be the key matchup to watch in this game.
Running back James Conner is good but not great, he is a very consistent runner. He won’t do anything flashy, he is going to go north-and-south, get yards, and fall forward. He’s a typical Pittsburgh Steelers running back.
The Steelers are deep at wide receiver with a ton of deep threats and a consistent #1 receiver in Juju Smith-Schuster. I wonder what that’s like. With Smith-Schuster likely to match up with Darius Slay, I don’t expect him to have a big day. Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington are the guys to be afraid of.
The Eagles defense is going to have to force turnovers, a tough thing to do against Big Ben, and force some three-and-outs and truly try to make it an ugly game. The Birds offense is not going to be able to keep up if the Steelers get a big lead early. The more ugly the game is, the better chance the Eagles will have of winning.
The Eagles have not won a game in Pittsburgh since November of 2000. I was two years old. The Steelers have always been a better team at home than on the road, and that remains true even without fans. However, this game will feature fans in the stands for the first time this season for Pittsburgh after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf softened regulations on public events.
It will also be the first game this season that the Eagles have played in front of fans. Both teams will be pretty jacked up to finally play in front of people, not just plastic seats.
This game gives me very ugly vibes. I can totally see neither team scoring a touchdown and just trading field goals and punts all afternoon. The Steelers defense will show up against a weakened Eagles offensive unit, the question will be whether the Eagles defense shows up.
I think they will, but not long enough to keep the Eagles alive. Eventually, Big Ben is going to make some ridiculous play and make me look like a fool for saying he won’t do anything to beat you. I also don’t see the Eagles offense getting anything significant going against this defense.
Steelers win, 26-12. If you have Chris Boswell or Jake Elliott in fantasy, congratulations.
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass