Eagles facing a real challenge against revived Steelers

Eagles facing a real challenge against revived Steelers

Eagles

Eagles facing a real challenge against revived Steelers

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Nice to see the overachieving effort which got the Birds the win in San Fran— but now a well-rested and extremely motivated Steelers team awaits.

It’s a lot to ask of the Eagles backups to step up again in Pittsburgh. Amazingly these are the guys who were after-thoughts on the original depth chart:

Jordan Mailata
Genard Avery
Nate Herbig
John Hightower
Quez Watkins
JJAW
Travis Fulgham
T.J. Edwards
Jack Driscoll
Matt Pryor

Well, time is theirs now…

And defensing Big Ben will be a lot tougher assignment than facing Nick Mullens. Perhaps the biggest reason for the win in SF was, while the Eagles defense gave up 417 yards, they had 5 sacks and came up with 3 takeaways. It’s probably going to take a similar set of offsetting numbers to beat Big Ben.

What Big Ben is looking at on his game tapes right now are our defensive weak spots:

Underneath coverage and second level containment was spotty against the 49ers. Also, our downfield tackling was sloppy, inconsistent and allowed short completions to morph into big plays.

The Philadelphia Eagles are coming to Heinz field for the first time since 2012, in a game the Steelers won 16-14.

These two teams last met in 2016. Philadelphia won that one 34-3 thanks to a huge game by quarterback Carson Wentz and a defense that sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times. It was one of the worst Steelers losses under head coach Mike Tomlin.

The betting line has the 3-0 Steelers as 7-point favorites. The obvious safe bet is that Pittsburgh’s blitzing defense will ultimately shred Philly’s depleted offensive line and weakened offense.

For the Steelers, the good news to come out of their unexpected and early covid-related bye week  is that wide receiver Diontae Johnson had extra time to clear concussion protocol.

Mike Tomlin confirmed in his weekly press conference that Johnson will play on Sunday. Through eight quarters, Johnson has posted 149 yards receiving and a touchdown. Additionally, fullback Derek Watt (hamstring) and safety Marcus Allen (foot) are working their way back.

Ironically, the Steelers lost a significant piece of their defense when the Eagles signed lineman Javon Hargrave in free agency this offseason. But they plugged in Tyson Alualu and didn’t skip a beat — he’s been performing exceptionally well in the void left by Hargrave’s departure.

Isaiah Buggs is there to spell Alualu, and, for added DL depth, Pittsburgh selected Carlos Davis in the 7th round of the 2020 draft.

As for Hargrave— since getting back on the field after missing the opener with an upper-body injury, the former third-rounder has been rotating in behind starter Malik Jackson. In 37 pass-rush snaps, Javon has four hurries, and in 20 run snaps, a single tackle and stop.

As for the Eagles scrambling to put together another ad-lib game roster, they announced the four practice squad players who will be protected going into the Week 5 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

• DB Grayland Arnold – Arnold has played 27 snaps, all on special teams, in the past two games as a call-up from the practice squad.

• TE Jason Croom – Signed to the practice squad last Tuesday, the 26-year-old Croom played 15 games (three starts) for the Buffalo Bills in 2018 and had 22 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown.

• DT T.Y. McGill – McGill recorded a half-sack and two QB pressures and hits in the season opener against Washington.

• DB Elijah Riley – The 5-11, 214-pound Riley was a team captain for the Army Black Knights in 2019. In his four-year career, Riley accumulated 201 tackles, seven interceptions, and 6.5 sacks. He joined the Eagles as a rookie free agent following the 2020 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh opened the season with a 10-point road win against the Giants and followed it up with a pair of one-possession home wins against Denver and Houston. Pittsburgh does not have nearly the injury issues that the Eagles are dealing with.

Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has completed 67 percent of his passes for 777 yards and seven touchdowns this season, only throwing one interception. He has been sacked five times through three games, which is not bad given his lack of mobility. Running back James Conner leads the rushing attack with 40 carries for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Benny Snell Jr. has rushed 29 times for 129 yards, but has yet to find the end zone. Juju Smith-Schuster has been Roethlisberger’s top target in the passing game, catching 17 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie wideout Chase Claypool has made the most of his six receptions, tallying 151 yards and a score. Diontae Johnson has 14 grabs for 149 yards and one touchdown.

Defensively, the Steelers are 4th in the NFL, allowing just 19.3 points per game, while the Eagles are 19th at 26.8 points per game.

Philadelphia’s offense was only responsible for 18 points last week, winning on the strength of a defensive pick-six. Carson Wentz was held to 193 yards, and his mediocre 81.4 passer rating was a season-high.

The Steelers defense will set the tone of the game…the Eagles offense simply must play away from the opponent’s hell-bent pressure and absorb enough body blows to run clock while avoiding turnovers. Keeping Big Ben on the bench during long methodical drives would go a long way toward an upset.

It won’t be easy— the Steelers defense is loaded with proven talent.

Defensive tackle Cam Heyward has been with the team since he was drafted in 2011. He just signed a contract extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh for four more years. The extension is worth $75.1 million, making him the highest paid defensive player over the age of 30 in the entire league.

In his nine seasons with the Steelers, Heyward has totaled 257 solo tackles, 54 sacks and 117 quarterback hits.

Outside linebacker T.J. Watt led the Steelers’ defense with 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 2019. Fellow linebacker Bud Dupree recorded 68 tackles and 11.5 sacks.

In Sept. 2019, the Steelers acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. After joining the Steelers’ defense, Fitzpatrick recorded five interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

In his rookie season, linebacker Devin Bush led the team with 72 solo tackles. He also recorded two interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Cornerbacks Joe Haden, Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton make up a secondary trio that had a combined total of seven interceptions and 163 tackles last season. All three of them made Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top-25 cornerback list at the end of 2019.

“This is one of the best secondaries I have ever been a part of because we have communication, we have guys that are very football smart and are very capable of making plays,” Haden said in a 2019 post-game interview. “I feel like I am holding my side down, but everybody else is doing their thing in the backend.”

 

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