At least the Eagles’ offense showed up against a top-rated Steelers’ defense— but in the end, it couldn’t keep up with Ben Roethlisberger’s ancient warrior skills.
The Eagles fell to 1-3-1 with a 38-29 loss to the Steelers (4-0). Big Ben used misdirection magic, hypnotized the secondary, took advantage of coverage mismatches and by the way tossed three touchdowns to rookie Chase Claypool just to rub it in.
The Steelers converted 73% (11 for 15) on third downs, including TD passes from Roethlisberger to Claypool of 32 yards on third-and-6 and 35 yards on third-and-8.
Linebacker Nate Gerry inexplicably was left to cover Claypool one-on-one on the 35-yard TD that sealed the win in the fourth quarter.
“Ideally, would we like Nate to be on a receiver? No,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “We would prefer a defensive back but that was the call defensively and they checked to a good play. … That’s a tough play for Nate going against a receiver like Claypool. Ben saw it and we have to live with that play.”
Cornerback Darius Slay was called for two pass interference penalties. The first one negated an incomplete pass on second-and-16 that set up Pittsburgh’s first touchdown.
Philadelphia’s highly touted and highly paid defensive line only sacked Roethlisberger once and didn’t generate much pressure.
“The ball was coming out fast,” DE Brandon Graham said. “That’s respect for us. They were hitting the perimeter. We need to make sure we tackle. They try to take the D-line out of the game. That’s what we’re going to see moving forward so we have to get that corrected.”
The Eagles entered without six starters on offense: left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Isaac Seumalo, right guard Brandon Brooks, wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Jalen Reagor. Also, tight end Dallas Goedert is out. Right tackle Lane Johnson was injured during the game.
Still, they moved the ball well at times and had their highest point total this season.
Miles Sanders had a 74-yard TD run, but gained only 6 yards on 10 other carries. Wentz connected with Travis Fulgham 10 times for 152 yards and one TD. But the offense also missed some opportunities.
Wentz eluded pressure and threw a potential 51-yard TD pass that went through rookie John Hightower’s hands late in the second quarter. Wentz’s next pass went for a 37-yard gain to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside but the Eagles didn’t have time to stop the clock and kick a field goal before the first half ended.
“Third down today. That’s what I can speak on just today,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “We’ve got to get off the field. Third down hurt us bad today, especially with the penalties. I didn’t realize that we had eight (on defense). That’s just unacceptable. It starts in practice. We know that some of the stuff that showed up in practice showed up out there in the game with the offsides and the little things that we can correct. That’s what hurt us in the end.”
Pittsburgh gained 136 ground yards on 32 carries and had some big plays out of their “gadget” attack featuring wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud, who had a 58-yard run on jet-sweep action to set up a touchdown, and Chase Claypool, who had three carries for 6 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run. If you take away the 58-yard run, it’s a different story, but you can’t do that.
Safety Rodney McLeod said the Eagles “didn’t execute well” on third downs, and he was, obviously, right.
“They understood that we’re typically in man (coverage) and they took advantage of that,” McLeod said. “Ben is a very experienced quarterback. He’s seen a lot and they had a plan on how they wanted to attack us.”
Pittsburgh used its wide receivers as lateral running backs to take advantage of the Eagles pushing up the field defensively. The Steelers used some “bunch” formations and got the ball to receivers in screens. Roethlisberger got the ball out of his hands quickly and the Eagles just couldn’t get stops.
Three times the Eagles were penalized for pass interference, twice against cornerback Darius Slay, who left the game with an injury and did not return. The Eagles just could not contain Claypool, a big, strong receiver who created separation with his body and did a nice job snatching the ball even in traffic. He finished with seven receptions for 110 yards and the three touchdowns on 11 targets.
A problem all season, the Eagles allowed three touchdowns on three red zone trips. What had been a strength for the Eagles in recent seasons has become a real problem area.
Travis Fulgham was a bright spot in the Eagles’ loss to the Steelers on Sunday. The second-year receiver hauled in 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown. Since the Eagles signed him to the active roster ahead of the 49ers game last week, Fulgham has 12 receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s a beast,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “I mean he showed up today and showed really last week that the two big plays he had, they weren’t a fluke. Kid’s a baller. He made a lot of big plays. I was really proud of him and pumped for him.”
“I’m just trying to do what I can. If Carson throws me the ball, just come down with it and make the play,” Fulgham said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get the win, but we’ll keep building on it.”
The one play that Fulgham said he would like to have back is a third-and-5 situation late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles got the ball after Cre’Von LeBlanc recovered a fumble forced by linebacker Duke Riley. Wentz went to Fulgham on an in-cutting route and Joe Haden was able to knock it away. There was some contact that could have warranted a flag for pass interference. Jake Elliott tried a 57-yard attempt on the next snap and the kick sailed wide right. The Steelers put the game away with Chase Claypool’s fourth touchdown of the game on the next drive.
“I absolutely should have made that play,” Fulgham said. “That’s on me. I should have come up with that play to continue the drive and hopefully give the team the win.”
There were INJURIES on both sides:
Steelers’ lineman David DeCastro left the game in the 1st quarter with an abdominal injury. WR Deontae Johnson left the game in the first half with a back injury.
The Eagles had to watch Lane Johnson (RT) carted off with an ankle injury, the same ankle on which he’s had numerous procedures the past months; CB Darius Slay left the game late with an undisclosed injury, and is questionable for next week. LB Duke Riley was also carted off the field late in the 4th quarter and was replaced by Alex Singleton. Riley had just caused a crucial fumble, no official word yet on his medical status…Fletcher Cox (DT) was in and out of the lineup again due to undisclosed lower body problems.
|Passing 1st downs||14||13|
|Rushing 1st downs||4||7|
|1st downs from penalties||2||5|
|3rd down efficiency||10-14||11-15|
|4th down efficiency||0-1||0-0|
|Yards per Play||5.9||5.5|
|Yards per pass||5.9||6.6|
|Yards per rush||5.9||4.3|
|Red Zone (Made-Att)||3-3||3-3|
|Defensive / Special Teams TDs||0||0|