Well, folks, it’s happened. Your Philadelphia Eagles have won a football game in 2020. It’s celebration time! With a win under our belt and momentum on our side… oh, what’s that? We have to travel to Pittsburgh this week? And what! We host Baltimore the next? Well then…
San Francisco was just the first part of an overwhelming trilogy of games, as we all probably knew. The Eagles made do with a roster filled with injuries against an also-depleted 49ers team. However, things don’t get any easier, with Philadelphia first having to travel to play the in-state rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Boasting perhaps the best defense in football, the Steelers are among the league’s best. With the return of future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, they currently stand as one of six NFL teams without a loss this season. Yet, somehow, they seem beatable. In a minute, I’ll break down three key points to focus on in this weeks match-up. In what will be a tough outing for the birds, here are some things to look for come Sunday.
Eagles Need to Melt the Steel Curtain
Paying homage to the original Steel Curtain, this defensive line is ferocious. Featuring Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree, and the youngest Watt brother (TJ), the star-studded line only does one thing: hit quarterbacks. They currently rank second in total sacks with 15, only behind the Eagles (17). However, as Pittsburgh had their week four match-up rescheduled, they’ve managed to do that in only three games, giving them a league-leading five sacks-per-game.
Now, as we know, the Eagles’ offensive line is still less than desirable. After taming Aaron Donald in week 2, the unit has given up six sacks in the last two games. That doesn’t sound awful by itself, but when you look at the defensive lines that were faced, the numbers aren’t great. One thing for sure: the Steelers d-line is not Cincinnati or San Francisco’s. The Eagles’ o-line needs to step up in a big way, because, as was the story during week one, these practice squad receivers need time to get open. If Wentz isn’t given time to throw, then lookout, it’s going to be a long day.
Eagles Look to Break the Clock for Big Ben
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles’ d-line can’t give Roethlisberger time to throw. The Steelers’ receiving core is incredibly underrated. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Dionte Johnson, James Washington, and Eric Ebron make up a solid group of pass-catchers, one that couldn’t get going last season with subpar quarterback play. Now, with Big Ben back at the helm, this unit has hit its stride and is quickly appearing as one of the best units in football.
With this, the Eagles’ pass rush must go to work. In the last two weeks, the Eagles have racked up 13 sacks from 10 players. That type of production must be repeated. However, the Steelers’ o-line is nothing like the lackluster Bengals’ or 49ers’ units. Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, and Maurkice Pouncey make up an elite core of o-linemen and will make things difficult on the Eagles’ pass rush. Yet, if Jim Schwartz can keep the pressure up as he’s done the past two weeks, it may be possible for the d-line to wreak havoc.
David vs. Goliath: The Battle in the Steelers’ Defensive Backfield
Similar to Pittsburgh’s defensive line, the Steelers’ secondary is second to none. Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, and the always underrated Steven Nelson make up one of the strongest defensive backfields in football. That unit matched up against the Eagles’ makeshift receiving core looks to spell trouble for Philly.
However, if there’s one thing to give us hope, it’s Carson Wentz. For some reason, Wentz seems to thrive when the pieces around him are lacking. Please ignore the first three weeks of this season. The way he ended last season was a story for the history books. With multiple guys pulled straight from the practice squad to the starting lineup, Wentz made it work and eventually took the team to the playoffs. Last week against the 49ers, he seemed to rip a page from that same book. It will be challenging–even healthy units struggle to make things work against this Steelers’ defense–but we’ve seen Wentz do it before. Because of that, I see no reason to believe he can’t do it again.
Every Week is Make or Break
After starting 0-2-1, the Eagles dug themselves into a hole. Each game for the rest of the season seems like a make or break affair. Avoiding hitting the three-loss mark before the halfway point of the season is priority number one right now. However, as we’ve seen, the schedule-makers didn’t make it easy. Actually, I can’t even say that. The team made it hard for themselves. After dropping a game and tying another against lesser teams, the Eagles’ alone have put themselves in this situation.
However, last week, things appeared to click. Wentz looked solid. The defense was, as much as I struggle to say it, outstanding. Doug Pederson wasn’t utterly incompetent with his play calling. The team was able to grab itself some momentum and go into the most challenging two-game stretch of the year; there’s no time better to have it.
Things may not go the way we want them two these next two weeks, and honestly, that’s okay. These are two very good football teams, and as battered as Philly is right now, things may not go the way we hope. However, against San Francisco, the team showed a side of itself that we haven’t seen this season. Now it’s Steelers week, and if Wentz and the team can pick up where they left off, the chance at an upset may be greater than we would’ve thought. It’s not time to celebrate just yet, but give it some time–this team seems to be coming along just fine.