The Eagles host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a week 3 matchup at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday, a matchup when at home, they have not lost since 1965. Doug Pederson will want to keep that record alive against a high powered Steelers Offense and a barricading run Defense..but what will he need to do to beat them?
Contain DeAngelo Williams:
Stunting the Steelers Offense all starts in the trenches. DeAngelo leads the league in rushing while the Eagles have allowed just 92 rushing yards per game. This is the first real dominant rushing attack that the Eagles will have faced this year under the tutelage of Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz..so how can they stop him?
The Linebackers have to be aware. With Hicks and Bradham taking responsibility in the middle, beating their blocks to plug the holes is absolutely crucial if they are to stop Williams bouncing around and finding open lanes. Stephen Tulloch was one of the best run stopping linebackers during his prime years and after seeing 23% of Defensive snaps in week 2, could be called upon much more to try and prevent Williams averaging the 4.1 yards per carry he has so far.
The Steelers Offensive line has done a great job of pulling thus far..but with such an intimidating pass rush lying ahead, runs outside may become severely limited..which is important considering how elusive Williams can be. The Eagles defensive line will have to dominate the Steelers O-Line in all facets if they are to halt the Offense.
Williams is especially dangerous inside the redzone and simply cannot be underestimated. The Eagles often deploy these kind of looks themselves, but with so many weapons at Roethlisberger’s disposal, it’s easy to place the focus elsewhere. The Steelers may have a vertical heavy Offense..but the versatility of Williams cannot be overlooked.
Limit Antonio Brown:
It’s easier said than done because naturally, Antonio Brown is going to do Antonio Brown things. But the star of the Steelers Offense was held to just 39 yards against the Bengals on 4 receptions, forcing the Steelers to look elsewhere. How? Ensuring that he’s double covered as often as possible. However, the Jim Schwartz “you can’t make plays with your back to the ball” sentiment will be tested..as Brown has a tendency to create something out of nothing.
Physicality will be paramount against Brown. In the play below, he finds himself in a triple coverage before cutting inside and reaching for a catch. Shawn Williams makes a huge tackle, not only bringing Brown down, but ensuring he doesn’t come down with the ball. If Williams had missed that tackle, it would have likely been six points for the Steelers.
Keeping Brown blanketed with the likes of McLeod and Jenkins helping out a weakened cornerback corps will be absolutely pivotal..but doing so won’t guarantee success..in essence just taking the sharpest weapon out of the box.
Getting pressure to Big Ben is all well and good, but Roethlisberger isn’t your ordinary quarterback and will often make you shake your head in disbelief. Against the Bengals however, Big Ben was incredibly inaccurate when forced to get the ball out quickly.
In fact, Big Ben rarely completed a short pass which bodes well for the Eagles dominant pass rush. With so much attention being paid to Fletcher Cox, the Defensive ends are thriving in collapsing the pocket. If the Eagles can apply this kind of pressure and hit Big Ben hard and often, these short throws will become frequent. The Eagles linebacker coverage has been criticized, but this is where someone like Nigel Bradham will thrive, especially coming off of a huge game against the Bears.
Don’t underestimate Tight Ends:
The Steelers are seeing an emergence of their TE’s this season. Both Xavier Gimble and Jesse James caught touchdown passes against the Bengals in a game where they were moved around a lot and utilized heavily with Brown being blanketed.
It was revealed after the game that James changed his route on the below play, sliding through a narrow gap and relying on a high ball placement from Big Ben. The Eagles linebackers simply can’t allow the tight ends to fly under-the-radar as the Bengals did, giving up over 60 yards and two touchdown passes.
Gimble’s touchdown was just as impressive, reading the coverage and leaving enough room inside of his “skinny post” to make a catch where Iloka couldn’t reach it before making a huge leap to the endzone. The Steelers Tight Ends are dangerous..especially if left to catch a simple pass on a shallow cross while placing attention elsewhere.
The Steelers Defense is designed to draw Offenses in, like a Mouse trap. The idea being it will never give up that one killer play. As a result, a lot of deep passes are often picked off or rendered incomplete. Thankfully, the Eagles Offense correlates this with running a west-coast, checkdown friendly scheme that looks to thrive where the Steelers allow them to
The Bengals may have been limited on the ground against the Steelers, but their pass catching out of the backfield was exemplary for what the Eagles need to do if they are to succeed against the Steelers.
Giovani Bernard caught 9 passes for 100 yards despite only rushing for 25..showing that exploiting the acres of space left over the middle by the Steelers Defense can become their kryptonite.
With such a variety of backs on their roster, the Eagles have been begging for an opportunity to unleash Darren Sproles on screen looks and passes out of the flat while ensuring a change of pace with Kenjon Barner. The pass catching success has been limited for such a versatile backfield thus far, but if they can change that against the Steelers..momentum will find them very quickly.
How to beat the Secondary:
The Steelers Secondary is very much like a sponge, absorbing pressure, until eventually there’s nothing left to absorb. As a result, it was rare to see Andy Dalton take a shot over the top of the Steelers Defense..because the coverage was often so tight. The Eagles however, can find success in other avenues.
Out-routes, comebacks and curls are all rapidly becoming trademarks of Pederson’s scheme. Against a Steelers Defense that would rather bleed than amputate, this could be the most effective way for Carson Wentz to move the chains. You’ll notice in the play above how Bernard is able to get into the open for a quick dump pass should all other avenues close..it’s these kind of levels that the Eagles will need to be adding if they are to overcome the new “Iron Curtain”.
With Jordan Matthews working so efficiently in the slot, the crisp route running of Nelson Agholor and the mismatch nightmare of Dorial Green-Beckham, the Eagles should be able to dink and dunk their way down the field while running straight at the Steelers corners, picking up more than the average of 6.6 yards per attempt Wentz amassed against the Bears.
The Steelers cornerbacks [pse much more of a threat than a depleted Chicago Secondary and a weak Browns corps, meaning that the Eagles may be reluctant to air the ball out down field, playing to the strengths of the west-coast scheme and capitalizing on an area of concern for the Steelers Defense.
Test the waters:
The Steelers Linebackers are beyond efficient in pass coverage, something that has helped the team rack up one of the best third down records in the league. They’re facing an Eagles Offense that has completed just 8/30 third down conversions..but with the Eagles aiming to keep Wentz out of dangerous waters, they may have to cut him loose against a ruthless Defense.
Although the linebackers are excellent in dropping back into coverage, they often leave a lot of space..giving Wentz plenty of time to sling a pass into a tight window..just as he did to Nelson Agholor on Monday Night.
Although the short-passes are where Wentz will undoubtedly shine as he did in the first drive on Monday Night, going 6/6 for 35 yards, the Steelers are prone to giving up big yards when the pressure is overwhelming. If Wentz can get a clear look and trusts his receivers, as he has shown a tendency to do..then hitting the narrow windows could become an option. The Eagles have only completed 5 passes of 20 yards or more this season, but if the Steelers are preparing for an afternoon of checkdown’s, it only makes sense to take advantage of some of the mismatches that will be presented.
The Eagles Offensive line has surrendered a lot of pressure to Carson Wentz through the opening two weeks, allowing Pederson’s prized quarterback to be subjected to some ruthless hits when throwing. Although Wentz has shown an ability to extend the play, he hasn’t quite grasped the whole sliding thing yet..which is a worry if he keeps being pounded as often as he is.
The Bengals did a good job of protecting Andy Dalton last week, but there were times when he was forced out of his comfort zone. For Wentz, it’s all about resisting temptation and managing risk and reward. For the Offensive line, it’s about buying their quarterback as much time as possible, something they’ve struggled in doing against two mediocre pass rushes.
The Steelers pass rush isn’t elite, but it’s one step up from those faced so far. If the Eagles have any chance of exploiting any of the above flaws, they simply have to protect Carson Wentz and be ready for a lot of pressure coming up the middle.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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