Week 3 Opponent Preview: The Philadelphia Eagles
There are a lot of factors in this game which make it more interesting than the usual non-divisional opponent. The Eagles have a baby quarterback who has looked very good so far, a brand-new head coach, and they just shut out the Steelers in the preseason.
Let’s dispose of the last item right away. Whatever happened in the preseason has no bearing whatsoever on the upcoming game. First of all, their quarterback is different, and very possibly better, although Sam Bradford killed it in Minnesota last Sunday. The Steelers’ quarterback is also different, and very definitely better.
But the main reason is, the two head coaches had very different goals for that particular game, which a moment’s reflection should make clear.
Here’s why. Mike Tomlin was primarily interested in getting a better look at the guys at the back end of the depth chart. He even admitted that part of looking these guys over might well be putting them into difficult situations and seeing how they responded. This is not likely to lead to a good result. The interest is in what result it does lead to. I expect that Tomlin’s other concern was not to tip his hand to an upcoming opponent.
On the other hand, as a new head coach, particularly a new head coach who is a head coach for the first time ever (his only other head coaching experience was at a private high school) Doug Pederson has a lot to prove.
I was interested to note how much history he has with Philadelphia. His first NFL coaching job was as Offensive Quality Control coach, and two years later (2011) he was promoted to quarterbacks coach. When Andy Reid left Philly for Kansas City in 2013 Pederson came along as Reid’s offensive coordinator. And now he’s back in the City of Brotherly Love, no doubt hoping he’ll feel more of it than his predecessor did.
What we all really want to know, of course, is what the Steelers are likely to be facing on Sunday. The Eagles are 2-0, but they haven’t exactly played the heavyweights in the league so far. The two teams they have played (the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 and the Chicago Bears in Week 2) are both 0-2.
This is not to denigrate the Steelers’ cross-state opponent, however. There’s a lot to like about the 2016 team if you’re an Eagles fan. It all begins with Carson Wentz, who is in the process of assuming the mantle of The Next Ben Roethlisberger. Or so one assumes, as there have been approximately 30,000 articles written in the past week comparing the two men. (Okay, perhaps I exaggerate slightly.)
And I grant you that they are both from unheralded schools, are both 6’5″ tall, both have a listed weight of around 240 (although I wouldn’t vouch for how close Roethlisberger generally is), and both were/are awfully calm and collected for a rookie.
It will be interesting to see how calm and collected Wentz is on Sunday. While Dick LeBeau and his almost perfect record (19-2) against rookie quarterbacks is gone, Keith Butler seems awfully adept in game planning and maximizing what he has to work with. I would be surprised if Wentz is more unflappable than Andy Dalton, a QB who won a game in Week 1 in which he was sacked seven times. And yet the Steelers’ defense managed to disrupt his offense and hold the Bengals to 16 points.
As for the rest of the offense, a cursory look through the Google lens reveals that the wide receivers are talented but drop-prone. Let’s hope that continues for another week. Pro Football Focus apparently felt that there should have been at least three more catches for an additional 82 yards and a touchdown in Monday night’s game against the Bears.
However, the three tight ends, led by Zach Ertz, are taking up the slack. He and Brent Celek are Pro Football Focus’s No. 12 and No. 13 tight ends so far this season. Football Outsiders actually puts the third member of the trio, Trey Burton, ahead of both Celek and Ertz. As we all know, the Steelers’ defense has struggled with tight ends, although things appear to be looking up in that department. But I’m sure there won’t be a great deal of disappointment that Ertz is expected to miss Sunday’s game.
Running back is another story. Apparently Pederson is trying a “running back by committee” approach, one which generally doesn’t seem to work. The committee consists of four backs, although the bulk of the carries have been by two of them. I enjoyed the beginning of this article on Bleeding Green Nation:
In the Eagles’ win over the Bears on Monday night, Darren Sproles ran the ball 12 times, and Ryan Mathews ran the ball nine times.
You might have heard that people were confused by this distribution. You may have been confused yourself. I was certainly a little surprised.
However, to be fair, they are averaging 141 yards per game on the ground, with most of said yards coming from Mathews and Sproles.
Their offensive line is apparently the very definition of average, according to Football Outsiders, who has them ranked at No. 16. Of course it’s awfully early for these rankings to mean a great deal.
As for their defense, perhaps the best news for the Steelers is that cornerback Leodis McKelvin is expected to miss Sunday’s game. A piece of interesting news, at least to me, is that both William Gay and Ross Cockrell are rated considerably higher by Pro Football Focus so far than any of the Philadelphia corners. Their safeties seem to be better, but the best of the safeties on both teams so far is, (again according to PFF), Robert Golden.
Nonetheless, Philadelphia’s overall defense is ranked No. 2 by Football Outsiders, mainly because of their front seven. Oddly, though, FO ranks their run defense No. 20 in the league, so it might be another big day for DeAngelo Williams. Their pass rush is pretty scary, and they have six sacks so far. So it might be just as well to give them something else to think about.
As for special teams, the much-ballyhooed unit is actually ranked at No. 21 in the league by Football Outsiders, not quite what was expected, I think. PIT is currently ranked No. 6. And frankly, if Jordan Berry can continue to pin teams deep and Chris Boswell continues to be Mr. Automatic, that will be quite satisfactory.
Predictions? Please feel free to give yours in the comments. I don’t really know quite what to expect with this game. If the Steelers’ offensive line wins the battle with the Philly defensive line most of the time, I really like the Steelers’ chances.
If they don’t, I’m not very optimistic about the Steelers’ chances for 2016, much less this game. The sobering truth is, both starting quarterbacks who played the Eagles are going to be sitting on the sidelines. Robert Griffen III is on injured reserve, and Jay Cutler is out at least 2-3 weeks with a thumb injury. Let’s hope everyone involved, including Ben Roethlisberger, game plans to minimize the contact between him and the Philly defensive line. Otherwise it might be a very long season, and not in a good way…