The undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers get their third straight home game as they welcome a Philadelphia Eagles team that has been in disarray thus far on the season. However, the Eagles are coming off of a big win against the San Francisco 49ers. After picking up their first victory of the year and gaining some momentum, what will the Steelers be seeing in the battered Eagles?
Doug Pederson’s scheme is one that he takes lots of influence from across the league. There are still leftover remnants from Frank Reich’s offense from the Super Bowl year. Those remnants that show up are often plays that can create traffic. So, for example mesh plays, bunch formations, and most importantly, rub routes. The Eagles have run more and more rub routes as of recent to try and help Carson Wentz get into a rhythm. They truly do some fascinating things with their pick plays, however, especially near the goal line.
From last week against the 49ers, this is a simple RPO that the Eagles love to use. The Eagles scheme builds on top of itself. Lots of quick action plays and misdirection are prevalent. They are not shy about using an abundance of RPOs, play action, and pre-snap motion. However, it is how they use their picks that is truly unique. While most teams use their big receivers and tight ends as picks, the Eagles often use their smaller receivers to open up their tight ends. On this play, they use Greg Ward on a slant route to open up the quick flat throw to Ertz. That is a key aspect of their scheme.
One thing that will become abundantly clear throughout the game is that the Eagles absolutely love to get their tight ends and running backs involved in the passing game. Running backs run swing, wheel, angle, and all different types of routes that aid Wentz with a hot check whenever he needs it. Even with Dallas Goedert out for the game, Ertz and Richard Rodgers are used frequently. Expect lots of 12 personnel, both tight to the line and spread out. The Eagles have a mode where they go empty and up-tempo, and it has some of their deep plays combed within it.
Look familiar? It should, as it is the same play that Houston used on the missed Brandin Cooks play against the Steelers. One of the big concepts in the Pederson scheme is smash and particularly the smash fade. On this play, Goedert beats his man off the line and the free safety can not get over in time. With the Steelers getting exposed against this very concept against Houston, it would stand to be said Pederson will throw this in somewhere. As for the running game, the Eagles run all different types of runs and refuse to hang their hat on anything. Still, Wentz is a threat to run, and zone reads are a staple of the Eagles rushing attack.
As for the defense, the Eagles run a base 4-3 defense. They often let their base ends use a wide 9-technique, which is something that has been a staple in Philadelphia for years now. The issue that Jim Schwartz has been called out for before is that his scheme is hard to execute. This is usually true, as the Schwartz scheme does isolate defensive backs on an island at times. Schwartz likes Cover 2, Cover 1, and sometimes even going for the daring Cover 0. He tries to compensate this with a variety of fronts up front that can give him more blitzing options. The problem is when the talent is not there to execute such a tough, inelastic scheme, the defense will get burnt like toast.
Players to Watch
QB Carson Wentz
Wentz has got to be the oddest quarterback the Steelers have faced all year. For one, there is no guarantee which Wentz will show up on Sunday. Throughout his career, Wentz has been the very definition of a human roller coaster ride at the quarterback position. Thus far on the year, however, he has struggled. Troubling decision-making and awful lower body mechanics have been his downfall. Wentz has been far too prone to turnovers and erratic with his accuracy throughout the season. However, he does have quite a good arm. Most importantly, Wentz’s mobility and escapability make him dangerous to extend the play, much like Deshaun Watson.
TE Zach Ertz
With Goedert, Alshon Jeffrey, and Desean Jackson all out on Sunday, Ertz is going to be force-fed the ball. Ertz acts as the main mechanism of Pederson’s offense and is Wentz’s safety blanket. While not as athletic as some of the tight ends the Steelers have faced early in the season, Ertz may be the most physically imposing. In terms of making combat catches, that is where Ertz can shine over someone like Noah Fant. For his size, Ertz has always been a particularly graceful route runner as well and he can separate with consistency.
DT Fletcher Cox
This is a star-studded Eagles pass rush group, but most importantly the Steelers will have to focus on the leader of that group. Fletcher Cox is still one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL and has notoriously had the number of Steelers guard David DeCastro. Even as he ages, Cox is explosive, powerful, and most importantly, has elite hands and pass-rush plan. He is so savvy that through his technical ability alone, Cox is still a problem up front for most teams.
Matchups to Watch
Terrell Edmunds vs Zach Ertz
Edmunds has been the main guy for the Steelers this year against tight ends. In fact, in man coverage, almost no one but Edmunds goes on the tight ends. Through three games, he has been virtually lockdown when facing tight ends. Evan Engram and Fant are two very good players, but Ertz will be his stiffest challenge yet. With Ertz as the main weapon for the Eagles in the passing game, Edmunds has to stay disciplined an at least try to focus on playing through the catch point. If he can not at least time his jump properly or get his head around, he is at risk of giving up big catches or pass interference calls.
Eagles Pass Rush vs Steelers Offensive Line
If the Eagles want to win this game, it will have to be through rattling Ben Roethlisberger. Cox, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, and Derek Barnett are just a few names that line along this impressive defensive front for Philadelphia. With a young, still gelling offensive line, the Eagles have the opportunity to stake out some wins here. However, if the Steelers can keep Roethlisberger upright, they have an exposed and underperforming Eagles secondary to take advantage of at will with their skill positon talent.
Alex Highsmith Needs MRI after Ankle Injury Suffered vs. Browns
PITTSBURGH — Steelers rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith suffered an ankle injury that will require an MRI in Sunday’s playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Highsmith left the game in the first half and was seen limping on the Pittsburgh sideline. He made an attempt to return to the game, but was unable to continue playing and did not see the field at all in the second half.
In-game, the Steelers announced that Highsmith was doubtful to return with an ankle injury. After the fact, head coach Mike Tomlin said that Highsmith suffered a high ankle sprain. Highsmith’s father posted on Twitter early on Monday morning that Highsmith will require an MRI on his injured ankle.
Not the way we wanted the season to end but I am thankful to have been a part of this amazing ride! The Highsmith Family is proud to wear the Black & Gold and we look forward to more success in the future! Please pray for Alex as he gets an MRI tomorrow on his ankle! #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/JJA4PpZpvx
— Sam Highsmith (@SHighsmithClan) January 11, 2021
Given that Highsmith was able to walk and even run in short bursts after the injury, it does not seem likely that it will impact his offseason training plans.
The team’s third-round draft pick out of Charlotte, Highsmith was thrust into a starting role after starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree suffered an ACL injury that required surgery.
On the season, Highsmith played in 16 regular season game and made five starts. He finished with 48 tackles, five for a loss, six quarterback hits, one interception and one pass defended.
With Dupree set to become an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, Highsmith should be expected to retain his starting role in 2021.
Mike Tomlin Doesn’t Regret Punt, Will Talk to Ben Roethlisberger About Future
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin answers questions from the media following his team’s shocking defeat at the hands of the Browns in the playoffs. Tomlin explained why he decided to punt on a 4th and 1 in the 4th quarter while trailing by multiple scores. He also touched on the timeline for when he will talk to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about his future with the team.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Says He Doesn’t Regret ‘Browns Is the Browns’ Comment
PITTSBURGH — It was repeated so often in the five days between when JuJu Smith-Schuster said the phrase on Wednesday to Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field, that it nearly became the No. 1 talking point coming into the game.
“The Browns is the Browns.” Before the game, after the game and probably during the game, many of the Browns made it clear that they had taken exception to Smith-Schuster’s characterization of the team.
The Browns IS THE BROWNS!! 🌚
— Jedrick Wills Jr.®️++💕 (@JWills73) January 11, 2021
Smith-Schuster said after the game that he had no regrets about what he said.
“You know, I don’t regret what I said,” Smith-Schuster said. “I said, ‘The Browns is the Browns.’ They came out and they played a hell of a game. You know, there’s been games where we feel we lose them and today wasn’t our night and hopefully the same Browns will show up next week against the same opponent and go out and do the same thing they did tonight and have a hell of a game.”