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.
Steelers Know ‘Too Much Splash’ Allowed vs. Titans Cause for Concern
The Steelers are certainly happy with the 6-0 record that they brought back with them from Tennessee on Sunday, but the way the victory happened left an unpleasant taste in the mouth of the victorious Black and Gold.
After racing out to a 27-7 lead, the Steelers yielded points on three of the next four Tennessee possessions, turned the ball over twice, had to sweat a last-minute field goal attempt and were fortunate that Stephen Gostkowski’s effort slipped wide right, securing Pittsburgh the win.
The first half of the game was the way the Steelers want to play football, with a methodical, patient offense that dominated the time of possession and a defense that limited star Titans running back Derrick Henry and got off the field on third down.
But what happened in the second half is what is going to stick with them.
“There was too much splash,” linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We have goals so high for ourselves because we know what we can do. We feel like we can be a truly special defense. That’s why no one’s really satisfied after today. We need to do a lot better job, especially in the second half. It starts with the run. Even though we did a good job in the first half, you’ve got to roll it over into the second half.”
As usual, defensive captain Cam Heyward summed up the mood.
“We’re 6-0. We won the game. Nothing’s guaranteed. It’s a good win,” Heyward said. “But there’s a lot we’ve got to improve on going forward. We were able to answer the challenge in some cases, but we’ve got bigger challenges ahead going forward. …
“There’s a lot of meat on that bone as Coach likes to say. I’m fine saying that. I believe in the guys that we’ve got. I’m confident that we can do more. I look forward to answering the call next week.”
Not that the Tennessee Titans aren’t a quality opponent — they were 5-0 coming in to Sunday’s game — but the Steelers know that as the season goes on and the games get critical, the mistakes they made in the second half against the Titans can be enough to end a team’s season.
“We gave up a big play for a touchdown, we turned the ball over. You do those things against good people, they’re going to get back into the game 100 percent of the time,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Thankfully, our guys didn’t blink and they were able to hold it together and make enough plays to secure victory.”
But they’re also thankful to be working on correcting those errors with a 6-0 record, alone in first place in the AFC North.
“It’s so important to get out of these games with a win, no matter how awesome or how ugly they look,” Watt said. “The offense did a phenomenal job today, and the defense, we’ve got to do a better job in the second half. … I’m not satisfied at all.”
From the Steelers Locker Room: Johnson, Smith-Schuster on Setting the Tone
Steelers wide receivers Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster speak with the media, including Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, via Zoom after the Steelers’ 27-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.
Johnson and Smith-Schuster talked about the Steelers’ offense setting the tone for the game with its successful first drive and how the team took what it was given against the Tennessee zone defense.
Steelers’ Robert Spillane Makes Impact Filling in for Devin Bush at ILB
The Steelers were faced with a double test on Sunday in their first game to be played without starting inside linebacker Devin Bush.
So far, so good.
Bush was placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss the remainder of the 2020 season after suffering an ACL injury that required surgery in the Steelers’ Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns.
His replacement, third-year pro Robert Spillane, performed admirably against tough competition. The Tennessee Titans run the ball with All-Pro back Derrick Henry better than almost anyone in the country and the also use a pair of talented tight ends and play-action passes to put pressure on defenses.
But the inexperienced Spillane, making his first career start after playing just 39 career snaps on defense coming into the game, proved to be mostly up to the task in Pittsburgh’s 27-24 victory.
“It’s very tough to fill in that middle linebacker position, especially when you have a player as talented as Devin is,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We truly believe in the next-man-up mentality and I feel like Rob Spillane did a great job.”
The Steelers also made some other changes, moving Bud Dupree around the defense and also some modifications to their sub packages in order to replicate the three-down effort that Bush usually brings.
“We knew it was going to take the whole team to provide depth for Devin,” Spillane said. “We knew it was going to be 11 on defense, offense and special teams to make up for his absence.”
Spillane’s biggest impact — literally — came in the second half at the Steelers’ goal line, when he plugged a gap on a running play and collided with Henry at full speed.
Robert Spillane, I SALUTE you. If people didn't know who you were before this play, they will after this. I promise you, you will see this play ALL WEEK! pic.twitter.com/koZzfUsvFo
— Charlie Batch (@CharlieBatch16) October 25, 2020
“They’re on the 1-yard line,” Spillane said. “They’ve got a 250-pound running back. There’s no going slow into the hole. I took all my force with me and TJ was there to help, as well.”
Spillane briefly left the game after the big hit and the Titans wound up scoring later on that drive after a defensive penalty on Minkah Fitzpatrick, but on the whole, there defense did a better job of limiting Henry and company than most.
He finished the afternoon with 75 yards on 20 carries, which is the second-lowest rushing total for for the big back over his last 10 games.
On the whole, the Steelers weren’t completely satisfied with their performance defensively, especially in the second half but Spillane’s fill-in work did the trick.