The in-State rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steeles and Philadelphia Eagles will be renewed Sunday. Both teams currently sit atop their respective divisions despite a 1-2-1 record for the Eagles.
Conversely, the Steelers right now sit at 3-0 on the season and are looking to go 4-0 for just the fourth time in franchise history. Here are 5 keys to the game that may just determine if they are able to do just that:
1.) A Long Day at the Office for Carson Wentz
Jordan Mailata is going to be starting at left tackle for an injured Jason Peters. The Eagles right tackle, Lane Johnson, is working his way back from an ankle injury. Their center, Jason Kelce, is also working his way back from a hip injury.
Kelce and Johnson are expected to play Sunday, but how healthy they truly are is yet to be seen. This should be a good opportunity for the Steelers outside linebackers to go to work. TJ Watt and Bud Dupree have become one of the most dangerous pass-rush duos in the NFL. Dupree lines up against a player who many didn’t think would make the Eagles roster this year in Mailata. Watt will get a favorable match-up against a possibly hobbled Lane Johnson.
This could spell trouble for the Eagles and the Steelers will be in a good spot Sunday if they can get to Carson Wentz early and often.
2.) Keep Ben Clean
“I never seen anything like this, to have so much talent on one defensive line, where we can just keep rotating and not drop a beat,” said former-Steelers Javon Hargrave to NBC Sports, who is in his first year with the Eagles. “Having so many guys to come in and contribute. It is really amazing. I am just glad to be a part of it.”
The strength of the Eagles so far this season has been their defensive line. Philadelphia runs a 4-3 defense and they run a rotation of defensive tackles and defensive ends.
Their defensive tackles include Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Hargrave. They have combined for 3 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hits so far this season. At defensive end, the Eagles have seen even more production. Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, Genard Avery, and Vinny Curry have combined for 10 and a half sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 23 quarterback hits through the first four games.
The Pittsburgh offensive line will have their hands full keeping the Eagles defensive line away from Ben Roethlisberger. Their ability to protect Ben may be the difference in this game.
Last week the Eagles defense wreaked havoc on the 49ers in their upset victory. It will be up to the Steelers offensive line to keep that from happening again this week in Pittsburgh.
3.) Smart Offensive Play-Calling
The Eagles defensive line is good, but they don’t just rush the passer. They have also done a great job of stopping the run. We will have to wait and see whether or not the Steelers will be able to run the ball against them in week 5. If they cannot it will be up to Randy Fichtner to call a good offensive game.
If the Eagles are stuffing the run the Steelers must avoid running the ball on first and second downs consistently. I’m not saying don’t run the ball at all, but run-run-pass is not going to work well against the Eagles defensive front. In fact, it could end in a lot of long third downs and put Roethlisberger under undue pressure from the Eagles pass rushers.
A short passing game that includes the backs out of the backfield may be the better gameplan this week. The Steelers also may want to test the Eagles on the edges. Jet sweeps and running back tosses to speedsters like Diontae Johnson and Anthony McFarland may be more advantageous this week than running between the tackles.
4.) The Big Play
We all know that the Steelers like to take their shots downfield. The Eagles also get one of their deep threats back this week, DeSean Jackson. Don’t be surprised to see Roethlisberger and Wentz air it out a couple of times Sunday.
If they can connect on a big play it could make all the difference in terms of the final score.
5.) Take Care of the Football
This is always a major key to winning any game in any sport. Just look at the Thursday Night game between the Buccaneers and Bears. Tampa Bay was playing extremely well early but gave up a touchdown near the end of the first half, then fumbled and went into halftime down 14-13.
Turnovers often play a big role in NFL games and don’t be surprised to see a momentum-shifting play this week given the defenses that will be on the field. So far this season the Steelers have 3 turnovers to the Eagles 9.
The Steelers will need to take care of the football and make sure they don’t give the Eagles anything easy on Sunday. Pittsburgh’s defense should also be looking to make some splash plays off of an offense that has been susceptible to turning it over so far in 2020.