After opening the season with wins over two 2015 division champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers went on the road in week three to take on the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles. It was a disaster. The Steelers were completely dominated in every facet of the game and left as a battered football team, suffering multiple, potentially significant injuries. After winning the coin toss the Steelers took the ball and drove deep into Eagles territory. On third down Ben Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket and lofted a pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone. It hit Wheaton in the chest and went right through his hands. Welcome back.
And that might have been a highlight.
The ensuing 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked. The Eagles then drove for a field goal and never trailed.
The Steelers were out-gained 426-251 yards. Roethlisberger, who was pressured the entire game, had another subpar performance and the Steelers ground game was completely shutdown. The offense got nothing going, not even in garbage time, as the Eagles limited them to a paltry 4.3 yards/play and 4.6 yards/pass att.
The defense was equally bad. It finished with 0 sacks, 1 pass defensed and 3 quarterback hits. (the corresponding numbers for the Eagles were 4, 12 and 8.)
Down 13-3 at the half, the Steelers gave up touchdowns on the Eagles first three drives of the third quarter. Game over.
There was plenty written about rookie QB Carson Wentz before the game and we got to see why. He was excellent. Head Coach Doug Pederson and Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich put together an outstanding game plan and Wentz executed it almost flawlessly. Using a short passing game with play-action, screens and the occasional second-level pass, Wentz kept the Steelers off-balance. Combined with a running attack that was equally adept at getting the edge and creating big holes up the middle, the Eagles offense only punted once before the outcome was decided. The final score of 34-3 is fully-reflective of what took place on the field.
*As concerning as the loss was, it’s one game that counts the same as the rest. The injuries occurring during the game though may have a lasting impact. On the defensive side Ryan Shazier re-aggravated his MCL injury and was in an out of action, Robert Golden left early in the first half with a hamstring injury and is likely to miss multiple weeks, Lawrence Timmons suffered a deep cut to his shin and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches and Mike Mitchell left late with a knee injury.
Offensively Ramon Foster came into the game with an elbow injury and apparently left with a chest injury and Eli Rogers injured a toe running a crossing route. I’m sure Rogers will be out multiple games; we’ll see about Foster.
Wheaton saw action for the first time this year and Chris Hubbard was inactive as a result. Cody Wallace, Roosevelt Nix and Senquez Golson were inactive due to injury. Golson is likely to miss the first half of the season with a lisfranc injury.
Two points of primary concern: 1.) The poor play of Roethlisberger for the second consecutive week 2.) The lack of a second receiving threat. It’s too early to be overly concerned about Roethlisberger and he isn’t enduring a stretch of poor play like this, which apparently ended yesterday, but Ben needs to play better. Some of the difficulties last week can be blamed on adverse weather conditions and certainly a good portion of it this week can put attributed to the Eagles pass rush, but sometimes elite QBs need to step up when things aren’t going well. Ben didn’t Sunday.
The receiving issue is of greater concern. Wheaton is a decent #2 receiver, but he certainly didn’t look the part against the Eagles. Sammie Coates is a weapon as a deep threat, but I think his route tree consists of the WR screen and the 9 or go route, and Rogers may be lost for an extended period. The Steelers need Wheaton and Coates to step up in a big way.
*Anything? Le’Veon Bell comes back from suspension this week? He is the best back in football.
*Antonio Brown had 12 catches for 140 yards? AB was solid. He didn’t have many meaningful catches and had some trouble getting separation against a questionable secondary, but you can almost always count on him for a couple highlight reel catches and he had a few of those.
*Coates had another 40+ yard reception, which gives him four which leads the NFL.
Singling out anyone or group when it was such a bad all-around performance seems unfair, but…
*The offensive line was a disaster. They weren’t able to establish holes for the run game and they got dominated by Fletcher Cox and friends in pass protection. David DeCastro was notably poor, having possibly his worst game as a pro, getting pushed back into Roethlisberger repeatedly and once actually getting called for holding while he was getting beaten for a sack. He had another holding call that was declined when the Steelers failed to convert a fourth down and also was largely responsible for the blocked FG.
*Wheaton dropped three passes before catching a short ball late. He got benched midway through the game, but Rogers’ injury got him back out there and he played 27 snaps. He better pick up his game and fast. The offense needs him.
*The offense was bad. Across the board.
The defense had no answer for anything the Eagles did offensively. Wentz looked like Joe Montana in just his third career start. There are also two primary concerns on this side of the ball: 1.) Three weeks in and the Steelers have one sack, which wasn’t even what we consider a sack. Keith Butler has to come up with new ways to get pressure because rushing four isn’t doing the job. 2.) Tackling remains substandard and the speed of backs like Gio Bernard, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood have caused big problems. These things need to be addressed ASAP.
*There is virtually nothing to write about. I guess Sean Davis looked good tackling, James Harrison got two of the three QB hits in limited snaps and Stephon Tuitt had a couple nice tackles for loss. That’s all I got.
*Again, signaling out specifics in such a poor performance doesn’t make a ton of sense. The defense had no answer for Philly’s screens and short passing attack. Of the Eagles 301 pass yards, roughly 200 were YAC (yards after catch). A defense that was seen as being fast certainly didn’t look it on Sunday.
*On the Eagles second drive with the score 3-0, they were going to face a 3rd-and-10, before Timmons was hit with a complete unnecessary (and correctly called) late hit on Trey Burton after a 3-yard catch. On the next series of downs Wentz had a 3rd-and-12 and completed a pass for 19 yards, the last play of the first quarter. From there the Eagles went for 11, incomplete pass, 15, 11, 1, 12-yard TD pass. Hot knife through butter, game effectively over.
*Jordan Berry was superb again averaging 55 yards on three punts. Chris Boswell made a 40-yard FG and the blocked FG was not his fault.
*The Steelers tried to return a couple kickoffs that were kicked down to the goal line. Neither Coates nor Fitzgerald Toussaint did well on their three combined returns. It’s time to use Justin Gilbert to return kicks.
The Steelers got out-coached in a big way in all facets. The 31-point loss was the largest of Mike Tomlin’s tenure and it also broke a streak of 305 games where the Steelers never trailed by 30 points, the longest in NFL history.
*Down 20-3, I liked the decision to go for it on 4th down after the running into the kicker penalty. The Steelers faced a 4th-and-5 at the Eagles 33. The Eagles placed a wall of defenders at about the 29. The Steelers somewhat inexplicably ran a shallow cross to AB that went incomplete. I understand the goal of getting the ball into your best playmaker’s hands, but it didn’t seem to be the best call against that scheme. Oh, and DeCastro was called for holding on the play, so it wouldn’t have stood if they did get the first down. (Remember, this is “The Good”)
*The gameplans on both sides of the ball and the lack of in-game adjustments. That about covers it, right?
*Look, I understand the “Go down with the ship” mentality that Roethlisberger has and his wanting to be out there late in the game even though the outcome is decided, but what happened yesterday was ridiculous. I’m all for playing the starters even if there is only a minuscule chance for a comeback. But having Ben out there the last ten minutes was an incredibly dumb decision. The risk-reward ratio was 100/0. That is on Tomlin. And I don’t care how he spins it.
Big Officiating Calls:
*Some questionable calls, but no impact on the outcome.
Up Next: The Steelers return home Sunday to take on the (2-1) Kansas City Chiefs who forced eight turnovers, returning two for scores, in a 24-3 win over the New York Jets. The Kickoff for the nationally-televised game at Heinz Field is scheduled for 8:30 pm EST.
Reminder: You can hear me on the postgame show with Charlie Batch across the Steelers Football Network (WDVE, ESPN, steelers.com or the Steelers Gameday app) after every Steelers game and on weekdays on ESPN Pittsburgh 970 and 106.3 FM from 4-7 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.