The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and it will be their second road of the 2016 regular season. Below are seven things that I believe the team will need to do in order to come away with another road win and a 3-0 record.
Make Carson wince – In his first two NFL starts, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has handled the blitz from opposing defenses extremely well. With that said, the only way the Steelers defense is likely to get pressure on the rookie is to send numbers at him throughout the game as their three and four-man pass rush certainly hasn’t been getting the job done so far in the first two weeks. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler will need to pick his shots on Sunday in Philadelphia when it comes to sending numbers and when given the opportunity, the defense needs to get quality shots on Wentz when and if he decides to leave the pocket like he did on Monday night in the Eagles win over the Chicago Bears.
Eagles RBs can’t fly for excessive YAC – While the Steelers defense did a great job of controlling the yards after the catch on passes completed to wide receivers and tight ends last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, they did allow their running backs to get up the field after catches out of the backfield in that game. Sunday against the Eagles, the defense will face two established running backs in Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles and both can wreak havoc after the catch. Don’t think that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson didn’t take notice of what happened last Sunday at Heinz Field when it comes to how the Steelers weren’t able to control the Bengals running back screen game.
No wild 9s – The Eagles defense will present a unique challenge for the Steelers offense on Sunday in the way that they play their defensive ends. We’ll see Eagles defensive ends Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry line up extra-wide on Sunday in this game as 9-technique defenders and that will be tough for Steelers tackles Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva to defend. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley would be wise to provide his tackles some help on Sunday when it comes to controlling the Eagles outside pass rush by keeping a tight end in on occasions or using veteran running back DeAngelo Williams as a chipper on the edge.
Pick on the rookie – With Eagles cornerback Leodis McKelvin set to miss Sunday’s game, rookie cornerback Jalen Mills figures to log quite a bit of playing time on the outside opposite veteran cornerback Nolan Carroll. Because of this, and knowing that the Steelers offense is likely to use a lot of 11 personnel on offense, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should be looking to take advantage of Mills in this game early and often. If the Steelers can get wide receiver Antonio Brown matched up on Mills, look for Roethlisberger to exploit it.
Pound the middle – In their first two games the Eagles defense has shown that they can be vulnerable to the run and especially right up the middle and off left guard. While they have only faced 5 total runs right up the middle so far this season, the Eagles defense has allowed 10.4 yards per carry. The Steelers offense needs to find out early in this game how Eagles defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan can handle Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster with Williams running behind them.
Scream for screens – The Steelers offense loves to run RPOs (run pass options) and included in those can be quick screens to wide receivers. These kind of passes are great run-game alternatives as they are designed to get the football in the hands of play-makers out in space on the edge. The Eagles defensive backs must learn early in Sunday’s game that they have to respect these quick screens which could ultimately set them up to be beat deep as the game wears on.
Take away the rookie’s short rhythm early – One would expect Wentz to open the game against the Steelers with a lot of high percentage short throws in an effort to settle him into his third NFL start. We saw this on Monday night against the Bears and especially during the Eagles opening drive. Butler would be wise to try and take away these short throws early in the game and that might include the defense playing some cover-2 with the outside cornerbacks playing up near the line of scrimmage. If Wentz is going to beat the Steelers defense on Sunday, it should include him having to make several throws in the middle of the field more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. He’s yet to throw an interception this season and odds are good that if he throws a few on Sunday against the Steelers they will come via passes thrown between the numbers.