The Week 3 matchup looks good on paper for the 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers, facing a Philadelphia Eagles team with an identical 2-0 record, but has met minimal challenges in the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears thus far. It looks like a game where a playoff contender could be identified and a pretender might be exposed.
The Steelers also have an offense that has averaged the seventh-most total yards and scored the fourth-most points per game — oh yeah, and they just happen to have the hottest quarterback-wide receiver pairing in the game right now. Meanwhile, the Eagles have allowed the fifth-least passing yards so far, but they’ve been able to mask a defense that is already facing their share of injury problems. It sounds like an opportunity for Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown to systematically pick the Eagles apart and light up the scoreboard.
The Eagles have a rookie quarterback making only his third career start, although his stature, athleticism and maturity has brought about comparisons from insiders and outsiders between Carson Wentz and the 12-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion on the other sideline. But rookie quarterbacks, like most volatile commodities, can be unpredictable when certain external factors change.
This is a matchup on paper that looks good for the Steelers; and it could also be terrifying. Given head coach Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger’s recent history of underperforming in regular season and playoff games that otherwise appear to be easy wins, it’s fair to understand why this kind of matchup could give anyone pause. Look no further than last season of examples of how things could go wrong.
Week 8 against Cincinnati at home last season looked good on paper, but didn’t go the Steelers’ way. One could argue the same about Week 4 at home against Baltimore, or Week 16 in Baltimore. And what about Week 4 in 2014 at home against Tampa Bay, or Week 6 of that same year in Cleveland, or Week 9 on the road against the Jets? (OK, I think you get the point.)
Those games all had a very similar set of circumstances: erratic play on defense and at the quarterback position, questionable decision-making and an underwhelming sense of falling short of what was expected. This upcoming contest is one that must not follow that script.
The Steelers were able to overcome themselves last week against Cincinnati with a defense that stifled the Bengals run game and stood tall in the red zone, a couple big plays by Sammie Coates and just enough success on third down to make plays when they were absolutely necessary. They were able to get past the inconsistency of Roethlisberger and made just enough plays to win.
It’s no secret the Steelers were considered to be a playoff contender and a prohibitive favorite to win the division this season, even with injuries and suspensions that left much in question beforehand. But can they outrun their recent history? We know they have shown the ability to win tough matchups and must-win games that could determine their playoff fate, but will Tomlin detractors be able to point to another loss in a lesser-anticipated game like this?
The Steelers may be the better team on paper, but they need to be the better team on the grass at Lincoln Financial Field tomorrow because if for no other reason than their recent history preceding it, they can’t afford to have a disappointing loss possibly affect their immediate future.