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Third Down Holds Key To Sunday’s Victor

Mentioned this in the Philadelphia Eagles’ scouting report earlier but it was a number sandwiched inbetween a lot of info and something you may have glossed over with your morning coffee and TPS reports.

It’s a fairly obvious bit of information, a key to any game, and as the first pair of weeks have illustrated, huge reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated.

If the Steelers can win defensively on third down, they’ll beat the Eagles.

In their two victories, the Eagles are only 8/30 on third down, fourth worst in the league. The teams behind them, combined, are 2-6. And yet the Eagles sit here undefeated despite this glaring deficiency.

In manageable situations, 3rd and 5 and closer, the Eagles are 41%, still near the bottom of the league. In anything beyond five yards, they drop to 16.7%, landing in a similar overall spot.

Compare that with the Steelers’ defense:

3rd and 5 or closer: 55.6% offensive conversion rate (T-17th)
3rd and 6+: 11.8% offensive conversion rate (T-2nd best)

You can see how the Steelers win. Get in 3rd and 6 or farther and you better get the punt team ready. Against the Chicago Bears last week, the Eagles were 2/11 from 6+ yards out.

On all third downs, Carson Wentz looks like a rookie. He’s completed just 9 of 19 passes (47.2%) and been sacked three times.

This all goes back to a longstanding Dick LeBeau, and now Keith Butler, philosophy. Stop the run, win on first down, and put opposing offenses behind the sticks. Limit their playbook, get them uncomfortable, and make the quarterback take risks, or hold onto the football long enough to be forced into negative plays.

If there is a┬ákryptonite to an Eagles unit that has played well, a fault in the Death Star, it’s this. And you’d think their poor third down offense, if it continues, would normalize their offensive output. Which should mean you’ll be reading about the Steelers going 3-0 Monday morning with your paper and coffee.

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