The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fourth regular season game of 2020 Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field against the Philadelphia Eagles as they look to notch their fourth consecutive win. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with a home win against the Eagles and move to 4-0 on the season.
Need For More McSpeed – The Steelers finally utilized rookie running back Anthony McFarland Jr. in their Week 3 game against the Houston Texans and that worked out well on those seven total touches as 49 total yards were produced. The Steelers also utilized speedy wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud a little bit against the Texans as well and a few times he was on the field at the same time McFarland was. It’s time for Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to build off what they did offensively with McFarland and McCloud against the Texans. Maybe an end around to McCloud on Sunday or some razzle-dazzle with either him or McFarland can be dialed up. Either one of those two players on a wheel route could also produce a big play or homerun. At worst, McFarland needs to touch the football another seven times against the Eagles and McCloud deserves at least a touch or two. Both players have incredible speed, and it needs to be utilized.
Dig Deep, Ben – So far this season Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been great with his deep passing. Against the Texans in Week 3, he was technically 0-for-7 on his pass attempts more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. For the season, Roethlisberger is now 6-of-19 for 200 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on passes thrown more than 15 yards down the field. While a small sample size, he can’t wait until the second half of the season to get dialed in down the field. The Eagles defense hasn’t been great against deep passes in their first four games. In total they have allowed 11 of 23 deep pass attempts to be completed against them for 247 yards and a touchdown. Their secondary begs to be picked on deep whenever they utilize man coverage. In short, Roethlisberger should be able to connect for a handful of deep passes on Sunday against the Eagles defense and possibly with one going for a touchdown.
Seeing For Miles – So far, the Steelers defense has been great against opposing running backs. On Sunday at Heinz Field they’ll get another good test in the form of Eagles running back Miles Sanders, a Penn State product who can do it all. In addition to averaging 4.6 yards per carry on 51 total totes so far this season, Sanders has also registered 9 receptions for another 78 yards in four games played. He has an amazing 63% successful run rate on his 51 carries so far this season and has only been tackled for a loss three times. Shutting down Sanders on the ground early on Sunday at Heinz Field is key as quarterback Carson Wentz will once again be without his two top wide receivers, Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. The last time the Steelers played the Eagles the Philadelphia running backs combined to have over 240 yards in offense. While the Eagles offense has been turned over since that 2016 game in Philadelphia, Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson are still very much fixtures with the team.
Don’t Let The Tight End Ertz You – The Eagles leading receiver entering Sunday’s game at Heinz Field is tight end Zach Ertz. He has registered 19 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown to date. The eagles will look to get him singled up on a safety or a linebacker on Sunday and that could potentially be a mismatch. While the Steelers have only allowed opposing tight ends to catch 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown so far this season, they’ve also only played three games. The Steelers defense had issues with Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant back in Week 2 as he blistered the unit with his four receptions for 57 yards and a score. The Steelers must make a player other than Ertz and Sanders beat them on Sunday as that will be an incredibly tall task.
Full Frontal Force – Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Eagles will feature two of the top defensive fronts in the NFL through the first four weeks of the season. The eagles defensive front includes the likes of Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Malik Jackson, Fletcher Cox, and former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. That fearsome foursome gets rotational help in games from Josh Sweat, Hassan Ridgeway, Vinny Curry and Genard Avery. Those players just listed have 13.5 combines sacks already this season. That means the Steelers offensive line is sure to get an exceptionally good test on Sunday and especially right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. The Steelers defensive front that includes Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, will face a very banged up and makeshift Eagles offensive line on Sunday at Heinz Field. Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata is as green as they come while right tackle Lane Johnson is dealing with an ankle injury heading into Sunday’s game. While eagles center Jason Kelce is topnotch, their two guards should be much of a match for Heyward, Tuitt and company on Sunday. The better defensive front on Sunday will likely be on the victorious team.