The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their eighth game of the 2022 regular season on the road Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles, and they’ll enter that contest listed as a big underdog once again. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do on the road on Sunday afternoon to finally come away with their third win of the 2022 season.
Stop The R In RPO – The Eagles run a lot of RPOs on offense and the run portion of that will be a challenged to stop and especially with quarterback Jalen Hurts running the show. Hurts’ mobility adds another layer to the RPO, and it essentially slows down any unblocked end of the line defenders they might face. The Eagles put a lot of window dressing on their RPOs as well in the form of various motions, late running back position switches and pulling offensive linemen. On top of that, the Eagles offensive line is easily one of the best in the NFL this season. The Steelers defense must sellout to stop the Eagles’ running game right out the chute and force Hurts to play behind the chains as often as possible. If their running game is not stymied early, it will open the Eagles RPO playbook even more.
Catch The Damn Ball – The Steelers defense had a chance to intercept four passes in their Week 7 Sunday night game and they came away with none of them. Even intercepting one of them might have been enough to change the outcome of that contest. The Eagles only have two turnovers all season and both were interceptions thrown by Hurts. A few other of his throws in the Eagles first six games could have been picked off as well, but obviously weren’t. Hurts is sure to make a few bad decisions or off target throws on Sunday against the Steelers and thus the defensive players better catch every one of them that is in reach. There’s no way the Steelers can win on Sunday without a few turnovers.
Under 100 YAC – The Eagles are great at gaining yards after the catch. In their first six games they have averaged nearly 150 yards after the catch a contest. To give more context to that, they are averaging over 7 yards gained after a catch this season. That is an incredible number. Through seven games played, the Steelers’ defense is giving up a little more than 5.5 yards after each catch and that number is obviously a bit high. It really needs to be under 4.0 on Sunday and if the unit can do that, it hopefully will translate to under 100 YAC for the game. Severely limiting the hidden yardage on Sunday against a team like the Eagles, which doesn’t have a habit of pushing the football deep down the field successful, could pay dividends in the form of keeping the score down.
Pickless Pickett – Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has had a few bright spots so far since he’s been running the offense, but he’s also had his share of forgettable moments as well. Pickett enters Sunday with seven interceptions on his 127 total pass attempts and two of those came late in the Week 7 game that the team had a legitimate chance to win in the final 3:06 of the contest. The Eagles enter Sunday with +12 differential and nine of their 14 total takeaways have been interceptions. It’s hard to imagine the Steelers pulling off a major upset on Sunday if Pickett throws even one interception. The Steelers’ offense isn’t explosive, and it’s not designed to drive long fields for scores. In short, Pickett will need to be damn near perfect on Sunday for the Steelers to even hit the 20-point mark so he absolutely must protect the football.
Need Special Play – Outside of a couple nice returns by wide receiver Steven Sims and a blocked extra point by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers’ special teams units haven’t produced much of anything this season and especially when it comes to turnovers. The Steelers offense will need quite a bit of help on Sunday if the team is going to produce an upset and this is where special teams can make a substantial impact. A forced turnover on a punt or kickoff, or even a blocked punt, could wind up playing a huge part in Sunday’s game and especially if the Steelers’ defense can manage to keep the Eagles under 21 points. The Steelers have some demons on special teams in wide receiver Miles Boykin, fullback Derek Watt and safety Miles Killebrew and it’s time we see the horns on one or two of them at Lincoln Financial Field. Oh, and another nice return or two by Sims wouldn’t hurt things as well. Football is a three-phase game and so the Steelers’ third phase really needs show their presence on the road Sunday.