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Steelers Vs. Eagles Week 8 Pregame Stats Outlook

The struggling 2-5 Pittsburgh Steelers are set to face the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles coming off a bye week and are a well-rounded team that present many challenges across the board. First off, they play and execute a smart brand of football, taking care of the football and capitalizing when the opposition makes a mistake. Let’s start with a visual to highlight this, with the NFL’s turnover stats to date:

As we can see, Philadelphia stands alone at the top right as far and away the best team in the NFL in this regard. They are first in the NFL with only two turnovers and tied for first with the Ravens with 14 takeaways on defense, which is good for an excellent +12 differential that is the best in the league and six points higher than any other team! In comparison, Pittsburgh is well below the mean in turnovers as expected (12) and are above average in takeaways with 10, for a -2 turnover differential that is 14 less than Philadelphia. The four missed interception opportunities in the last game really stung in an otherwise strong performance, but if the data for the season holds true those opportunities won’t be aplenty against quarterback Jalen Hurts who has taken care of the football, and quarterback Kenny Pickett really needing to show some strides with ball security coming off his three interception game against this opportunistic Eagles defense.

Let’s look at the quarterbacks, starting with the passing leaders through week seven:

Here we can see Hurts is above the mean with 1,514 yards (15th), and only one of two quarterbacks to achieve this with a below the mean number of attempts (184). He also has 123 completions for a respectable 66.8 completion percentage (11th). Thanks to a quality team around him, he has not had to do too much and provided quality over quantity, a gold standard blueprint to what the Steelers would like to become. This includes a strong run game that he is a key contributor to, as well as the receivers creating on his 10th lowest intended air yards, providing 8.2 yards per attempt that ranks fourth in the NFL. Hurts executes the run/pass option game extremely well and run it at the second highest rate in the NFL, so hopefully seeing it a lot against Miami last week was good practice for the Steelers defense. Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks ironically land nearly identical on the graph, with Pickett now 87/127 (68.5%, 5th in NFL) for 771 yards. Pickett actually has a higher 7.5 intended air yards number than Hurts, which is a bit surprising considering my passing locations charting, but unsurprisingly only 6.1 yards per attempt that ranks 34th out of 36 quarterbacks on the graph.

Let’s add context with passer ratings and touchdown/interception ratios for the 2022 season so far:

This visual really highlights the quality over quantity point, and while Pickett has shown some encouraging things in his rookie campaign to date, his lows are really costing this team. Pickett bottoms both of the very important data points, starting with his low two touchdowns (T-2nd fewest) and seven interceptions (third most), which give him the worst TD/INT ratio of -5, along with a passer rating of 66.75 that is over four points lower than the rest of the NFL. Hurts lands above the mean in both data points, with his 98.41 passer rating that is seventh best in the NFL, along with six touchdowns and 2 interceptions for a +4 ratio. While there are more elite ratios from quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen for example, the running game has really alleviated the need to score through the air.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at quarterback rushing yards leaders, including the primary running backs for the matchup:

Here we can see Eagles running back Miles Sanders comfortably leads the outlook in rushing yards. Hurts ranks fourth among quarterbacks through week seven and is near Steelers running back Najee Harris in yardage. This is very impressive considering he has 23 fewer attempts, along with his team leading six touchdowns, which matches his total through the air and is twice as many as any other quarterback! Pittsburgh’s defense will definitely need to be ready for the multi-faceted skillset he provides, considering his 15 missed tackles forced, ten double digit runs, including an explosive 26-yard touchdown. Let’s compare these impressive stats to Sanders and Harris: each forcing 18 missed tackles, Sanders with 13 runs of 10+ and three explosives, while Harris has eight missed tackles forced and no explosive runs, a feat Pittsburgh has yet to accomplish on the ground.

Let’s zoom in further on the running backs alone, with rushing yard leaders through week seven:

Here we can see Sanders is having a great season, with his 485 yards we saw earlier which ranks seventh at the position, on the eight most attempts (105), for a very healthy 4.6 average that is impressive given his volume, along with four touchdowns. In comparison, Harris is very similar in attempts with 100 (10th) with one touchdown, but he is the only player below the mean in yardage with that many attempts (329, 28th in the league), and at 3.3 yards per carry, has the second lowest average out of the 47 running backs on the graph. He also has over 150 yards less than Sanders, giving even more context to the Eagles stellar run game.

Harris leads the outlook as a receiver with 22 targets and 18 receptions (81.8 catch percentage) for 86 yards (4.8 yards per reception) and two touchdowns, the only player at the position to cross the goal line through the air. Sanders has 13 targets and 11 receptions (84.6 catch percentage) for 42 yards, for a 3.8 average that’s a full yard less than Harris. Steelers running back Jaylen Warren has the third most rush yards (103) in the outlook to date on 23 attempts (4.5 average) and is also third in targets (11) with 9 receptions (81.8 catch percentage) for 63 yards, an outlook high in yards per reception (seven), YAC per reception (7.4), and six forced missed tackles. Eagles running back Kenneth Gainwell matches Warrens’ 23 rush attempts with a slightly lower 97 yards (4.2 average), and a sneaky two touchdowns. Gainwell has eight targets, but only four catches (50% catch rate) for 21 yards (5.3 per reception). So, one of the few aspects in the matchup that the data leans in Pittsburgh’s favor is the usage of running backs through the air.

Speaking of which, let’s move to the wide receivers looking at receiving stat leaders for the 2022 season thus far:

Here we see the Eagles lead the outlook with their two primary receivers in yardage, while ranking second and fourth in targets respectively. Wide receiver A.J. Brown is having a fantastic first season with the Eagles, including six explosive receptions on the season, including a go route in single coverage for a nice catch, dragging the defender for another ten+ yards to nearly get it in the end zone. This highlights how tough he is to bring down, here’s to hoping that Pittsburgh’s defense can have a strong tackling game and looking for gang tackling to hopefully avoid plays where Brown can create after the catch. Brown ranks eighth in the league in yards (503) on 53 targets (T-20th) and 33 receptions (T-18th). One of the players that ties his catch total is fellow wide receiver DeVonta Smith, on only 43 targets for an impressive 76.7 catch percentage that ranks eighth out of 88 players on the graph. He has five explosive receptions, highlighted by and incredible 45-yard catch on the sideline as the defender was pushing him out of bounds. They have two touchdowns each and play mostly out wide in the high 70% range, so they move around a more than Pittsburgh’s rigid receiver alignments.

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson has the most targets in the outlook by far (67) which is fourth most in the NFL but just above the mean with only 337 yards on his 38 receptions for a lower NFL rank at tenth, for the lowest 56.7 catch percentage in the outlook (56.7, 20% lower than Smith!). He is also mind-bogglingly yet to score a touchdown. Fellow wide receiver George Pickens has actually eclipsed Johnson by a yard (338) on 27 fewer targets (40, and the least in the outlook) which lands him near the mean in both data points across the league. Considering the poor connection with Johnson of late (team low 56.7 catch percentage), it will be interesting to see if Pickens usage increases moving forward. Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool has the third most targets in the outlook (44) with 28 catches for 272 yards, which is the least in the matchup.

Next let’s look at the receiver’s cushion (distance in yards between the receiver and nearest defender at the snap) and separation (distance in yards between the receiver and nearest defender at the time of catch of incompletion) through week seven:

Right away we can see Smith separates himself from the pack (pun intended), with the NFL’s 17th rank in this regard (3.32), but he benefits from teams giving him the third most cushion on the season at 7.72 yards. This will seemingly hold true in the matchup on Sunday, considering Pittsburgh gives cushion to receivers quite a bit as well. We also get context to the difference in how Philadelphia’s receivers created their yards, with Brown and the Steelers landing on the bottom right with less cushion (tougher start to the possession) and lacking separation comparatively to Smith and the NFL. Pickens has been given the fifth least cushion, Johnson 10th least, and Claypool 13th, while Brown has seen the 21st least amount of cushion. Pickens surprisingly has the most separation of this group at 2.72, barely edging out Claypool, with Johnson disappointingly fourth in the outlook at 2.67 and Pittsburgh’s route combinations really hindering his talent and ability that could aid this offense a great deal.

Let’s illustrate this point further, looking at YAC along with percent of teams intended air yards:

While the Steelers have improved ever so slightly in the YAC department, Johnson has the second lowest YAC mark of 1.25 in the NFL, with the bright side being that he is finally above a yard on average. One positive play in this regard last game was on a screen with eight YAC. Another came on a drag late in the game where the defense was playing off given the situation, forcing a missed tackle for 12 YAC to get out of bounds. Claypool also improved slightly in YAC as well, now with a 3.26 number and noting his opportunities coming on crossing routes, and really hope Pittsburgh increases these types of routes to keep their playmakers on the move at the catch point to maximize Pickett’s high completion rate on short targets.

Philadelphia’s wide receivers are above the mean in both data points. Brown leads the NFL in TAY at 44.42% and has the best YAC number (7.09) of players with at least 30% TAY, which also ranks tenth overall in the league! It will be interesting to see who gets the primary coverage responsibility on Brown, considering cornerback Levi Wallace was ruled out for the game, but encouragingly Ahkello Witherspoon appears to be set to return to the lineup after practicing in full all week, along with the remainder of the primary players in the position room being healthy. Smith is second in the outlook, which highlights the high usage of the two, with a 34.16% TAY that ranks 18th in the NFL, along with 4.92 in YAC that is above league average. Johnson’s 34.16% TAY slides in just below Smith at 19th as a volume player, with Pickens at 25.17% thanks to his 13.6 intended air yards that ranks 14th in the NFL, and Claypool the only wide receiver below the mean in both data points on 19.5% TAY.

Now for the tight ends, and here are the receiving yards leaders for the position:

Right away we can see Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert presents another huge challenge for Pittsburgh’s defense, with the fourth most yards out of 29 players at the position on 35 targets (13th) and 26 receptions (T-11th). Similar to Smith, he has also provided good separation (4.02) with the seventh rank at the position, which is better than all three Steelers wide receivers. Goedert also leads all receivers in the outlook with seven explosive plays, with a particular play the Eagles have run on multiple occasions, aligning two tight ends to one side with him on the inside and straining the defense vertically with both and get free up the seam. Expecting to see this play and hope Pittsburgh is ready for it.

Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth is now seventh at the position in yardage, a tight race following Goedert’s mark. He has 41 targets on the season (seventh) and 28 receptions (T-eighth). Freiermuth is coming off a strong game where he caught eight of his nine targets, tying his highest targeted game, which is the third time on the season. Here’s to hoping there’s more of that to come, along with hopefully adding more of the middle of the field plays the team desperately needs, like the great throw and catch late last week that also went for an explosive play.

Goedert is also utilized in the screen and short game, and is very successful after the catch, and here’s how the players fare in this facet at the position:

WOWZA. Goedert “breaks” the graph with a stellar 11.21 YAC number which is over four yards more than any other tight end, and also ranks first when including the wide receivers as well! He also pairs this with the second rank in YAE, and the Steelers linebackers (and defense as a whole) better be ready to tackle, considering he is another Eagle that does not go down easy, along with Brown. In comparison, Freiermuth has ran mostly short stop routes limiting his four YAC average that is well below the mean (17th), which is a similar issue to Pittsburgh’s wide receivers but has the best average amongst this group. He is slightly above average in Next Gen Stats YAE, currently with the ninth rank.

The offensive lines are always key to any matchup, and let’s see how the two teams have fared thus far with PFF grades:

Right away we see the Eagles top the PFF chart with two well rounded players at the extreme top right of the graph. Starting in the middle with center Jason Kelce, he has the best run block grade (73) in the outlook and also received the second rank in ESPN’s run block win rate at the position. He also has the second-best pass block grade (83.7) in the matchup which also ranks ninth out of all offensive lineman in the NFL with at least 80 snaps, along with the same rank in ESPN’s pass block win rates for centers. Philadelphia right tackle Lane Johnson is also having a great year, particularly as a pass blocker with an 86.1 PFF grade that leads the outlook and also ranks fourth out of all offensive lineman, along with the fourth rank in ESPN’s pass block win rates for tackles. Eagles left guard Landon Dickerson is third on the team and fourth in the outlook with a 77.3 pass block grade, and below the mean 62 run block grade (more on Dickerson in a bit). The three players above have only allowed three pressures each on the season, with no sacks, and are key contributors to their success on offense.

Right guard is Isaac Seumalo, who is the fourth starter for the Eagles with a 70+ pass block grade (ironically right at 70) along with a below the mean 63.3 run block grade. Hopefully Pittsburgh’s interior d-line can win matchups here, with favorable ones being hard to find against this strong unit. Philadelphia left tackle Jordan Mailata has the third ranked run block grade in the outlook (67.3) and second in ESPN’s run block win rate as a tackle but is well below the mean as a pass blocker (64.5) allowing a team high nine pressures and tied for an outlook high two sacks. Really hoping Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith can exploit this matchup for a big game this week. One of the biggest factors for the black and gold is T.J. Watt nearing his return, and what a timely and needed presence that would be and, knock-on wood, the reigning defensive player of the year can make his return as early as Sunday afternoon.

No Steelers offensive lineman is above the mean in both data points for PFF or in ESPN’s top ten blocking rates. Guard James Daniels now has an 80.9 pass block grade that still ranks 17th across the league, along with a below the mean 62.7 run block grade. Fellow guard Kevin Dotson showed massive improvements last game, and here’s to hoping that continues against a great Eagles d-line. He has a 69 pass block grade along with a 64 as a run blocker, which straddles the mean in both data points for the outlook. Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor leads the team with a 66.5 run block grade, highlighting the struggles for Pittsburgh on the ground, along with a 65.9 pass block grade that has taken a dive in recent weeks with a matchup high 15 pressures allowed and a sack. Pittsburgh center Mason Cole is the final starter in the matchup with an above the mean 65.7 run block grade, but also has the lowest pass block grade of 60, allowing 11 pressures and a sack. Left tackle Dan Moore is off by his lonesome on the bottom left, the only starter in the outlook below the mean in both data points, with a 63 pass block grade and a 51.6 as a run blocker, as well as the second most pressures allowed in the matchup (12), tied for the most QB hits (three) and sacks (two) allowed.

While I could have provided many different charts for the Eagles strong o-line ranks in ESPN’s win rate as I highlighted earlier, one player in particular stood out:

 

Impressively, Dickerson ranks first as both a pass and run blocker, suggesting his PFF grade may be a bit low, particularly as a run blocker. These results will likely ruffle some feathers with him in an Eagles uniform (pun intended), considering many Steelers fans were banging the table for him to be drafted in 2021 when Harris and Freiermuth were the selections. Hindsight is always 20/20, and who knows if he would have had the same level of success in the black and gold and at the center position, but safe to say better than Kedrick Green who isn’t even dressing anymore. Back from hypothetical land, with one thing being certain, this entire Philadelphia offense is stacked top to bottom with no glaring holes at any position.

As I begin to transition to the defense, I first wanted to provide a points view for the NFL through week seven on both sides of the ball:

Yet another facet of the game Philadelphia is strong in, and one of the most important in the article considering the ultimate goal of controlling the scoreboard. They have allowed the third fewest points on defense (105) along with scoring the 11th most on offense (161) which results in a +56 points differential that is second best in the NFL. Pittsburgh on the other hand is one of the few teams below the mean on both sides of the ball, allowing 162 points on defense (23rd), and have really struggled to score on the offense with only 107 points which ranks 29th.  This results in the NFL’s worst points differential of -55, which is seven points lower than any other team and unfathomably 111 points away from the Eagles mark (yikes). Pairing this with another crucial singular stat in Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt, Philadelphia holds the top rank on defense and third rank on offense for the second-best differential in the NFL, while the Steelers have the 20th rank on defense, but worst ranked offense and differential to date. Speaking of scoring points, kicker Chris Boswell appeared suddenly on the Friday injury report, and is questionable for Sunday afternoon. Hopefully he can go, and if not let’s hope there is not a drop off for this Steelers team that is struggling to score already.

One last team element that is critically telling for the matchup, explosive plays, especially when zeroing in on the defensive side of the ball:

The Eagles defense have allowed the fewest explosive plays on defense, only 13 which is a stellar number. Pittsburgh is at the other extreme, with the most explosive plays allowed, a whopping 36 through week seven. That’s nearly triples Philadelphia’s number and averages to 5.14 a game. Not good Bob. In comparison the Eagles per game average currently sits at 1.9. Considering the need for Pittsburgh’s offense to improve their explosive play success rate, it seems highly unlikely this week with this in mind, along with all the other data throughout the article.

Let’s look at the defenses from a player perspective to close. Steelers linebacker Myles Jack leads the team with 68 combined tackles which ranks eighth in the NFL, along with two pass deflections, two tackles for loss, and a quarterback hit. Linebacker Devin Bush is now second on the team with 42 combined tackles, a pass defense, tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leads the team in interceptions with three, one for a touchdown, five passes defensed, and a quarterback hit. Cornerback Cam Sutton has the team lead with six passes defensed, two interceptions, and a tackle for loss. Highsmith still leads the team with 6.5 sacks which ranks fourth in the NFL, also leading the team with nine quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, along with a pass defensed. Defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi is now second on the team with seven quarterback hits, two tackles for a loss, and a half sack but did not practice all week and was ruled out for the game. Fellow lineman Cameron Heyward will need to step up. He is second on the team with two sacks, five quarterback hits, four tackles for loss, a pass defensed, forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Here’s to hoping for a big day from this group against the Eagles potent offense.

Linebacker T.J. Edwards leads the Eagles with 55 combined tackles, including four tackles for loss, with four quarterback hits, two sacks, and three passes defensed. Fellow linebacker Kyzir White has 37 combined tackles, four pass deflections, and a tackle for loss. Safety Marcus Epps has 33 combined tackles, three passes defensed, and two tackles for loss. Fellow safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is tied for the team lead in interceptions (three) which is currently second most in the league along with four pass deflections, 31 combined tackles, and two tackles for loss. Cornerback Darius Slay is the other player with three interceptions along with seven passes defensed. Fellow cornerback James Bradberry has the team lead with nine passes defensed (tied for third in the NFL on one less game) and two interceptions- returning one for them for a touchdown. Linebacker Haason Reddick leads the team with 4.5 sacks, along with six quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a pass defensed. Edge rusher Josh Sweat leads the team with eight quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and also ranked fourth in ESPN’s pass rush win rate at the position. Edge rusher Brandon Graham (limited on Friday’s injury report) has seven quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. The Eagles injury report was about as clean as you’ll ever see this time of year, with no one having a game designation, and another mountainous factor tipping in Philadelphia’s favor. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox has seven quarterback hits and three sacks as well, along with a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and a tackle for loss. The team acquired edge rusher Robert Quinn from the Bears this week via trade, adding more weaponry to their arsenal. He has three quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and a sack for Chicago, and it will be interesting to see how he fares. So, lots of playmaking to say the least, stout across the board and likely licking their chops against Pickett and the Steelers offense looking to improve in so many areas.

How do you see the game playing out on Sunday night? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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