Eagles vs. Steelers Game Predictions: Three-And-Out
The Philadelphia Eagles host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Week 3 game on Sunday, Sept. 25. Here’s how we expect it to play out:
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
BLG: Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox.
I’m going to cheat here and pick two players: one from each side of the ball.
First up is the elephant in the room. It’s no secret that Kelce has really struggled so far this season. For what it’s worth, he’s the worst graded starting center by Pro Football Focus through two games.
As Josh pointed out, the tape isn’t pretty. Kelce has routinely failed to get sufficient push as a run blocker and he’s struggled in pass protection as well. Kelce has always seemed to struggle with bigger defensive linemen, so dealing with Danny Shelton (6-2, 335) and Eddie Goldman (6-4, 320) wasn’t easy for him. Steelers rookie nose tackle Javon Hargrave (6-2, 305) doesn’t have the same kind of size as those guys. Rotational backup Daniel McCullers (6-7, 352) is a different story, however.
As Frank Reich pointed out, the Eagles need to do a better job of running the ball in order to not face so many third-and-long situations. In order to do that, the run game needs to be better. An improved Kelce could make for an improved Eagles offense.
Cox is the pick on defense because the Steelers have a very good offense that’s going to be hard for the Eagles to stop. It’s not like Cox has played poorly to this point; Josh pointed out how he’s been better than his numbers indicate. Still, the Eagles need their $100 million man to step up and have a dominant game.
Shutting down DeAngelo Williams and hitting Ben Roethlisberger will be easier said than done. We’ve seen Cox’s ability to take over games in the past, though, such as the Eagles-Saints tilt from last year. The Steelers have a good offensive line so it won’t be easy for Cox, but the Birds need him more than ever in this matchup.
Paunil: Brandon Graham.
Through two games, Graham leads the Eagles in sacks (two), tackles-for-loss (three) and quarterback hurries (three). He’s also tied for third in forced fumbles among all NFL players since 2014 (eight). His performance against Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert will go a long way in determining whether the Eagles have a shot at winning this game, as he’s expected to line up almost exclusively on the left side of the defense.
We saw Alshon Jeffery accumulate nearly 100 receiving yards last week, which Antonio Brown could easily surpass this week. The cornerbacks are going to have their hands full between Brown and Big Ben, but a good pass rush would keep the Birds in the game. Although Cox, as you mentioned, is more than capable of stepping up to wreak havoc, Graham has been the Eagles’ best pass-rusher off of the edge so far this season.
“He’s always been a good rusher,” Jim Schwartz said this week. “He’s compact, he’s strong, he plays with great effort. Got to coach him at the Senior Bowl. We saw it firsthand. He’s a tough match-up for some offensive tackles. Just watching the film last year, he gave some of the offensive linemen or offensive tackles in our own division, he gave those guys a handful. I think his biggest thing is the tempo he plays with, his effort. He’s a tough guy and he’s one of our tempo setters up front for our whole team. He’s been that way since OTAs, since training camp, since preseason games and in the first two games.”
OVER/UNDER: 89.5 passer rating for Carson Wentz — Whaddya got?
Wentz looks like the real deal so I’m not willing to bet against him right now. He’s making great decisions and taking care of the ball.
Wentz had a 101 rating in Week 1 and an 86.6 rating in Week 2. His rating in the Bears game would have easily been higher if Jordan Matthews didn’t drop a sure-fire touchdown pass. Nelson Agholor obviously had some key drops as well.
Yes, the Steelers have a better defense than the Browns and the Bears. But it’s not an elite unit. Pittsburgh is allowing the second most passing yards per game so far. The Steelers have only managed to get one sack as well. Wentz should have opportunities to attack this defense through the air.
I agree Wentz looks like the real deal, and I’m surprised how much he’s been able to limit his mistakes, but I don’t think he’ll have the touchdowns-to-turnover ratio necessary for a 90 passer rating.
One thing I’m curious about is how much Wentz will try to force the ball down field against Pittsburgh. We know he has the arm strength and accuracy to beat good coverage on deep balls, but the Steelers put extra emphasis on not giving up X-plays while allowing teams to accumulate yards underneath.
Perhaps Wentz just dinks and dunks the ball down the field, meaning we see a strategy similar to the opening drive in Chicago, but I’d bet on the rookie throwing his first NFL interception on Sunday. Wentz is a smart guy, but he’s aggressive and if the Birds are trailing, he may be more prone to taking chances.
However, even if Wentz gets just an 85 passer rating against the Steelers, he’ll surpass Pittsburgh’s previous opponents. Kirk Cousins recorded a 72.7 against in Week 1, while Andy Dalton tallied an 84.3 in Week 2.
BLG: Steelers 28, Eagles 24.
One can only imagine what it might be like in Philadelphia if the Eagles win this game. The Birds have their bye next Sunday, so the hype wagon could be going full force for two whole weeks.
Unfortunately for the Eagles’ sake, I don’t see that happening.
Now, I really do think Philadelphia has a chance in this one. Wentz is playing very well. Having a top quarterback gives you a chance any week. Philadelphia’s defense, meanwhile, has allowed the least points in the NFL. I don’t expect the Eagles to be totally outclassed in this game.
The problem is that the Steelers’ offense is just so good. As I’ve already written a million times this week, Pittsburgh is averaging nearly 32 points per game in their last 10 regular season contests. That’s a lot of points. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will be a really tough matchup for an Eagles secondary that’s been susceptible to giving up big plays through the first two weeks. Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, and Jalen Mills could really struggle against the Pittsburgh passing attack.
Philadelphia’s run game is another concern. The Eagles aren’t running the ball efficiently (3.5 yards per carry). The lack of a reliable rushing attack is forcing the Eagles into a lot of third-and-long situations. Philadelphia is only converting 26.7% of their third down attempts, which is the fifth worst rate in the league. The Steelers, meanwhile, have been the third best team at stopping third down attempts.
In the end, the feeling here is the Eagles don’t have enough firepower to match the Steelers’ ability to score points at will. Still, the Battle of Pennsylvania should be a good game between 2-0 teams.
Paunil: Steelers 24, Eagles 17.
I don’t see the Birds pulling this one off, but I’ll tell you one thing: I think the Eagles’ chances of upsetting the Steelers are substantially higher than I did just a few weeks ago. Wentz is a rookie, and we’re still waiting for him to do more rookie-like things, but that unknown means he could also play surprisingly well. I didn’t expect him to be as poised as he was in the first two games, and it’s possible the Steelers won’t confuse him as much as they’re hoping to.
Still, I don’t think the Eagles’ defensive line will overwhelm the Steelers’ offensive line enough to make up for the advantage Brown has over Brooks, Carroll and Mills. I imagine the Eagles will roll coverage toward Brown, which will also make life tougher for whichever cornerback is on the opposite side of the field.
While I envision Graham having success pressuring Roethlisberger, it won’t be enough. Big Ben will throw for about 300 passing yards and three touchdowns on the way to a Steelers victory.