Eagles’ Defense Hurt On Third Down Late

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin.Ben Roethlisberger entered the game  with a pristine 145.1 quarterback rating on third down. It is when he is at his best, and it proved true again Sunday. Especially late.

There were two key third-down conversions on Pittsburgh’s game-winning drive. The first was a 20-yard completion to Antonio Brown on a 3rd-and-12 from the Pittsburgh 18. The second was a seven-yard out to Emmanuel Sanders on 3rd-and-4 at the Philadelphia 38-yard line that put the Steelers in field goal range. Moments later, Shaun Suisham booted a 34-yard field goal as time expired to win it for Pittsburgh.

On the first conversion, the Eagles were in zone coverage (Tampa 2, according to Nate Allen). Nnamdi Asomugha said that is typical for this defense in third and long, and was adamant that it was the right thing to do.

“It was 100 percent the right call,” said Asomugha. “We had done it throughout the game, had success at it. We have done it throughout the year. Anytime it’s 3rd-and-long like that you are expecting [a pass] downfield or expecting a screen or a dumpoff. Those type of situations are when you don’t want to be in man. Every now and then you might want to blitz or something, but I think zone is the right call, we just got out of our zone or the play doesn’t happen at all.”

Brandon Boykin was the closest to the play but the linebackers have coverage responsibility in that situation as well. The Eagles left an opening, and Roethlisberger — as he often does in those situations — made the most of it.

“We ran that play earlier in the game,” said Roethlisberger. “And I ended up hitting Heath [Miller] out of the backfield because they got a little bit f pressure and I didn’t have time. I saw Antonio was open in the first quarter when we ran it. So when we came back to it, I thought, ‘Same coverage, same route, maybe I can get him.'”

Added Allen: “They obviously found a space they could get. Sometimes in zone that happens. You can have everything covered but they just find that one weak spot in the zone and they hit it. Sometimes you can’t cover every single thing.”

On the second third-down conversion the Eagles were in man. Boykin appeared to get caught in some traffic, and Sanders shook loose for a seven-yard gain to move the chains.

“He ran an out route. We were in underneath coverage,” said Boykin.”The weakness of the ‘D’ was the out route….He was open and made the play. It is what it is.”

The Eagles’ defense has made a stop late in each of the team’s three wins. Coming in they were third best in the league on third down, allowing the opponent to convert just 26.9 percent of the time. On this day, Roethlisberger and the Steelers were able to get the better of them in a couple critical situations.

“They are the best team in the NFL on third down and we knew that coming in,” said Asomugha. “So those situations were that much more heightened for us, that we needed to make the play.”