The Pittsburgh Steelers may be undefeated, but have yet to face a quality opponent, having beaten three teams with a combined record of 1-11. If you’re a Philadelphia Eagles fan, here’s all you need to know about the current state of the Steelers.
In September 2019 Ben Roethlisberger tore three flexor tendons off the bone in his throwing arm during a game against the Seattle Seahawks. But after season-ending elbow surgery and a long rehabilitation process, Roethlisberger is back at the helm and looking—more or less—like his old self.
In three games Roethlisberger has completed 73 of 109 passes (67%) for 777 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception (105.2 passer rating). Yet Big Ben isn’t throwing the ball downfield as often—or as accurately—as in the past, which is reflected in his 7.1 YPA average (as compared to 7.8 over the course of his 17-year career).
It remains to be seen whether Roethlisberger, 38, is beginning to show his age, or whether he’s still rounding into form after career-threatening surgery.
As for Pittsburgh’s best player, that’s a two-man race between outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive end Cameron Heyward, the former a finalist for 2019 Defensive Player of the Year. Watt gets the nod, as he’s been playing as well as ever and was recently named to Pro Football Focus’ First-Quarter All-Pro Team, having contributed 3.5 of the team’s 15 sacks.
For a moment, it appeared the Eagles were going to catch a break this week, as Watt missed Thursday’s practice with a knee issue. But Watt was back at practice on Friday, after which he proclaimed, “I’ll be ready to go for Sunday, no doubt.” Watt will be a handful for Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson all game long.
State of the Steelers Defense
With or without Watt, the Steelers have a stout defense with a fierce pass rush. It’s not just the 15 sacks; the Steelers have also generated the highest percentage of QB pressures in the league at 46.5%. And Philadelphia can’t focus the lion’s share of its attention on Watt and fellow OLB Bud Dupree (who has 2.5 sacks and will go against Jordan Mailata). Nine different Steelers have at least half a sack this season and the Steelers are capable of bringing pressure from everywhere, including cornerback and safety.
Opponents have been able to make a handful of big plays against Pittsburgh’s pass defense, but even so, the Steelers are second in the NFL in yards allowed per game (290) and fifth in points allowed per game (19.3).
Matchup to Watch
It’s tempting to go with Watt vs. Lane or Dupree vs. Mailata, but I’ll go with Pittsburgh’s offensive line vs. Philly’s D-line. If the Eagles can keep the Steelers’ running game in check and put Pittsburgh in second- and third-and-long situations Philadelphia will be able to maximize the effectiveness of its pass rush, as the Steelers have an experienced, but aging O-line that could be vulnerable to a strong D-line rotation.
Breakout Star (Chase Claypool)
Rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool is Pittsburgh’s young receiver to watch. Claypool, who hails from Canada and was drafted in the second-round out of Notre Dame is nicknamed Mapletron, as he has a rare combination of size and speed (6-foot-4, 238 pounds, 4.42 40 time) that has drawn comparisons to former Detroit Lions star Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.
In training camp, Steelers Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden predicted that Claypool was going to be “a problem” for NFL defenders and that has already been the case.
This was Claypool’s first career catch:
Chase Claypool's first career catch was so filthy 👀 pic.twitter.com/qL8so4rhPt
— Athlete Swag (@AthleteSwag) September 15, 2020
This was his first touchdown reception (84 yards), which came a week later:
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2020
The good news (if you’re an Eagles fan) is that Clayool is still getting integrated into the offense and doesn’t see many targets from Roethlisberger, but he has been very noticeable in his limited opportunities.
The Steelers are coming off an (unplanned) bye week and have few injury concerns coming into the game. Only two players have been ruled out, fullback Derek Watt (hamstring) and safety-turned-linebacker Marcus Allen (foot).
Eagles vs. Steelers Prediction
Pittsburgh has had a lot of success following its bye week under Mike Tomlin, sporting a 9-4 record. For what it’s worth, the last time the Steelers had a Week 4 bye came in 2012, when Pittsburgh followed that up with a 16-14 victory over the Eagles.
In this instance it’s hard to see how the Eagles produce enough offense to beat the Steelers, a team that hasn’t always looked pretty this year but has been doing just enough to win.
Steelers 24, Eagles 17
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