To get ready for the Eagles' matchup with the Steelers this Sunday, I wrote an email to the great Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain, SB Nation's Steelers site. Here's what he told me about the 2-0 Steelers.
1. DeAngelo Williams leads the league in rushing yards. Even with their lead running back out, the Steelers have been running at will. Is it Williams? Is it the offensive line? And are there any weak links in the run game?
It is the offensive line. That isn't to discredit what DeAngelo Wiliams has done through the first two weeks of the season, but this offensive line is a ridiculously athletic group, especially on the right side of the line. They do well in pass protection, giving up one sack per game this year, and love to get off the ball and punish the opposition. If there is a weakness in the run game it would be on the perimeter. The Steelers want to pound the ball between the tackles, and the Eagles are likely preparing for a lot of trap zone runs, but when they try to stretch the ball outside the tackle box, it rarely ends well.
2. The Eagles' cornerbacks have struggled at times with explosive wideouts, including Alshon Jeffery on Monday night. Antonio Brown is the ultimate explosive WR. How do you stop him? When was the last time you remember him being held in check? Does it even happen?
Well, the Eagles will have a blueprint to slow down Antonio Brown. All they have to do is watch the film of the Bengals' approach in Week 2. Cincinnati bracketed Brown on every play, limiting him to only 4 receptions for 39-yards and forcing the Steelers to try and find someone else available… which they did. Roethlisberger hit tight ends Xavier Grimble and Jesse James for touchdowns, as well as DeAngelo Williams out of the backfield. Throw in the fact Sammie Coates has proven to be an extremely good deep threat, averaging over 30 yards per reception, this is a dangerous approach. What could be even worse for opposing defenses is Markus Wheaton's likely return to the lineup in Week 3. Against Seattle in 2015 they decided to take Brown out of the game, and Wheaton had over 200 yards receiving. If they are brave enough to play Brown straight up, they can look at his Week 1 performance against the Washington Redskins as a sign to things to come.
3. Carson Wentz saw an increase in defensive talent from Week 1 to Week 2. What does Keith Butler's defense do well, and what don't they do well? Particularly, what can we expect from their pass rush and their secondary?
In 2015 the Steelers were ranked 3rd in the NFL in sacks, with 48. They are not even close to that pace early in 2016. In fact, they only have 1 registered sack in two games. However, the defense has held both opponents to 16 points in the first two weeks. With an offense as prolific as Pittsburgh's, that is usually good enough to win. The overall change in the defense comes from a major change in the scheme. The Steelers secondary was picked on relentlessly last year, and Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler set out to change that in 2016. The result is a lot of 4-man pressure up front, and zone coverage on the back end. The Steelers have blitzed, but not nearly as much as they did in 2015. The result is forcing quarterbacks to have to find the tight windows in a 6,7, and 8 man zone scheme in the defensive secondary. Although most think the Steelers will blitz Wentz with regularity, I would suggest the total opposite. I feel they will sit back, and wait for the rookie to make a mistake. The Steelers will give up yardage, but will tighten when it matter most, in the red-zone. The defense hasn't given up a red-zone touchdown yet in 2016. If this defense could generate more pressure with their front 4, they could be ridiculously good.
4. Some people (including myself) have likened Carson Wentz's combination of size, mobility, and strength to Ben Roethlisberger. Ben's been the guy for the Steelers for 12 years now. What's it like having a quarterback who has been subjected to some serious punishment over the years?
It’s tough because almost every season you go into the season expecting your starting quarterback to miss a stretch of games. Roethlisberger has only played two full 16-game seasons in his time in the NFL, and although Todd Haley's system has helped in this effort, sometimes injuries are unavoidable. If Wentz can learn anything from Roethlisberger, it would be how to protect yourself from unnecessary punishment. Ben has always been willing to take the hit to make the play. It has resulted in some crazy Houdini escapes, but also some punishing hits which can take their toll on a player after time.
5. Decision time: Philly cheesesteak or Primanti Bros. Pitts-burger? (Disclaimer: I'm from Pittsburgh, so I'm very much split here.)
HA! I love a Philly Cheesesteak, but it is hard to beat an entire meal between two giant pieces of bread. For someone who has never had a Primanit Brother's sandwich, you need to head to the Strip District in Pittsburgh for the real deal… the chain restaurants leave something to be desired, in my opinion.
Bonus! Score prediction?
Antonio Brown can't be held down too long, and I think he breaks out against the Eagles defense. Close in the first half, but the Steelers eventually pull away, giving Carson Wentz his first loss as a pro.
Steelers 31, Eagles 17