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After two impressive performances, the Eagles defense faces its toughest test vs. Steelers

Carson Wentz might be getting the headlines, but the Eagles' defense deserves a lot of credit, too.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Sustainable Energy

As much fun as it's been talking about Carson Wentz this week, it's become increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that the rest of the offense has looked pretty mediocre so far. To me that's a testament to Wentz - through two games most of us have forgotten that this offense was always expected to be pretty bad.

Two games in, "bad" is too strong a word for this offense. The drops have been inopportune and inexcusable. The run game has been alright in spurts, but overall fairly ineffective. Ryan Mathews does lead the league in rushing touchdowns, but his 109 rushing yards put him 20th in the league, behind such luminaries as DeMarco Murray, Spencer Ware and Fozzy Whittaker.

Much of this has to do with the offensive line, which has struggled as well. Jason Kelce was on skates for portions of Monday night's game against Chicago, and the platoon of backs has struggled to put together a consistent performance. The Eagles are 10th in the league in rushing yards with 233, but rank 21st in yards per attempt with 3.5. Coupled with the underwhelming 6.6 passing yards per contest, the Eagles are in some interesting historical company.

Since 2011, 15 teams (including the Eagles) have started the season with between 3.5 and 4 yards per carry and 6 and 7 yards per pass play. Only one other team, the 2011 Texans, started undefeated. Four made the playoffs, and the rest were otherwise unremarkable. But one comparison that caught me eye? The 2011 Bengals.

The similarities are striking: like this Eagles team, the 2011 Bengals started a rookie quarterback. And while no one would confuse Jordan Matthews for A.J. Green, that Bengals team had only one 1,000-yard receiver. It was Cincy's seventh-ranked defense that helped get the Bengals into the playoffs. A defense, by the way, led by a Pro Bowl defensive end.

I don't know about you, but 10-6 and a playoff berth sounds pretty appealing to me.

Forgot About 'D'

Through two games, the story of the season has undoubtedly been Carson Wentz. And for good reason - his play has made the Eagles both fun to watch and relevant. Sitting atop the NFC East at 2-0, the city of Philadelphia can't help but buzz about their young--is it too early to say it?--franchise quarterback.

But as much credit as Wentz deserves (which is a lot), there are more players than just him. So far this season, the Eagles are beating up on bad teams thanks, in large part, to their defense. Through two games, Jim Schwartz's crew has given up only two touchdowns. And despite a suspect cornerback situation, neither of those scores have come through the air.

But perhaps most encouraging is the defense's ability to get off the field in big situations. And yes, all this comes with the obligatory "yeah, but it was the Bears and Browns" caveat, but hey, good teams are supposed to whoop up on bad ones.

Let's take a look at some of the ways the defense helped out the offense last week:

1. Late in the third quarter on Monday night, the Bears were engineering a six play, 39-yard drive that took the Bears to midfield. The Bears had run three plays for 29 total yards when, on second and 2, Brandon Graham forced his way through a double-team to bring down Jeremy Langford for a loss of four.

Jay Cutler threw a worm-burner on third down, and the Eagles would go on an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive the following series.

2. Facing fourth and 1, Brian Hoyer was looking to exploit Jalen Mills on the outside, but is instead greeted by Fletcher Cox, who puts the initial pressure on Hoyer. The backup QB keeps his eyes downfield and is pressured again by Connor Barwin before throwing the tip drill, which falls incomplete.

In some ways, it's a good thing that the Eagles have had the chance to warm up against inferior competition. There were no flukey Week 1 or 2 shenanigans to trap the Eagles, and the defense is hitting an early-season stride as it gets ready to take on arguably the best offense in the NFL.

All eyes this weekend will be on stopping the SteelersHingle McCringleberry Antonio Brown, one of the best receivers in the game. The Eagles look like they will once again be without Leodis McKelvin, meaning rookie Jalen Mills would be thrown back into the fire. The Eagles kept Alshon Jeffery under 100 yards receiving, but Brown is part of a better overall offense, including at the quarterback position.

Brown twerked roughshod over Washington in Week 1 to the tune of 126 yards and two touchdowns, but was kept in check by the Bengals. Despite being targeted 11 times, he only caught four passes for 39 yards. But here's the trick - even though Brown was quiet, DeAngelo Williams ran 26 times for 143 yards and two scores. This ain't the Bears; Jim Schwartz's group is going to need a total team effort on Sunday. And beyond that, they may need a touch of nasty.

Earlier in the week, Schwartz was asked about wearing opponents down, and mentioned Stephen Tulloch's big hit on Jeffery. "Tully put a big hit on him and that tends to take a toll on opponents," he said. Later, when asked why he pulled Jordan Hicks in favor of Tulloch. Schwartz went back to that play. "It was a coaching decision," he said. He made a big hit on that play. Just leave it at that."

In a series that's known for some huge defensive plays, the defense will be looking to set the tone early and make the Steelers earn a road victory. And as Conor Myles pointed out earlier in the week, the Eagles have made a habit of roughing up their opponents this season. So you'd better believe the defense is going to be looking for another stellar performance Sunday afternoon. And what better way to do that than at home against arguably the best offense in football?

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