The Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0) are set to play each other this Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. In order to preview this Week 5 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Behind The Steel Curtain. The jovial Jeff Hartman kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest. Let’s take a look at the answers.
1 - There was some question about how Ben Roethlisberger would look this year coming off a major injury at his age. The stats show he’s off to a strong start. Does he truly look as good as ever?
I wouldn’t go as far as saying “as good as ever”, but he looks pretty good for not playing in almost a calendar year and coming off a surgically repaired throwing elbow. After suffering through a year with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges the expectations were high for Roethlisberger’s return. There has been some rust, but he has managed games well and made plays when they present themselves. Are there still areas in need of improvement? Absolutely, especially on his deep passes. Believe it or not, Roethlisberger says his arms feels stronger than it has in recent years after surgery, and he is over-throwing receivers on deep passes so far this year. Still has some rust to knock off.
2 - The Steelers have never had a losing season under Mike Tomlin. What makes him such a good head coach? Do you think he’s properly appreciated?
I think Tomlin is a master motivator. What he lacks in X’s and O’s he makes up for as a coach players not just want to play for, they want to play hard for. The Steelers had no business being in playoff contention last year, yet he almost had them in the postseason with a second year QB with no NFL experience, and an UDFA rookie at the helm. When the team’s back is against the wall is when he does his best work, so with the Steelers facing 13 straight games after their impromptu bye week in Week 4, I have no doubt he will have the team ready. As for appreciation, no, Steelers fans don’t appreciate Tomlin. They always think he could be better. They cite his challenge history, his time management, but ultimately there are only 2-3 coaches in the NFL fans would want over Tomlin...that should tell you everything you need to know. I have to add not all fans don’t appreciate Tomlin, but there is a strong contingent who do.
3 - What is the Steelers’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
The Steelers’ biggest strength is their versatility. Unlike in the Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown era where everything came from them, the Steelers’ offense is built in a way where every week you never know who will be the team’s top rusher or receiver. To be honest, this is probably the most versatile collection of weapons Ben Roethlisberger has ever had. If you want to take JuJu Smith-Schuster out of the game, the Steelers still have Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Eric Ebron and rookie Chase Claypool to make plays. The Steelers are really tough to defend, but I would say the Eagles should prepare for some hurry-up, no huddle to try and negate the pass rush and not allow the Eagles to substitute along their defensive front.
4 - What is the Steelers’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
Right now, the Steelers defensive weakness is in their secondary, but I don’t know if I’d say it is all because of the secondary. The Steelers have blitzed more than any team in the NFL, and the pressure they put on the opposing quarterback is obvious. However, the amount of blitzes has left them exposed in the back end of the defense. No one has seen a game where the Steelers haven’t been so focused on pressure and actually allow the defense to play to their strengths in the back end. Considering the Eagles’ offensive line issues, I would expect the Steelers will sell out to blitz the quarterback again, which means the way to beat the Steelers won’t be on the ground, the Steelers have the league’s best rush defense, but in the quick passing attack.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of the Steelers’ season?
I think this will be a lower scoring game than most think. I think the Eagles’ defense will give the Steelers’ offense fits, but I like the health of the Steelers’ offense vs. the health of the Eagles’ offense. I think it might come down to a field goal, but I think the Steelers win this game and stay perfect moving to 4-0.
Score Prediction: Steelers - 20, Eagles - 17
As for the rest of the season, I think the Steelers will be a tough team to beat, and I think they finish with 4-5 losses on the year and make the playoffs.