The Philadelphia Eagles are set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon. In order to preview this Week 8 Keystone State matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Behind The Steel Curtain. The jovial Jeff Hartman took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming battle. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to Jeff’s questions about the Eagles, check out BTSC.]
Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have all of the odds for this week’s games.
1) How would you grade how the Steelers have performed thus far relative to expectations entering the season?
The answer to this question truly is based on who you talk to. For instance, there were optimistic fans who said double-digit wins, and pessimistic fans who saw another nine win season, if they were lucky. Either way, I think this season has been disappointing even for the fans who didn’t foresee a Super Bowl championship this season. No one expected a quarterback change in Week 4, T.J. Watt going on IR after Week 1, and battling a myriad of injuries in their defensive secondary. But to answer your question, I’d have to grade this season an F compared to expectations entering the season. It’s been bad.
2) To what extent do you have confidence in Kenny Pickett? He seems to have some ability but obviously turnovers have been a big issue.
I have a massive amount of confidence in Kenny Pickett, and, yes, some of those turnovers have been bad. The one thing fans are struggling with right now is how for 18 years they’ve had a rock in Ben Roethlisberger as the quarterback of their favorite team. Now, no one knows. The hope is Pickett is able to learn from these rookie mistakes and become the Steelers’ next “guy”, but nothing is certain after just a few games. Which I often have to remind myself...it’s only been a few games. Nonetheless, Pickett has shown great leadership skills, glimmers of his overall potential and an ability to move the ball while being handcuffed by the offensive coordinator. I think Pickett absolutely is the next quarterback for the Steelers. He isn’t Roethlisberger, but he is certainly good enough to win games for a long time.
3) What is the Steelers’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
The Steelers’ biggest strength on the offensive side of the ball resides in a connection: Pickett to Pickens. Sure, you can talk about the passing attack as a whole, but it’s that connection which has been dynamic. Pickens didn’t do much with Mitch Trubisky in the lineup, but when Pickett entered they almost immediately had a great rapport. Now, while I say that is how they should attack the Eagles doesn’t mean they will have success in doing so. Teams have been giving Pickens the WR1 treatment the last few weeks, and it has caused the Steelers to have to look the way of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. If the Steelers can spread the ball around it gives the offense their best chance to succeed.
Defensively, the Steelers don’t have a glaring strength without T.J. Watt in the lineup. Without Watt they don’t do anything particularly well. They don’t get after the quarterback, they don’t take the ball away at a ridiculous clip and they don’t stop either the run or pass with any type of consistency. Yeah, it’s not good.
4) What is the Steelers’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
The Steelers’ biggest weakness on offense is their inability to run the ball consistently. Najee Harris, who battled a foot injury throughout the preseason and early this season has looked like a shell of himself this season. What is the one thing which you need with a rookie quarterback? A good running game and a solid defense. The Steelers don’t have either at the moment. Shutting down the Steelers’ running game and forcing the ball into Pickett’s hands 40+ times is the key to victory for the Eagles.
On the defensive side of the ball, it is a similar story. If you can establish the run, it will allow the offense to have their full allotment of plays at their disposal. And with the Eagles’ weapons...that’s a scary proposition.
5) Who wins this game and why? With DraftKings Sportsbook listing the Eagles as 11-point favorites, what’s your score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Steelers season? First season below .500 since 2003?
As for a prediction, I have no clue. I’ll tell you the Steelers averaging 15 points per game really leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. I think the Eagles win the game, but I think the Steelers cover for a couple reasons. I think the offense will eventually put up some points, but I also think the Eagles will try and just shut the game down and run out the clock, like they did vs. Washington earlier this season. This will keep the game within the 11-point spread.
As for the rest of the season, Steelers fans should just take a futuristic approach to the season. Meaning, see what you have for the future. The Steelers’ schedule softens in the second half, and it will be a good gauge for what the expectations will be for the future. Nonetheless, I see this team being about 7-8 wins when all is said and done...meaning it would be Mike Tomlin’s first losing season, and the Steelers’ first since 2003...the 6-10 year that ended up with Roethlisberger being the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft.
For even more Eagles-Steelers content, check out this week’s game preview on BGN Radio.
In addition, BGN’s John Stolnis interviewed BTSC’s Dave Schofield for this week’s Eye On The Enemy. Basically the podcast equivalent of this weekly Q&A article.
Finally, RJ Ochoa, Rob “Stats” Guerrera”, and I previewed this week’s Eagles game along with the rest of the Week 8 schedule for The SB Nation NFL Show: