In Week 5, it is the Battle of the Pennsylvania Turnpike! The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers only play once every four years, but there is no love lost between these two fanbases. They last played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly in 2016, where the Eagles won easily, 34-3. In a shocking turn of events, the game this week is actually a battle of first-place teams.
The Steelers come into the game with a record of 3-0, coming off an unplanned bye week thanks to a slew of COVID-19 positive results by the Tennessee Titans.
Meanwhile, the Eagles are flying high coming off an unexpected 25-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. Thanks to being in the inept NFC East, the Eagles are now in first place with a record of 1-2-1.
Kickoff: Sunday, October 11th, 2020 at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
For the first time this season, the Eagles will be playing in front of fans. This week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf approved up to 7,500 in-person fans for outdoor events. The Steelers are allowing 5,500 fans for the game on Sunday, so expect to see some Eagles jerseys in the stands when you watch on Sunday.
Television: The game will be broadcast on FOX. The play-by-play duties will be handled by Kenny Albert, and the color commentary will be done by former Pro Bowl LB Jonathan Vilma.
Radio: 94.1 WIP is the flagship for Eagles Radio. You can also listen to the live radio broadcast on the Eagles website. As usual, the play-by-play will be done by the legendary Merrill Reese, and the color commentary will be done by Mike Quick.
Weather: High of 76 degrees. 67% chance of rain in the afternoon. Light winds of 6-8 MPH. (AccuWeather)
Line: Pit -7
Three Things to Watch
- Does the offensive line hold up against a very good Steelers pass rush?
The Eagles have had their issues protecting the quarterback this season. In three of their four games this season, they have given up at least three sacks. This is bad news, as they go up against a Steelers defense that has 15 sacks in three games. For the Steelers, the 2019 NFL sack leader T.J. Watt leads the way with 3.5 sacks on the year. He is a force to be reckoned with, and one of the big match-ups to watch on Sunday will be whether Pro Bowl RT Lane Johnson can keep him away from quarterback Carson Wentz. While Watt is the leader of this defense, he is, by no means, the only threat to get to the quarterback.
The Eagles will also need to worry about Bud Dupree on the other side of the line as he comes into the game with 2.5 sacks and had 11.5 last season. LT Jordan Mailata made his first career start last week against the 49ers and held his own. The crazy thing about Mailata is that it wasn’t just his first career start for the Eagles; it was his first career start in any football game ever. The former rugby star was drafted by the Eagles with their last pick in the seventh round of the 2018 draft. He was a physical phenom who was seen as a project and a potential future starter. Well, for the Eagles, the future is now. While his first game went better than expected, this week, the level of difficulty is increased, as he will regularly be matched up against Bud Dupree. If Mailata is up for the challenge, it will go a long way towards helping the Eagles escape Pittsburgh with a win.
- Can Darius Slay and the Eagles secondary contain JuJu Smith-Schuster and the Steelers wide receivers?
When the Eagles are on defense one of the big things to watch for will be how the Eagles utilize their top cover corner, Darius Slay. The Steelers are known for their ability to develop talent at the WR position — something Eagles fans are completely unfamiliar with, unfortunately — and again this year, they have no shortage of weapons in the passing game. With that said, Smith-Schuster is definitely quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite weapon. It should be a fun matchup to pay attention to, as both Slay and Smith-Schuster are above-average at their craft. If Slay does shadow Smith-Schuster, that begs the question of whether the rest of the Eagles secondary can handle the Steelers’ other wide receivers.
The Steelers’ second-leading receiver is the young and emerging wideout Dionte Johnson. He is no slouch, as he would easily be the best receiver if he was on the Eagles. Jalen Mills will be tasked as the cornerback opposite Slay, as Avonte Maddox is expected to be out once again this week for the Eagles. Mills spent the first three games of the season playing safety, but was moved to the outside corner position last week due to Maddox’s injury. Mills played alright last week on the outside, but he has a long history of frustrating Eagles fans with his inconsistent play. Expect Mills to struggle against the strong Steelers wide receiver group this week.
- Can the Eagles establish the run-game?
Coach Doug Pederson’s usage of Miles Sanders so far this season has driven Eagles fans crazy. Despite Sanders averaging 4.6 yards per attempt, he has yet to carry the ball more than 20 times this season. Pederson has continued to give carries to running backs Boston Scott and Corey Clement even though they have not been nearly as effective. To have a chance in this game, the Eagles are going to need to rely on Miles Sanders to get tough yards against the Steelers’ No. 1 rush defense. With the Steelers being a team that has smothered opposing teams’ rushing attacks, Eagles head coach Pederson could be tempted to abandon the run game early in the match-up. To keep this from happening, Sanders will need to capitalize on his opportunities early to establish the run and keep the Steelers defense honest. If the Eagles aren’t able to establish the run, they will be in for a long day, as quarterback Carson Wentz is not consistent enough to carry this offense on his own with limited weapons in the receiving game. If Sanders gets less than 15 carries and/or 75 yards, the Eagles will not win this game.
Keys to the Game
- Get Carson Wentz outside the pocket and using his legs
Last week, the Eagles showed that if they can get Wentz time, he can be effective. His numbers in last week’s win were still nothing to write home about, but he was effective and made some accurate throws in big moments, like his touchdown pass here to Travis Fulgham.
Wentz is best when he is being moved around the pocket and throwing on the run. Does he still have some maddening misses on his throws? Absolutely. But he is one of those quarterbacks who is best when he is required to use his legs. On Sunday night against the 49ers, Wentz utilized his legs well, as he had an 11-yard rushing TD on an option play. If the Steelers can keep him in the pocket, the Eagles will not have much of a shot on Sunday. The game plan for the Eagles should be to give Wentz a few carries and let him utilize his legs in the passing game. That is when he is at his best.
- Defensive Line needs to continue to dominate
The Eagles defensive line has clearly been the highlight of this team so far in 2020. They lead the league in sacks and the pass rush was one of the main reasons they won on Sunday night. It is quite simple: when the opposing quarterbacks have been under pressure this season, the Eagles defense has thrived. But when they haven’t been able to disrupt the pocket, the opposing team has not had any trouble picking apart the Eagles secondary. Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham lead the way for the Eagles ,as they both have a total of three sacks through the first four games. If the Eagles are in the game late on Sunday, it will be in no small part because of the effectiveness of the pass rush.
- Win the turnover battle
This may seem obvious, but it is also true. In the first three games, the Eagles were a combined -7 in turnover differential. In their win against the 49ers on Sunday night, the Eagles were +2. This Eagles team has suffered a lot of injuries, especially on the offensive side of the ball, so they don’t have the ability to sustain multiple long drives on offense. They are a team lacking talent, and as a result, they need to limit turnovers on offense while creating turnovers on defense to stand a chance in this game. If they have a couple of possessions where they have a short field due to the Steelers turning over the ball, they may be able to steal a win.
The Eagles come into this game flying high after a big win on national television in Week 4. But, they will limp back across-state to their home in Philadelphia after a tough loss in Pittsburgh. It is never fun losing to an in-state rival, but the Steelers are just more talented across the board in this match-up. The Eagles will get down early and be forced to rely on the passing game for much of this game — a real worst-case scenario for the 2020 Eagles squad.
Steelers win 28-17.
(Featured Image Credit: PhiladelphiaEagles.com)