The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for their 2022 regular season Week 8 game with a trip to Philadelphia, PA to play the Eagles. A tough task for the Steelers who have lost four of their last five games.
With this being such a big game, not like every game isn’t a big game, I was able to ask Brandon Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation, SB Nation’s Philadelphia Eagles website, five questions leading up to the game.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
There aren’t many weaknesses on the Eagles’ roster...at least on paper. What would be the best way to attack the Eagles both on offense and defense?
The Eagles’ biggest bugaboo on offense has been handling the blitz. Jalen Hurts’ passer rating when blitzed this season is 75.2, which ranks 30th out of 37 quarterbacks (via Pro Football Focus). Hurts has improved when it comes to getting the ball out quicker; he had THE slowest average time-to-throw in each of his first two seasons. His current 2.53 average ranks 16th fastest, though, so it’s not like he’s the quickest to throw. He isn’t necessarily the fastest processor. There’s also been criticism of the Eagles not having enough built-in hot routes. The lack of quality pass protecting running backs is another issue. The Steelers rank 19th in terms of blitz frequency this season, according to Sports Info Solutions. They should be looking to get a bit more blitz heavy this week.
When it comes to Philly’s defense, they’ve been more vulnerable against the run. I know the Steelers haven’t exactly had a prolific rushing attack this year but they might want to try to get Najee Harris going. The Birds rank 28th in opponent yards per rush attempting at five a pop. Part of the issue there is that they’re just not great at tackling. Pittsburgh ball carriers should be seeking contact as opposed to running out of bounds or going down easily. Force the Eagles to make tackles.
The Eagles have a lot of household names on their roster, but who are some players who are making an impact, on offense and defense, who might not be as known as players like Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown?
Considering that the Steelers have surrendered the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season, I’m going to keep it at that position on offense. Brown has a well-established reputation as a WR1, yes. But don’t sleep on DeVonta Smith, who also offers that kind of ability. He demonstrated as much with eight catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in Week 3. Smith is a true technician with great releases and savvy route-running; he’s adept at getting open. Quez Watkins is hardly a volume target but he’s capable of making a big play. Steelers fans might recall his 79-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the preseason last year. And then there’s Zach Pascal, who also isn’t going to see many targets but could be a pest as a bigger slot when it comes to making a crucial catch on third down or contributing in the red zone. The point being: even if the Steelers can take Brown away, there are other options that can hurt them.
On defense, Darius Slay probably has more name recognition than James Bradberry but it’s the latter who’s arguably been the better cornerback this season. Don’t get me wrong; both players have been playing at a very high level. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, however, Bradberry is allowing the fewest yards of any NFL CB. Philly’s corners have the potential to erase the Steelers’ talented wide receivers. With Kenny Pickett throwing seven picks so far, more interceptions could be on the way.
What are Eagles’ fans thoughts on Hurts? I’ve heard mixed opinions of him in the past, but has he turned the corner? Is he the future of the franchise?
The majority of Eagles fans believe Hurts is on the right track to earning a long-term contract extension as the team’s franchise quarterback. He checks all the boxes when it comes to leadership and intangible qualities. He’s also significantly improved as a passer in addition to providing value as one of the league’s best rushing QBs.
Through the first seven weeks, Hurts belongs in the NFL MVP conversation. He’s been very good at taking care of the ball and coming up big when the team needs him.
Of course, consistency is key and he must continue to play at a high level for the rest of the year. It’s especially critical for him to be able to go up against another team with a high quality QB and show that he can lead the Eagles to victory over them. That’s one box he hasn’t really checked thus far. And so the playoffs figure to be a key part of the Hurts evaluation. Especially since the Eagles aren’t facing many top passers in the regular season.
The Philadelphia defense doesn’t get a ton of credit nationally, but they are elite. How did the organization build such a strong unit from top to bottom?
Money certainly helps! The Eagles only rank 20th in defensive spending in 2022 (per Over The Cap) due to some salary cap manipulation. But they rank sixth in 2023 and second in 2024. So, that’s a significant factor.
The Eagles have spent a lot of those resources in the trenches. The recent trade for Robert Quinn reinforces how they prioritize building up front. And not just in terms of top end talent but depth as well. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Jordan Davis are all homegrown first-round picks. Javon Hargrave and Haason Reddick were big money free agent additions. Josh Sweat was known as a very talented prospect entering the 2018 NFL Draft but fell due to durability concerns.
But the Eagles’ defensive success isn’t just about their d-line. The secondary is better than it’s been in some time. As previously noted, Slay and Bradberry make for arguably the best CB tandem in the NFL. Pitt alumnus Avonte Maddox is no slouch in the slot, either.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman deserves a lot of credit for being able to acquire defensive talent in different ways. The Eagles have used a good mix of draft picks, free agent signings, trades, and even waiver claims (see: starting safety Marcus Epps) to build their current unit.
The current spread, via the DraftKings Sportsbook, has the Eagles as 10.5-point favorites at home. I think it’s fairly obvious everyone will take the Eagles, but what about this game has you uneasy? Maybe it’s nothing, but do you think there is a chance the Steelers win in Philadelphia for the first time since 1965?
I wrote about my biggest concern with this game earlier this week:
Mike Tomlin teams cannot be totally discounted when expectations are working against them. No team has been better against the spread as underdogs since he was hired in 2007. The Steelers are 48-28-5 (63.2%) against the spread and 39-42 (48.2%) straight up in that span.
Shortening the sample to the last several years, the Steelers are 23-10-1 (69.7%) against the spread and 17-17 straight up as underdogs. Those are the third- and fourth-best marks, respectively.
Look, I feel good about the Eagles winning this game AND covering. Pittsburgh has the worst point differential in the NFL.
That said, I can see a path to the Steelers winning. If the Eagles shoot themselves in the foot and let Pittsburgh hang around for too long, Tomlin’s team is capable of stealing a win. The Steelers have enough going for them to make a big play in a game-defining moment. Perhaps it’s George Pickens making a crazy go-ahead touchdown catch. Perhaps it’s Cam Heyward coming up clutch with a crucial sack.
Again, the Eagles can’t let the Steelers believe they have a chance to win. They need to snuff out hope early on.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their Week 8 game vs. the Eagles this Sunday in Philadelphia.