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The Steelers should be one of the more equipped defenses to combat Jalen Hurts

The Steelers’ time preparing for Lamar Jackson should have the defense more than prepared for what to expect from Jalen Hurts.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had some tough games throughout the early portions of the 2022 regular season, but what awaits them in Week 8 might be the toughest test of them all.

Sunday the Steelers travel across the keystone state to play the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL’s final undefeated team. While their 6-0 record is impressive, how they’ve gone about their business has opponents taking notice.

Coming off their bye week, the Eagles’ offense is being carried by the dynamic playmaking ability of quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts and the Eagles’ Run-Pass-Option (RPO) offense has confused and befuddled defenses around the league. But if there is a defense who should be more than equipped to defend this attack, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With the Steelers in the same division as the most dynamic running quarterback in the game, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the game plan for recognizing the Eagles RPO packages shouldn’t be foreign to Teryl Austin and company.

“His mobility is definitely a factor,” said linebacker Alex Highsmith. “We have to keep him in the pocket. When you play guys like him, Lamar (Jackson), Josh Allen, guys who can move like that it, it’s an extra added challenge. You can’t just rush wild and be rushing all over the place because he’ll find escape lanes and stuff like that. You really just have to be able to rush disciplined and compress the pocket when you are playing guys like him who are able to move.

“If you run too high around him, he will be able to step up. If you come in too early, he can step back and get out. We just have to communicate. When we are our best it’s when we are communicating. I think that’s important for us to continue to communicate and have a rush plan that is disciplined.”

While Hurts has weapons more dynamic than any Jackson ever had in Baltimore, the Philadelphia offense will pose a tremendous test for the improving Steelers defense.

“They are an efficient offense,” said Highsmith. “He takes care of the ball. They take care of the ball. We’ve got to be able to cause havoc and force them to make bad decisions by doing that. That’s getting after him. it starts by winning on first and second down. We have to stop the run then and when the time comes get after him in the pass.”

Defensive captain Cam Heyward knows all to well what the running attack of the Eagles can look like, and it isn’t just Hurts reading the edge and taking off with the ball.

“He does a great job going north to south, but he can also bounce it,” said Heyward. “That RPO, either Jalen is taking it and passing or running. But if you don’t take Miles Sanders seriously, he is going to really dice you up.”

When defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spoke with media this week, he spoke about how any RPO offense will slow down a team’s pass rush, but it can’t be the defining reason for a lack of defensive integrity.

“I think the RPOs will slow down the pressure and that’s a lot of times what they’re for. We got a couple of those early, we had a couple pressures called and that ball was out before our guys could ever get there. So, you change, and you figure out how the flow of the game is going. But we do need to get more pressure.

“I think part of it is the RPO, part of it is we’ve just got to do a better job of rushing and getting home. Maybe we’ve got to do a couple of different things scheme wise to help our guys get there. But it’s a concern in the sense that we’re not getting a lot of pressure, but we are disruptive. We’re causing some quarterback hurries and we’re getting in a position to intercept the ball, which was just asked, and we’re not catching them. I’m sure if we caught a few of those balls last week, we’d be alright with where we were. But it’s one of those things where I just think we’ve got to figure out a way to get pressure and we’ve got to finish. We had a couple times that we had him in the pocket and had him where we wanted him, and we didn’t finish. And that’s what we have to do.”

Getting to Hurts isn’t an easy task. He’s only been sacked 15 times in 6 games, and the Philadelphia offensive line is finally returning to health. But if the Steelers stand a chance vs. the Eagles in Philly, a place where the Steelers haven’t won since Lyndon B. Johnson was president in 1965, they’ll need an extraordinary performance from their defense.

When it comes to stopping, or slowing down, the RPO offense, they should be more than equipped and comfortable with that task.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the 2022 regular season.