clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Steelers Weekend Primer: What you need to know heading into Week 3

New, comments

Markus Wheaton looks ready to play, Jordan Berry is the team MVP and Mike Tomlin loves him some Carson Wentz

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 for the first time since 2010, thanks in large part to a balanced offense and a porous secondary that has somehow allowed just a single touchdown.

This Sunday, the Steelers will travel eastward to face off against their similarly unblemished cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. Though both halves of the Steagles remain unbeaten, each team has taken a very distinct path to 2-0. Specifically, Pittsburgh has defeated a pair of 2015 division winners while Philadephia has made easy work of two teams - Cleveland and Chicago - that could very well earn the top two picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Regardless, 2-0 is 2-0, so Philadelphia shouldn't be overlooked, especially since the second coming of Ben Roethlisberger is orchestrating its offense.

Hyperboles aside, Carson Wentz (Carson Wentzlisberger?) has looked solid thus far, throwing for nearly 650 yards and three touchdowns in his two starts. Most impressively, Wentz has yet to commit a single turnover, which is a remarkable statistic for a starting quarterback in the NFC East, let alone a rookie quarterback.

Count Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin among those impressed by Wentz's early success.

"(Wentz) spreads the ball around to a variety of guys and is doing an awesome job," Tomlin told reporters during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "The way they (the Eagles) came out and attacked Chicago is an indication of where they are from a standpoint with him."

At this point in his career, Wentz looks much more like Alex Smith than Roethlisberger, which makes sense given his rookie status and the fact that his head coach, Doug Pederson, spent three seasons as Smith's offensive coordinator. If Wentz continues to spread the ball around and avoid turnovers, the Eagles have a legitimate chance to upset the Steelers.

Pittsburgh's defense thrived on turnovers last season (they ranked 6th in interceptions and 4th in fumble recoveries in 2015), and have already forced three this year. The Steelers' ability to force turnovers will be a DJ Khaled major key on Sunday.

He's baaaaaaaack

Markus Wheaton, who missed the first two games with a shoulder injury, practiced fully this week, which puts him on track to play in Sunday's game.

"Play," of course, is the operative term here.

Sammie Coates has emerged as a legitimate deep threat in the No. 2 slot of Pittsburgh's receiving hierarchy, while second-year man Eli Rogers has performed well as the team's primary slot receiver.

In other words, Wheaton has some work to do if he wants to win his job back.

I would look for Wheaton to play 20 to 25 snaps on Sunday. Remember, Wheaton is in a contract year: he's going to do his best to get back on the field.

Team MVP

Roethlisberger is leading the NFL in touchdown passes while DeAngelo Williams is first in the league in pretty much every other category (including social media hilarity).

According to Tomlin, though, the player who has had arguably the biggest impact on Pittsburgh's early success is a guy who has been on the field for all of 10 plays.

"I thought our punting has been excellent," Tomlin said. He later alluded to the fact that Jordan Berry has been instrumental in helping Pittsburgh win the field position battle, especially against Cincinnati.

Berry will need to bring his A-game on Sunday, as Eagles RB Darren Sproles is averaging almost 15 yards per punt return, which ranks fifth in the NFL. The diminutive running back has seven career punt returns for touchdowns, including two in each of the past two seasons.

Tomlin on Jarvis Jones

"He's a guy we've identified as being capable on either side, so we want to find ways for him to continue to play."

Jones, who has famously sacked the opposing quarterback just five times in four seasons, has quietly excelled as a run defender and coverage linebacker. Jones is the kind of guy that you don't notice until he leaves the field. Will he ever live up to his lofty pre-draft hype? Maybe, maybe not. For now, the former All-American is doing exactly what he needs to do.

Tomlin on the secondary

"I'm pleased with what they've done so far and they have been particularly stout when the field gets short."

(The Steelers are ranked 31st in passing yards allowed, but 1st in touchdowns allowed.)

But..

"We've touched some balls that weren't caught."

Translation: please get more interceptions, fellas.

*Linebackers are responsible for each of Pittsburgh's two interceptions this season.

The quest for the showdown of the season

The New England Patriots are going to be 6-0 when they visit Heinz Field in Week 7 (God help the NFL when Tom Brady returns to that lineup). If the Steelers really are on New England's level in terms of being a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they will want to enter that game on a hot streak. Beating an undefeated in-state rival is a mighty fine place to start.

My pick for Sunday's game (and the others) can be found here.

Three things to keep in mind for Sunday:

1. Let's collectively halt the Carson Wentz hype train. By my estimation, he is no better than the seventh-best quarterback the Steelers will see this season (eighth-best if Tony Romo suits up in Week 10). Put pressure on him and don't give him time to make the right throws.

2. Philadelphia's defense ranks in the top five in the NFL in total yards, penalties, penalty yardage, third down percentage, third down conversions, and points. It's only Week 3, but still...dang.

3. Fletcher Cox is a bad man who must be contained. The name of Pittsburgh's game is run/pass balance, and Cox has the ability to single-handedly disrupt both facets. With the notable exceptions of J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald (who, to be frank, have been moderately disappointing this season), Cox may be the best defensive lineman in the NFL.