It's been fifty one years since the Steelers last beat the Eagles in Philadelphia. Since then, they've been 0-8 in Philadelphia. The last time they went to Philadelphia, which was in 2008, Ben suffered the worst beating of his career.
Difference between then and now? The Steelers then had the worst offensive line in the whole league. Now, they are arguably the best.
Last week the Steelers were able to contain a really tough Bengals front 7, only allowing 1 sack in the game, giving Ben Roethlisberger plenty of time to throw. The Steelers will again have a tough task upcoming against a tough Eagles defense, especially their front 7.
Yep you guessed it, time to take a dive into the nest of this Eagles defense.
First let's take a look into the Eagles secondary:
The Eagles secondary unit is led by their safety duo Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney Mcleod. Both of them are exceptional tacklers and in coverage, Jenkins in particular, can line up and play across WR's (slot) or TE's in one on one coverage, or play your traditional box and deep safety.
When playing cover 1, I generally noticed that Jenkins was more likely to play either in the box or across a receiver rather than play on the back end. McLeod seems to be the guy they trust to play in those single high safety looks.
As for their CB's, they will be without Leodis Mckelvin, their top CB on the depth chart and will again be replaced by Jalen Mills at LCB. Across from Mills will be Nolan Carroll and in the slot will be Ron Brooks.
Not exactly the most intimidating group at the CB position and they'll be going up against some of the shiftiest and faster WR's in the league in Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers.
Rule number 1, do not open your hips too early or you will be beat. Rookie mistake by Mills as he literally opens the floodgates and is no position to defend the outside curl route to Jeffery.
If Mills is struggling to react on timing routes like this from Alshon Jeffery, you could only imagine what it would be like against AB. I do not expect the Eagles to play man-to-man against the Steelers WR's but if they do, they will struggle with the quickness of the Steelers WR corp.
This is a really strong unit for the Eagles defense, and I mean really strong.
Their LB's are an extremely athletic group and they in fact could be the most athletic off ball LB's in the league. Led by their speedster OLB Mychal Kendricks (who's expected to play) along with Nigel Bradham on the opposite side and Jordan Hicks (Stephen Tulloch is the backup) manning the MLB position, they can shoot gaps quickly and cover a lot of ground.
The defensive line (a one gapping 4-3 defense) which is led by stellar group with Brandon Graham, Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry manning the outside, with Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan in the interior is just...wow.
This is a stout, athletic, versatile group that jumps out instantly when you pop in the tape.
Their versatility is on display a lot as their defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz plays them almost everywhere along the line.
Graham, Curry and Barwin generally line up on the far outside as a 9 tech's, which says a lot because to line up as a 9 technique you generally need to have a low center of gravity with plenty of speed to dip around the edge. Both Cox and Logan have over 34 inch arms which can allow them to line up as two gaping 5 techniques if they wanted to.
Again position versatility is huge with this line.
When I meant versatility, I meant it. Here you have Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan lining up in the interior as a 4 tech while Cox is lined up over the center as a two gaping NT and you got Barwin playing as a standup (OLB) 9 tech.
When it comes to versatility, this line has it and I actually saw instances of Cox being lined up on the outside that I didn't actually record, nonetheless, this group can play almost everywhere along the line.
What about disruption and pass rush?
Graham, according to PFF, is actually rated at the top for pass rushing productivity for 4-3 defensive ends, this play illustrates why.
This is straight up eye candy for anyone looking for an example of what a good pass rush along the edge looks like. Good jump off the snap, able to disengage and dip around the tackle, which showcases his excellent hip and ankle flexibility.
Also not to be ignored is the obvious double teaming that both Cox and Logan are dealing with along the interior that helps both the DE's get one on one matchups to exploit.
So that's disruption and pass rush checked off all in one play, granted this is against a Bears offensive line which isn't exactly close to the level of the Steelers offensive line, so it will be interesting to see how Graham fares against Marcus Gilbert, and how Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and David Decastro handle the length and size of Cox and Logan.
The Eagles are a talented, athletic defense but they have their weaknesses that can be exploited.
I liked the balanced attack the Steelers had last week against the Bengals, but I think this might be the game where they need to feed the WR's. That is where the mismatch lies, as I don't see their CB's being able to contain the Steelers quick and shifty WR corps. I wouldn't be surprised to see plenty of WR screens on the outside and tons of timing patterns with Antonio Brown.
Running the ball could prove to be more difficult than I'd imagined because of not just their athletic penetrating front, but their group of super athletic LB's that can close gaps in a hurry. I like our offensive line and if they are able to stay balanced, I'm all for it, but it could be tough sledding against this athletic front 7 that currently ranks 9th in rushing defense.
This pass rush is good, and they already have 6 sacks in 2 games, but they're going up against a much better offensive line than the Browns or Bears. If pressure starts to become a problem, quick three step dump off's could be needed to keep the pass rush at bay. That said, I think the offensive line will be up to the task of containing this outstanding defensive front.
It may have been 51 years since the Steelers last won in Philadelphia, but then again, records are meant to be broken at some point. That said, they have to get through this defense if they want to end this streak.