Interstate Duel; Eagles battle Steelers in week 5
Both of Pennsylvania’s professional football teams encountered strange experiences during week 4 of this highly unusual NFL season. The Birds entered their matchup as underdogs, but managed to notch their first victory of the season over recent NFC superbowl representatives, the San Francisco 49ers.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers had an unexpected week of rest. Their bye week was moved on the fly to week 4 as a result of several players on the Tennessee Titans, their scheduled opponent, testing positive for Covid-19. Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was frustrated by the development and voiced “of course we got the short end of the stick” as the impromptu schedule change interrupted a rhythm he felt his offense had just fallen into.
Below, we will recap the Eagles injury situation before moving onto a review of the two quarterbacks duking it out in this interstate duel.
The Injury Dip
Running back Miles Sanders was not on the field late in the game as the Eagles secured their win against the 49ers. This would normally be cause for concern but head coach Doug Pederson labelled it simply as “situational football” and Sanders hasn’t landed on the injury report this week.
Other question marks still remain as it pertains to injuries on the Eagles offense. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is “making progress” but the team has vowed to make sure he is 100% before his return to game action. Alshon Jeffery is likely closer to making it on the field and it would be terrific to have him as an option for Sunday’s game. His status will continue to be monitored throughout the week.
The biggest concern for Philadelphia at this juncture is Lane Johnson’s surgically repaired ankle. It is an injury that tends to linger, particularly as the weather grows colder. Lane Johnson is a stabilizing force for a Birds’ offensive line that has been completely ravished by injury so the Eagles hope the injury doesn’t negatively impact his play this Sunday.
Wentz’s Continued Quest to be Mistake-Free
Carson Wentz has now thrown 7 interceptions on the season. That number is significant because it matches his total number of interceptions from each of the last three seasons…and we are only a quarter of the way through this one. The Eagles don’t need Wentz to play like a superstar, but they do need the quarterback to play a mistake-free game in order to have a chance at knocking off the undefeated Steelers.
An encouraging sign is that during the last two games Wentz has demonstrated a propensity to scramble for crucial yardage with his legs instead of attempting risky throws while under pressure in the pocket. This is especially relevant given that T.J. Watt (3.5 sacks on the season) is a constant menace for quarterbacks.
Wentz will once again have to manage a mistake-free game without some of his favorite receiving targets. In their place will be newer options Greg Ward and Travis Fulgham, the latter catching a spectacular 42 yard touchdown pass to pull ahead in last week’s game. Wentz still doesn’t look quite himself, but he will have to shake off his demons and play up to par with opposing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday.
Roethlisberger is Quietly Having a Career Season
Sports media has yet to give this story much attention, but Ben Roethlisberger has played fantastic while guiding the Steelers to a perfect 3-0 record this season. As he missed nearly all of last year, Roethlisberger already seems like a shoo-in to win comeback player of the year. However, his play has been even better than that award may suggest.
With seven touchdowns and just one interception through three games, Roethlisberger is on pace for his best TD-Int ratio since the 2014 season. What’s most impressive of his play this season is the way he has elevated the receiving options around him. JuJu Smith-Schuster was a known commodity and hasn’t disappointed this season as he is averaging a touchdown per contest. Alongside Smith-Schuster has been the emergence of Diontae Johnson, who sustained a concussion in the Steelers week 3 matchup, but had contributed 14 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown during their first two games.
As usual, the best way for the Eagles defense to slow down any rhythm Roethlisberger was referring to is through pressure up front. The push from the Birds’ front seven last week was fantastic, particularly the play of Cre’Von LeBlanc who forced a momentum-shifting fumble.
I’m going with the underdogs Eagles in this matchup. I’ll admit it, this is largely a gut feeling as none of this season’s statistics support a Birds victory. Eagles over Steelers, 28-27.