Five on the Steelers
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The competition kicks up a notch for Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers cross the state and attempt to win in the city of Brotherly Love for the first time in over 50 years.
The Eagles are 2-0 after taking care of business against perhaps the two worst teams in football, Cleveland and Chicago. The prize is a fellow 2-0 team many believe is a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the Steelers.
STEELERS AGAINST ROOKIE QBs
Wentz has certainly not looked like your average rookie quarterback through two games and that’s a good thing because the Pittsburgh defense has a recent history of snacking on first-year signal callers.
Since 2004, the Steelers are an imposing 19-2 when matched up against freshmen starting under center and if you examine the numbers it gets even uglier for those QBs. In the 21 games, the rookie passers have thrown just 12 touchdowns versus 25 interceptions, completed a paltry 54.4 percent of their passes and compiled an ugly 61.1 passer rating.
HOME SWEET HOME
Despite their storied history, the Steelers haven’t had much success in Philadelphia although they don’t exactly play here all that often unless it’s in the preseason.
Pittsburgh lost its only previous real game at Lincoln Financial Field and have dropped eight straight overall in the City of Brotherly Love. The Steelers last victory in Philadelphia was a 20-14 win on Oct. 24, 1965 during the Johnson Administration when the average cost of a new house was $13,600 and a gallon of gas was 31 cents.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown might be the best receiver in football and is a Where’s-Waldo type that will line up all over the field depending on the formation or matchup. In his last three seasons, Brown’s receptions have gone from 110 to 129 to 136, a scary level of production.
When you couple in the fact that cornerback is probably the weakest spot on Jim Schwartz’s defense and Leodis McKelvin continues to struggle with a hamstring, limiting Brown will be a tall task.
“Yeah, we know what number he wears, so we won’t have a problem finding him,” Schwartz said on Thursday. “But it's not just him. I mean, they’ve got a track meet of wide receivers. They've got some guys that can fly and that can take the top of a defense. [WR Eli Rogers] is a really shifty guy in the slot. Their tight end [Jesse James] is big. They've got a couple different tight ends they can work in there. A running back [DeAngelo Williams] that's leading the NFL in rushing and a future Hall of Fame quarterback [Ben Roethlisberger].
"So if we concentrate too much on 84 [Antonio Brown] -- and he's going to get a lot of our attention, for sure -- there's a lot of other guys that can make us pay.”
BIG BEN AGAINST THE NFC
Roethlisberger wins a lot in general but against NFC foes, he picks it up a notch and with a gaudy winning percentage that crosses the .700 barrier. In 44 career regular-season starts against NFC opponents, Big Ben is 31-13, the latest of which came in Week 1 when he torched the Redskins by completing 27-of-37 passes for 300 yards with three touchdowns and a passer rating of 112.4.
“You have to cover longer against Roethlisberger because he is capable of extending plays,” Schwartz said. “He doesn't do it outside of the pocket very much anymore, but he is if not the best, he's one of best in the business at sliding and picking and just working his way around the pocket."
FINDING A WAY TO RUN
The Eagles running game has been OK in the first two weeks but there is plenty of room for improvement, something offensive coordinator Frank Reich recognized on Thursday.
“We ran for 133 yards in the first game and 100 in the last game,” Reich said. “So, that’s okay. I mean, that’s acceptable. It needs to be better and we expect it to be better, but that's certainly an acceptable range. We would like to have a few more explosive runs and keep it in phase, but I think we are on our way to that.”
The problem this week is that Pittsburgh is known for stopping the run first and making teams one-dimensional with the new Dick LeBeau-less era of Steelers defense built around talented inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons.
“Stopping the run,” Reich said when asked what the Steelers do best. “I don't know for sure, but you can look over the last 20 years, this defense is continually in the top five versus the run. They have great schemes to stop the run. They have great personnel to stop the run. They put you into a pass only mode, and then can run some of their exotic stuff.”
973espn.com Prediction: If the Eagles find a way to win this football game, the narrative has to begin to change and people are going to have to admit this team is indeed relevant in the NFC East. But, expecting Philadelphia to beat one of the most talented teams in football this early in the Wentz era is a little much. Call it Steelers 27, Eagles 20.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen