Philadelphia Eagles Week Three Keys to Victory

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CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 19: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles is brought down by Sam Acho #49 of the Chicago Bears during a game at Soldier Field on September 19, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Eagles defeated the Bears 29-14. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Philadelphia Eagles Week Three Keys to Victory

Perhaps the most intriguing game on Sunday’s slate takes place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 79th edition of the Battle for Pennsylvania leans in the Eagles favor, as they have taken the last eight games from the Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Steelers have high, Super Bowl expectations this year, but the Eagles are emerging from the shadows, as a team wanting to create trouble.

Make Their Strength Their Weakness

Pittsburgh leans heavily on their ground game and the Eagles defense is more than capable of shutting down running games. So far this season, the Eagles rushing defense ranks tenth in the NFL, allowing about 92 rushing yards per game. On the other side, Pittsburgh’s running back, DeAngelo Williams, leads the league with 237 rushing yards in the first two games. Those numbers are impressive considering they came against two competent defenses, Cincinnati and Washington.

Five combined Pro Bowl appearances are dispersed throughout the Steelers offensive line, highlighted by center, Maurkice Pouncey. The Eagles front seven will truly be tested by this stout Steelers bunch up front. Through the first two games, the Eagles defensive line has been credited with 22 combined tackles, with the Steelers giving up a combined 19 tackles to opposing defensive lines.

These two fronts seem to be a close match on paper, but whichever side of the ball wins up front will win the game.

Make Third Down the Most Important Down

Most offensive success is driven by one category: third down conversions. Converting third downs is a key part in extending offensive drives, which in turn increase chances of putting points on the board. Time of possession also goes up when converting third downs, giving the defense more time to rest on the bench and have fresh legs. Three-and-outs hurt both the offense and defense, as well as killing any kind of momentum.

Both defenses excel in stopping third down conversions, as the Eagles defensive third down conversion rate is only 30%, which ranks seventh in the NFL, and the Steelers is 27%, third best in the league.

While both teams have proficient defenses when it comes to third down conversions, the offenses are opposites. The Eagles offense is fifth worst in the NFL with a third down conversion rate of 27%. They are also tied for the fourth most three-and-out drives this season with seven in two games, despite ironically being eighth in the league in points per game. The Steelers offense on the other hand ranks fourth best, converting 52% of their third down attempts.

Based on the numbers, the Steelers have the edge when it comes to third down conversions, but for the Eagles to win, they need to continue to stop third downs on defense and start converting them on offense.

Wentz’s Biggest Test?

Rookie Carson Wentz has played two moderately solid games in some eyes and in the eyes of others, he has played two extremely impressive, eye-opening games. The numbers suggest that he is playing at a mediocre level nonetheless. Through the first two games, Wentz ranks 23rd in completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts, 23rd in passing yards, and only has three passing touchdowns. The one statistic that is particularly impressive however, is he is one of only nine quarterbacks, with at least 30 attempts, to throw no interceptions. Despite the numbers, most can agree that Wentz passes the eye test of being an NFL quarterback.

Wentz has not faced a top defense yet and Pittsburgh will not be the first. Though known for their great defensive play, the Steelers defense has deteriorated over the past few years. Their pass defense ranks 31st this season and 30th last season. Wentz will have an easier time throwing in the Pittsburgh secondary than Cleveland or Chicago. The scouting report on the defense is relatively black and white: not too many blitz packages and pretty conservative coverage. This strategy has worked however with only two touchdowns scored on the defense this year as evidence.

For the Eagles to win, this must be Wentz’s biggest show of his young NFL career to this point. Average and mediocre performances will slide against Cleveland and Chicago, but not when Pittsburgh comes to town. First-year Steelers defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, will more than likely alter the typical game plan and draw up special blitzes and coverage schemes in attempt to rattle the rookie quarterback. Wentz needs to keep composure, which he has so far, and beat Pittsburgh not physically, but mentally.

The Philadelphia Eagles look to keep their young undefeated season alive at home on Sunday when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers. Home field advantage will definitely help propel the Eagles to victory, especially rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. If the Eagles slow down the Steelers running game, prioritize third down, and if Carson Wentz keeps composure and mentally beats the Pittsburgh defense, the Eagles will emerge with a win.

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