When the Pittsburgh Steelers square off against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday they will be doing so for the 78th time. 78 times the two greatest cities in Pennsylvania (Sorry, Harrisburg) will battle for NFL supremacy and bragging rights for their respected fanbases over the next four years.
Pittsburgh Steelers-Philadelphia Eagles: The Battle for the Commonwealth
Steelers-Eagles is much more than just a “football game” in Pennsylvania. For 60 minutes on Sunday it pits family against family, Broad Street against South Side, Cheesesteaks against Primanti Brothers and Broad Street Bullies against Yinzers.
The Philadelphia Eagles hold an all-time record of 46-28-3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rivalry dates back to the 1933 season when both franchises entered the National Football League (Pittsburgh as the Pittsburgh Pirates).
More recently, the two Pennsylvania franchises have faced each other every four years since 2000, with each team winning two games apiece. Over those four previous meetings the Steelers have outscored the Eagles 72-58, but three out of the four games have been decided by ten points or fewer.
Even though the Eagles hold the all-time head to head advantage over the Steelers, every Steelers fan in the nation can tell you the one important category Pittsburgh holds the edge in. And that would be Super Bowl victories.
The Steelers have been able to capture an NFL best six Lombardi Trophies, while their Commonwealth brethren in Philadelphia have failed to capture a Super Bowl in their two attempts.
But that is neither here nor there, and doesn’t mean a lick on Sunday. Let’s get down to the football!
Steelers Offense vs. Eagles Defense
When the Steelers take the field they will do so boasting the NFL’s leading rusher in DeAngelo Williams (58 attempts, 237 yards), and the NFL’s leader in passing touchdowns in Ben Roethlisberger (six).
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is averaging 280 yards a game passing and has weapons to utilize at every position, including tight end. He will need to utilize every one of his weapons if the Steelers are going to win on Sunday.
The Eagles defense has some impressive statistics through the first two weeks of the season. They boast the fourth best defense in total yards allowed (286 yards per game), the fifth best passing defense (194 yards per game) and the tenth best rushing defense (92 yards per game).
Pittsburgh has a potent passing attack that will put pressure on the Philadelphia secondary on every play. Led by Antonio Brown (22 targets, 12 receptions, 165 yards, two touchdowns), the Steelers receiving corps has been excellent through the first two games.
The top can be taken off the Eagles secondary, and I expect the Steelers to try repeatedly with the likes of Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Speedster Markus Wheaton is also set to return from an injury that has kept him out the first two weeks of the season.
Philadelphia has been susceptible to the deep ball early in the season. Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor had long receptions of 58 yards and 44 yards respectively. While Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal had long receptions of 49 yards and 31 yards respectively.
Throwing the ball deep sounds like a great strategy, but it requires a lot of time being protected in the pocket. The Philadelphia Eagles have a done a great job of disrupting the quarterback in the pocket.
The defense has recorded six sacks with Brandon Graham leading the way individually with two sacks. Safety Rodney McLeod leads the team in tackles (nine) and also has an interception and a forced fumble.
In what has been a typically sore spot for the Steelers in years past, the offensive line play has been excellent through two games. The Steelers have given up only two sacks and block for the NFL’s leading rusher and passing touchdowns leader.
The key to disrupting Pittsburgh is pressure, and I expect the Eagles to blitz early and often to try and bring down Big Ben Roethlisberger.
Eagles Offense vs. Steelers Defense
The 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles are led by rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. The number two overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Wentz has looked every bit the part of an NFL quarterback. As always, expectations are high in Philadelphia and the rookie quarterback has exceeded them. Granted, only two weeks have passed.
Head Coach Doug Pederson has slimmed down the playbook and put Carson Wentz in position to succeed by getting the ball into his play-makers hands. Wentz is averaging 225 yards passing a game, completing 60.6% of his passes, and has a QBR of 94.1. Pretty good for a rookie six months removed from playing the likes of Weber State and Southern Illinois.
The Eagles backfield is led by Ryan Matthews (31 attempts, 109 yards, three touchdowns) and always dangerous Darren Sproles (52 yards rushing, 32 yards receiving). The wide receiver corps is led on the outside by Jordan Matthews (13 receptions, 185 yards, one touchdown) and Nelson Agholor (8 receptions, 99 yards, one touchdown).
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has employed a “bend but don’t break” philosophy since the start of the 2015 season. It looks like they’ll be employing the same strategy in 2016. The Steelers rank 21st in total defense and 30th in the NFL in passing yards against (347.5 yards/game). On the flip side, though, the Steelers rank second in the NFL in rushing yards against (50.5 yards/game).
Led by standout linebackers Ryan Shazier (17 tackles, two passes defended, one interception, one forced fumble) and veteran stalwart Lawrence Timmons (15 tackles), the Steelers defense will look to shake the confidence of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.
This “bend but don’t break” strategy relies on the quarterback to beat you consistently down the field, and in the red-zone when it counts the most. The Steelers defense has been excellent at holding opponents to field goals over the first two games, and I expect that to continue on Sunday.
The previous two matchups between the Eagles and the Steelers (2008 & 2012) saw each team score no more than 16 points (15-6 & 16-14). I do not expect to see a defensive struggle this Sunday afternoon. Rather, I expect to see a shootout.
The Eagles defense hasn’t seen an offense like the Steelers this year (the Eagles have played Cleveland & Chicago), and I expect it to show. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams will all score touchdowns respectively, while wide receiver Sammie Coates catches a long ball or two for a touchdown.
The rookie quarterback Carson Wentz’ success will continue against the porous Steelers secondary. Both of the Matthews will score a touchdown, but the Steelers will pull away in the second half.
Steelers 31, Eagles 27.
The 78th Battle of the Commonwealth will belong to Pittsburgh and all will be right in the world for the next four years.