Weekly Bold Prediction: Steelers defense steamrolls Carson Wentz and the Eagles
On the surface this prediction looks like another day in the office for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. However, it’s more or less how bad the Philadelphia Eagles offense looks heading into this Week 5 matchup of interstate foes that leans in Pittsburgh’s favor.
Prior to an impromptu Week 4 bye, the Steelers defense coasted through three weaker opponents: the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and Houston Texans. As is becoming customary, getting embarrassed by the Steelers may get your coach fired – which happened to Bill O’Brien a week after his Texans were blanked in the second half of the Steelers third win of the season.
The Eagles bring nothing more to the table than the Steelers previous three opponents. If anything, they’re as deficient as they are, if not more. Second-year running back Miles Sanders isn’t on the same level as Saquon Barkley or Melvin Gordon. Even Carson Wentz, statistically, has had a worse go of 2020 so far than Daniel Jones or Deshaun Watson.
Philadelphia’s offensive line is also in shambles, allowing Wentz to get sacked 14 times: third-most in the league. Wentz is also attempting fourth in passing attempts while leading the league in interceptions, with seven (and only four touchdown passes).
Wentz has also fumbled four times this season in four games – but with only one lost.
It’s an intriguing matchup as the Steelers defense remains second in the league with 15 sacks, despite having only played three games. The Eagles offensive line, who has already had their hands full with injuries and other issues, saw three starters land on the injury report.
Johnson, the team’s long-time right tackle, was in-and-out against the 49ers, while the left tackle spot was vacated by another stalwart on their line, Jason Peters, who was placed on IR a week earlier and will miss this week’s game in Pittsburgh.
Peters’ replacement is Jordan Mailata, a 2018 seventh-round draft pick, and former rugby player, who never played a down of football. Mailata would make his first start last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, playing 62 snaps – with only 20 more offensive snaps (as a swing tackle no less) in his entire career.
The third-year pro figures to have his hands full with Bud Dupree, who has 2.5 sacks and 6 QB hits through three games.
If Johnson doesn’t make it into the lineup for Sunday’s game, whomever steps into his shoes will have to contend with T.J. Watt, who leads the Steelers with 3.5 sacks and has 10 QB hits on his 2020 resume as well.
Mike Hilton can generate pressure off of the edge, Vince Williams can fly through the middle, and Stephon Tuitt generates his own pass rush – each of these three Steelers also has a pair of sacks through three games in 2020, while Cameron Heyward, a perennial leader in the category over the last several years, looks to add to his half-sack so far this year.
The Eagles were able to beat an ailing 49ers team, without many of their marquee names playing, by limiting them getting to Wentz only three times. The Steelers defense, however, could make this another miserable day for the Eagles quarterback, who was dropped eight times in Week 1 by Washington.
Look for the Steelers defense to register at least five sacks on Sunday.
As for my other defensive prediction, Wentz has personally given the ball away twice in three of four games. Wentz may not have much help at the wide receiver position this weekend either, as Alshon Jefferey has yet to appear this year after a Lisfranc injury in 2019. Desean Jackson is nursing a hamstring injury from two weeks ago.
Both were limited in practice, while 2020 first round pick Jaelan Raeger is also still on IR and unable to contribute. This has left the Eagles with a wide receiver group consisting of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Travis Fulgham, Greg Ward, and John Hightower. Their biggest threat has been their tight ends, but Philly is also without Dallas Goedert, yet another name on the team’s long IR list.
This leaves Wentz with TE Zach Ertz as his main target, and leaning on Miles Sanders behind a porous offensive line. With their second-straight road trip (heading from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, who will finally have some fans in attendance) I expect the Steelers defense to force a minimum of two turnovers, if not more, as the defense embarrasses their cross-state opponent in a lopsided Eagles offensive effort.