On to Week 5, and the landscape is challenging: The Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-0, having whipped up on the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and Houston Texans (a combined 1-11). The Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the AFC. They've got definite strengths. The Eagles need to exploit their weaknesses. Let's catch up on all things Eagles here ...
1. Pittsburgh leads the NFL with an average of five quarterback sacks per game, offering pressure off the edges from T.J. Watt (3.5 sacks) and Bud Dupree (2.5 sacks) and a blitz package that provides rush lanes for just about everybody on the defense. The Eagles have, of course, been fluctuating along the offensive line all season. Everyone understands the enormity of the matchup.
"This is a huge test for us," center Jason Kelce said. "Not only are they incredibly good players individually, but they do some things schematically. They're going to blitz you – they're one of the highest, if not the highest, percentage of blitzes in the NFL – they're going to come at you, they have great players, from obviously (end Cameron) Heyward is kind of the engine that makes that whole thing go, (Stephon) Tuitt has been phenomenal and then you have the two edges with Watt, Dupree.
"They have great linebackers – this is about as good of a unit as we're going to see up front and obviously it doesn't really change that much for us. All week, we're just going to focus on the game plan, focus on our individual responsibilities, what we need to do to be successful on gameday, and we're just going to go about trying to get that done. It's definitely a good challenge and this will be a good one to go through as a young group, a bunch of guys itching to prove themselves on this level."
2. Cornerback Darius Slay met the media on Wednesday and was asked about the NFL season and the COVID-19 outbreaks. He wanted to make sure everyone knew he stance, so he offered this clarifying statement: "When it first came out, I'm like, 'Nah, we shouldn't have no season when it first came out.' … clearly the Eagles have been doing a great job of protecting us and that's when I said it was clear to play. … They came up with a great game plan to have us be in the building. Before then, I was thinking to myself, 'Like, how are they gonna do this? How are they gonna find a way for us to not have this going on? How are they gonna know who has it?'
"They kind of invented the trackers we've got so I'm like, OK, now I'm comfortable doing it because of the fact that I'm being tested every day … I have kids, so I have to make sure that my kids and my wife are OK. I'm OK playing. The Eagles probably have it the most safest it's been, so I feel most safe here (NovaCare Complex) besides my house, my home."
3. From a football standpoint, Slay and the Eagles' secondary have a huge challenge against a deep and talented Pittsburgh wide receiver corps led by JuJu Smith-Shuster (17 catches, 160 yards, 3 TDs), Diontae Johnson (14-149-TD), and rookie Chase Claypool, who is averaging 25.2 yards per catch on six receptions. Pittsburgh also has a very talented tight end in Eric Ebron. Who does Slay match up against? That's a great question for Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz to answer during the week of preparation.
4. As good as Pittsburgh's defensive line has been, the Eagles are coming on strong as well with 13 quarterback sacks the last two weeks and strong play against the run. For the defense to have success on Sunday, the Eagles have to win at the line of scrimmage and tackle Fletcher Cox feels like the group is up to the task.
"I've been blessed to be around a bunch a talented defensive lines, a bunch of special groups, and this group here just adds on to it," he said. "We have a bunch of guys who come to work every day. None of the guys are selfish and that's the great thing about being around a great group of guys who are here now and also in the past. Every guy is selfless and is communicating on what's going on. I think that's the really good thing about the defensive line we have here."
5. Quarterback Carson Wentz has accumulated 10 rushing first downs in the last two games and, clearly, his running has added to the offensive productivity. Head Coach Doug Pederson is a big fan of No. 11 using his legs.
"We've encouraged him to use his legs, especially on passing situations when things break down. He's really good at it, he breaks tackles, he gets out of it, he's extended plays, and he's been successful," Pederson said. "We still have to be smart in the run game and some of the things that we do with him, but it's a little bit of a conscious effort to get him more involved in the run game as a runner because he is big, strong, and powerful. Why not utilize that when we can?"
6. Ben Roethlisberger against the Eagles in his career: 2-2 record, 56 percent completion percentage, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. Here is the key number: The Eagles have sacked Roethlisberger 14 times in those four games. So, yeah, the pass rush is kind of huge on Sunday.
7. Injury report: The Eagles welcomed back wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside as a full-time participant in practice on Wednesday and both Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson were limited, so it's very much a question mark as to their playing on Sunday. Lots of hamstring issues among those who did not practice – safeties Rodney McLeod and Rudy Ford along with linebacker T.J. Edwards. Cornerback Avonte Maddox and offensive tackle Lane Johnson did not practice with ankle injuries. It is something to keep an eye on as the week progresses.
8. The opposition hasn't exactly been great, but don't discount the Pittsburgh run defense, which has allowed only 54 yards per game in its three wins. It's critical to get the running game going, and the Eagles have averaged 130 yards per game the last three weeks. Wentz's numbers count. All of them do. Look for the Eagles to be creative running the football on Sunday, Wentz included.