The Eagles are in Pittsburgh to take on the undefeated Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday (The Kickoff Show presented by Axalta, 12:15 PM on PhiladelphiaEagles.com). Here is a look at the best stories from the past week ahead of the big game.
1. A homecoming for Miles Sanders
Leading up to the 49ers game, running back Miles Sanders shared stories about himself in front of the entire team. He talked about growing up just outside of Pittsburgh, where there is a wealth of football talent, but not everyone makes it to the NFL as Sanders did.
"I'm blessed that I'm living my dream," said Sanders, who stressed to his teammates how nothing is promised and several people he knows took the wrong turn in life. "And being from Pittsburgh and going back to the city and playing in the city means a lot to me."
On Sunday, Sanders will play at Heinz Field in front of his mother, Marlene, and some close friends.
"It's a blessing, honestly. I can't really put it into words because it's a lot of emotions, to be honest," Sanders said.
This isn't the first time Sanders will play at Heinz Field. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin recalled watching Sanders play there when the running back was a freshman in high school. Sanders doesn't recall much about that game, but his favorite memory comes back to him instantly.
"Beating the Pitt Panthers 51-6," Sanders said of Penn State's rout in 2018. Sanders had many friends on the Pitt team who talked a lot of trash the whole offseason leading up to that game.
Let's hope Sanders' team delivers a similar result on Sunday.
2. Javon Hargrave set to play against his former team
Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave signed a big-money deal in the offseason to join the Eagles and four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's looking forward to finally getting his hands on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"You can't touch Ben. We never got a chance to touch Ben. Ben's forbidden to be touched over there in Pittsburgh," Hargrave recalled of the Steelers' practices.
"Ben is elite. He's been in the league for a long time. We gotta disrupt and try to create problems because if we give him a lot of time, he can make a lot of plays happen and extend a lot of plays. We gotta be big on trying to get him down and bringing him down."
After an offseason pectoral injury, Hargrave and the rest of the defensive line are rounding into form. Over the past two weeks, the Eagles have 13 sacks and 33 quarterback hits.
"I think we can be really good. Even though we're leading the league in sacks, I don't think anybody knew we were leading the NFL in sacks because we really haven't had a game yet where we can show everybody what we can do, so I don't think we've really reached where we can go. We just look forward to trying to get better every week," Hargrave said.
"I've never seen anything like this, to have so much talent on one defensive line where we can just keep rotating and not drop a beat and just having so many guys to come in and contribute. It's really amazing. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
Sunday will be a perfect opportunity against the undefeated Steelers, who have scored at least 26 points in each of their first three games.
"It doesn't really matter who's in there with them boys, somehow they're always playing good," Hargrave said of the Steelers' offensive line. "They just work real great together."
3. Travis Fulgham deals with instant stardom
After his stellar Eagles debut that featured a 42-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter of the win over the 49ers, wide receiver Travis Fulgham was on his phone Monday, checking Twitter, when he could no longer access his profile.
His account was hacked.
The Eagles' social media team jumped in to help and on Friday, he finally was able to reaccess his account.
"It's definitely been different, but I love all of the support from the Eagles fans," said Fulgham, whose Twitter following has doubled since Sunday's game. "You can tell it's a great fan base. From my standpoint, I've just kept my head down and just grind throughout the week and get ready for this next game."
Here's something you might not have known. Fulgham's biggest supporters were the backup quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Nate Sudfeld.
"There's been no bigger advocate for Travis than Jalen and Nate," Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Press Taylor told Fran Duffy on Eagles Game Plan. "They spend a lot of time getting to throw to him on practice squad looks, scout squad looks, and they were really supportive of him. They were hyping him up to Carson."
Fulgham is focused on not being a one-game wonder.
"That's definitely the goal, being consistent week in and week out. Just being available for my team when they call my number, be there to make the play, and do my part," he said. "I've just been focused on this next game."
4. What will Jordan Mailata do for an encore?
The best part of the fact that the Eagles played on Sunday Night Football for tackle Jordan Mailata was that friends and family back home in Australia could watch the game live at 11 AM on Monday, instead of in the middle of the night.
When Mailata returned to Philadelphia after his first career start, future Hall of Fame tackle Jason Peters, a man of few words, shook his hand. Peters told him that he did a good job, and that there was plenty to learn from the film to get ready for this Sunday's matchup against outstanding edge rusher Bud Dupree.
"I felt very strong that this was going to be the year he really showed who he could be as a player," Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Jeff Stoutland said. "He still has a ways to go and he has a lot to learn. The one good thing is he's a very unique individual. The guy can move his feet and change direction, and he's so big. It's hard to get around real big guys now."
Mailata, a seventh-round pick in 2018 who played rugby instead of football in Australia, said that the game started to click for him late in the 2019 season when he was learning in meetings as he was on Injured Reserve due to a back injury. He came into the virtual offseason with the ability to confidently answer questions about the playbook. But it was Andre Dillard's season-ending biceps injury that truly served as a wake-up call for Mailata. He admitted that he had to "sharpen the tools" because he knew he was going to be needed.
"I knew technique-wise and mentally and physically that I could play in this league. I could play for this team," he said.
Stoutland wants to see Mailata be more consistent. Mailata wants to be known as a football player, and not let any mistakes be chalked up to inexperience.
"Don't dip your toe in the water. Drown in it. And learn how to swim. And I'm swimming," Mailata said of how he dealt with doubt over the past three seasons.
5. Will the ski mask return?
The defense started using a ski mask to celebrate turnovers late in the 2018 season.
On Sunday in San Francisco, the Eagles' defense got its first three takeaways of the 2020 season. But the ski mask was nowhere to be found.
Safety Rodney McLeod had no problem throwing cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc under the bus. After being dimed out by McLeod, LeBlanc said that he left it on the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field following the Cincinnati game. When he went back to retrieve it, the ski mask was gone.
Maybe it was a good thing.
"I don't know if the ski mask will make a return or we'll leave it behind again for good luck," McLeod said. "You know how we are as players, superstitious. The intent is to bring the mask back for sure."
"You can't go wrong with a ski mask, but being that it wasn't there and we did get turnovers, I don't see why we can't come up with something that could league by notice and come up with our own theme again," LeBlanc said. "If the ski mask is on the sideline, it's definitely going to get put on."
Take a look at the best practice photos of the week as the Eagles prepare for their Week 5 game against the Steelers.
6. Alex Singleton's pick-six a 'dream come true'
Every moment from the night – the reps taken on special teams and in the defense, the empty stands, the feeling of running in "quicksand" after making an interception and returning it for a touchdown, and then, in the locker room in front of the entire team, given the opportunity to break down the postgame huddle – linebacker Alex Singleton has replayed them in his mind many times. He's been in professional football since 2015, has been on the transactions list "more times than I can remember," and freely admits that what happened on Sunday night at Levi's Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers was a dream come true.
You wonder, maybe, what happens after a player makes a big play on a national stage and then is thrust into the media spotlight? We see it when players like Carson Wentz and Fletcher Cox and the stars of the sport settle in so comfortably in those moments. It comes, honestly, with the territory. They make plays, they do the interviews, they bask in the light, and then they move on. Wash, rinse, repeat.
For a guy like Alex Singleton, it's a moment that will resonate far beyond his NFL playing days.
"It's one of those things you dream about your whole life," Singleton said on Tuesday morning. "It was for my family. The feeling of 'to give it back to them.' That's the first thing I thought when I scored. They have supported me every step of the way. It's been a long journey and my family, my parents, I owe them everything. I call my family after every game on Facetime. If I make a tackle, it's cool to relive that with them. I'll get to my phone after a game and I'll get a text from my mom about a play.
"This time, it was different.
"I didn't know Instagram worked the way it does with the way the messages were coming in. I have a lot of friends from high school that I didn't know I still had their numbers. It was definitely interesting."
7. Eagles-Steelers Game Preview
It's been four years since the Eagles last played the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that Week 3 matchup of the 2016 season, Carson Wentz was brilliant, completing 23 of 31 pass attempts for 301 yards and two touchdowns in an unexpected 34-3 rout.
The Eagles started the year 3-0. Wentz was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month, showing the league a glimpse of what was to come the following season.
The Steelers, meanwhile, rebounded from the loss to finish 11-5 and reach the AFC Championship Game. They went back to the playoffs the following season, when it looked like the Super Bowl could potentially be an all-Pennsylvania affair. However, the Steelers haven't been back to the postseason since, while the Eagles are one of just four teams to make it in each of the past three years.
Pittsburgh hasn't missed the playoffs in three straight seasons since the 1998-2000 campaigns and it appears the Steelers are back on the road to the postseason.
The Steelers are 3-0 to open 2020. Their three opponents – the Giants, Broncos, and Texans – are a combined 1-11, but the Steelers have gotten it done on both sides of the ball. With a rejuvenated Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, the offense has scored at least 26 points in each of their first three games for the first time since 2007. The defense leads the NFL averaging 5.0 sacks per game and has the top-rated run defense, allowing just 54 yards per game.
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers react to their early-season bye. Pittsburgh was supposed to play in Tennessee last week, but the Titans' COVID outbreak postponed the game until later in the season. The Steelers spent most of the week gameplanning for the Titans, so it's not like they got a huge head start on the Eagles.
8. Spadaro: 8 points to consider as Eagles prep for Steelers
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 ...
No. 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."
9. Where are they now? LB Mike Reichenbach
All-City in football as well as on the baseball and wrestling teams at Liberty High School in his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Mike Reichenbach was clearly an outstanding athlete. As a prophet, yeah, not so much.
"When you're a kid, you always go with the team that's winning, and at the time, the Steelers were winning, so I was a Steelers fan," Reichenbach says. "All my uncles and everybody that I knew was an Eagles fan, and just to get under their skin, I said, 'If I ever make it to the NFL, I'll never play for the Eagles.'"
Well, about that. Named as a first-team Little All-America linebacker by The Associated Press and Kodak/Coaches as a senior at Division II East Stroudsburg University, Reichenbach went undrafted in 1984, but not unnoticed.
10. Cooking with the Birds: Eagles host virtual cooking event for families battling cancer
Bringing Hope Home describes its mission with a simple statement – Unexpected amazingness for families with cancer.
Founded in 2008, Bringing Hope Home, a member of the Eagles Care network of nonprofit organizations, has helped over 6,200 families with over $7 million in assistance – from rent, mortgage, utilities, car payment, groceries, anything that the family needs help with.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Eagles and Bringing Hope Home looked to bring some more unexpected amazingness with a virtual cooking demonstration. Chef Nicole Feneli from the FLIK Hospitality Group taught about a dozen families how to make peppers stuffed with chicken sausage and couscous, a healthy and delicious meal that is easy enough for anyone in a time crunch. Chef Feneli was joined by Eagles players Jordan Mailata and Boston Scott, who followed the step-by-step directions and answered questions from the families in attendance.
"We had a really good time. We got a little bit of a late start, but we caught up," said Jenny Reece, who cooked alongside her two children Cecilia and Elijah. "Thankfully, I had these two helpers with me and they kept making sure that we were staying on track. That was really fun. We do like to cook and bake together a lot, so this was right up our alley. We were pretty pumped to be able to do this today."
"It was cool seeing some of the Eagles players," Cecilia Reece said.