Money time for the Eagles. The first six games are behind them, the elongated second half begins.
3 PREDICTIONS YOU’LL LIKE
1. EAGLES DEFENSE
The offense gets the attention, the defense wins games.
The Eagles have the fourth-best defense in the league and are ranked fifth against the pass and 12th against the run.
The Eagles have held opponents to a 66.0 passer rating, best in the league. They also have held opponents to the second-best completion percentage (56.8 percent), behind the Giants’ 56.5 percent.
Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett could have issues going against the team with the NFL’s best turnover differential. The Steelers’ offense is ranked 30th. The rushing game is ranked 27th and passing game is ranked 24th.
Pickett is 1-2. He has completed 87-of-127 passes for 771 yards and two touchdowns. He has thrown seven interceptions, sometimes a price rookie quarterbacks pay.
Expect the Eagles to put pressure on the rookie and expect the secondary to profit. Maybe new defensive end Robert Quinn will help. The Eagles have nine interceptions and will add to that total Sunday.
2. JALEN HURTS
Expect Hurts and the offense to move the ball against the Steelers’ 28th ranked defense. What in the name of Mean Joe Greene is going on in Pittsburgh?
The Steelers rank 29th against the pass and 18th against the rush.
With a week off, got a feeling the Eagles are going to air it out early against Pittsburgh and run the ball relentlessly in the second half. It’s a tried and true formula for NFL success and in the Steelers, the Eagles might be playing the right opponent at the right time.
3. EAGLES WIN
The numbers tell it, the eyes see it, the experts say it.
The Eagles are a better football team, should be fresh coming off the bye, and it would be shocking if they lose to Pittsburgh.
One more thing: Good teams don’t lose to rookie quarterbacks. I suspect most things will go right for the Eagles and they will win, 34-17.
3 PREDICTIONS YOU WON’T LIKE
1. MIKE TOMLIN
Tomlin has been the Steelers’ coach since 2007, 16 seasons. He has a 156-90-2 record that includes a Super Bowl victory in 2008 and a Super Bowl appearance in 2010.
Tomlin is the Steelers’ third coach since 1969, following Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.
Tomlin represents consistency, stability and an uncanny ability to win games. Players talk about his no-nonsense approach and motivational skills.
For the first time since 2004, the Steelers are without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. They started with Mitchell Trubisky, then switched to Pickett.
The Steelers are 2-5. Oddly, the victories were good ones — at the Bengals and at home vs. Tom Brady and Buccaneers. Meanwhile, Tomlin’s amazing streak of 15 consecutive non-losing seasons is in jeopardy.
If I had to win one NFL game, I might take Tomlin as my coach to do it. He strikes me as a guy who could win with your roster as well as win with his own.
Overlook Tomlin at your own peril. He will have the Steelers ready to play and what an opportunity — to knock off the only undefeated team.
2. YOU NEVER KNOW
The Steelers hung tough with the Dolphins on Monday night, losing 16-10. A break here or there and the Steelers could have won. That should get the Eagles’ attention.
Pittsburgh ranks 31st in points scored with 14.3 points per game. The Steelers haven’t scored more than 20 points since the opener.
Najee Harris is only averaging 3.3 yards per carry but the Steelers might need him to have a big game. They definitely need Pickett to be competitive.
- “I was a big Kenny Pickett fan [coming out of college],” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “I thought he was a really good football player. He did a lot of really good things.
- “I thought he was a quick decision-maker. I thought he was a very good, underrated guy with his legs …
- “I thought also he’s very intelligent. As far as football intelligence, he was off the charts. I thought he was really good.
- “Then getting into how he’s playing and everything, you’re just going to keep seeing him get better. I just think from everything I know about him, I think he’ll continue to get better because I think he has a lot of tools.”
If the game slows down for Pickett and speeds up for wide receivers Chase Claypool and Deontae Johnson, and quality tight end Pat Freiermuth, who has been slowed by an ankle injury has a big day, expect a competitive game.
3. STEELERS WIN?
This happens is if the “one unexpected game you lose each season” comes true. Weird things happen at weird times in the NFL.
How can Pittsburgh win? Get a few timely turnovers, get a few breaks, have the Eagles play their worst game of the season. I can’t imagine the Eagles returning from the bye sluggish. Maybe a bit rusty, though. That could help the Steelers.
NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt will not play. His pass-rushing skills could have harassed Hurts into an interception.
I can’t imagine a Mike Tomlin team not fighting to the end. I expect a tough, physical game. If the Steelers can pull this off, expect a 20-17 final.