Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin referred to this Sunday’s meeting in Philadelphia with the undefeated Eagles as “an awesome challenge” during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and that may be putting it mildly.
Tomlin’s Steelers (2-5), who are currently listed as an 11-point underdog this weekend, will have their hands full on both sides of the ball, as the Eagles (6-0) possess both a high-powered offense and a tough, scrappy defense that are the reasons they’re the league’s only remaining unbeaten squad.
Philly is ranked fifth in the NFL in total yards per game, racking up an average of 394.5, while also ranking first in defensive takeaways with 14 in just six games (9 interceptions, 5 fumbles recovered), and fourth in yards allowed with 297.8 per contest.
“They’ve got corners who are a veteran group; they’re highly ball-aware, they’ve got good ball skills,” Tomlin said of the Eagles’ defense. “They’ve got a front that applies pressure and creates an environment where turnovers happen.”
The coach went on to explain that Philadelphia’s defenders will not only try to take down a ball-carrier, but will also attempt to pop the pigskin loose in the process.
For the Eagles offensively, as Tomlin pointed out Tuesday, a ton of their success is due to the play of quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has thrown for 1,514 yards and 6 touchdowns while also rushing for 293 yards and 6 more scores. He’s also only thrown a pair of interceptions, which are the Eagles’ lone two giveaways on the season.
“They’re unbelievably efficient in terms of maintaining possession of the ball, and it starts with their quarterback, Jalen Hurts,” Tomlin said. “Man, I’ve just got so much respect for him in the way he plays the position, his intangible quality, his leadership skills, his prudent decision-making, his prudent use of mobility at the position. It’s all really good, and that’s why they have very little negativity in their offense.”
Fourth-year wideout A.J. Brown came over from Tennessee in the offseason, and leads the Eagles with 503 receiving yards on the year. Devonta Smith is another talented young target in his second season out of Alabama, who has matched Brown with a team-high 33 receptions.
Miles Sanders leads Philadelphia in rushing with 485 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season.
“They’ve got a good offense, they’ve got good players at all positions, it’s going to be a big-time challenge from our perspective,” said Tomlin. “And when they have weapons like that, it’s not about shutting them down and stopping everything that they do, it’s about prioritizing.”
Pittsburgh enters Sunday’s game ranked at-or-near the bottom of the barrel in multiple offensive categories, including 30th in yards per game (298.6), 31st in points per game (15.3), and dead-last in yards per play (4.8).
After letting a win slip away in Miami last week, the Steelers would love to walk out of Sunday’s affair with a huge upset win heading into the Week-9 bye.
“We’re excited about this challenge, we respect it,” admitted Tomlin. “We’ve got some work ahead of us in prep, and then ultimately in play.”
In terms of getting a few players back from the injured reserve list — star linebacker T.J. Watt and rookie receiver Calvin Austin III — the coach said, “I got no update as I sit here today,” but then quickly added, “Their inclusion this week is highly unlikely.” Watt was on the field and wearing a helmet at practice Wednesday, which officially began his three-week window to be included back onto the 53-man roster. It’s possible that both Watt and Austin could be in the lineup after the bye week. Tomlin also said that Levi Wallace (shoulder) is questionable for Sunday’s game, and that fellow cornerback Josh Jackson will likely be limited in practice.