David Todd: Quick Thoughts On Week 3: Steelers Versus Eagles

After opening the season with wins over two 2015 division champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers went on the road in week three to take on the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles. It was a disaster. The Steelers were completely dominated in every facet of the game and left as a battered football team, suffering multiple, potentially significant injuries. After winning the coin toss the Steelers took the ball and drove deep into Eagles territory. On third down Ben Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket and lofted a pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone. It hit Wheaton in the chest and went right through his hands. Welcome back.

markus-wheaton-drop

And that might have been a highlight.

The ensuing 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked. The Eagles then drove for a field goal and never trailed.

The Steelers were out-gained 426-251 yards. Roethlisberger, who was pressured the entire game, had another subpar performance and the Steelers ground game was completely shutdown. The offense got nothing going, not even in garbage time, as the Eagles limited them to a paltry 4.3 yards/play and 4.6 yards/pass att.

The defense was equally bad. It finished with 0 sacks, 1 pass defensed and 3 quarterback hits. (the corresponding numbers for the Eagles were 4, 12 and 8.)

Down 13-3 at the half, the Steelers gave up touchdowns on the Eagles first three drives of the third quarter. Game over.

There was plenty written about rookie QB Carson Wentz before the game and we got to see why. He was excellent. Head Coach Doug Pederson and Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich put together an outstanding game plan and Wentz executed it almost flawlessly. Using a short passing game with play-action, screens and the occasional second-level pass, Wentz kept the Steelers off-balance. Combined with a running attack that was equally adept at getting the edge and creating big holes up the middle, the Eagles offense only punted once before the outcome was decided. The final score of 34-3 is fully-reflective of what took place on the field.

Injuries:

*As concerning as the loss was, it’s one game that counts the same as the rest. The injuries occurring during the game though may have a lasting impact. On the defensive side Ryan Shazier re-aggravated his MCL injury and was in an out of action, Robert Golden left early in the first half with a hamstring injury and is likely to miss multiple weeks, Lawrence Timmons suffered a deep cut to his shin and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches and Mike Mitchell left late with a knee injury.

Offensively Ramon Foster came into the game with an elbow injury and apparently left with a chest injury and Eli Rogers injured a toe running a crossing route. I’m sure Rogers will be out multiple games; we’ll see about Foster.

Wheaton saw action for the first time this year and Chris Hubbard was inactive as a result. Cody Wallace, Roosevelt Nix and Senquez Golson were inactive due to injury. Golson is likely to miss the first half of the season with a lisfranc injury.

Offense:

Two points of primary concern: 1.) The poor play of Roethlisberger for the second consecutive week 2.) The lack of a second receiving threat. It’s too early to be overly concerned about Roethlisberger and he isn’t enduring a stretch of poor play like this, which apparently ended yesterday, but Ben needs to play better. Some of the difficulties last week can be blamed on adverse weather conditions and certainly a good portion of it this week can put attributed to the Eagles pass rush, but sometimes elite QBs need to step up when things aren’t going well. Ben didn’t Sunday.

The receiving issue is of greater concern. Wheaton is a decent #2 receiver, but he certainly didn’t look the part against the Eagles. Sammie Coates is a weapon as a deep threat, but I think his route tree consists of the WR screen and the 9 or go route, and Rogers may be lost for an extended period. The Steelers need Wheaton and Coates to step up in a big way.

The Good:

*Anything? Le’Veon Bell comes back from suspension this week? He is the best back in football.

*Antonio Brown had 12 catches for 140 yards? AB was solid. He didn’t have many meaningful catches and had some trouble getting separation against a questionable secondary, but you can almost always count on him for a couple highlight reel catches and he had a few of those.

*Coates had another 40+ yard reception, which gives him four which leads the NFL.

The Bad:

Singling out anyone or group when it was such a bad all-around performance seems unfair, but…

*The offensive line was a disaster. They weren’t able to establish holes for the run game and they got dominated by Fletcher Cox and friends in pass protection. David DeCastro was notably poor, having possibly his worst game as a pro, getting pushed back into Roethlisberger repeatedly and once actually getting called for holding while he was getting beaten for a sack. He had another holding call that was declined when the Steelers failed to convert a fourth down and also was largely responsible for the blocked FG.

*Wheaton dropped three passes before catching a short ball late. He got benched midway through the game, but Rogers’ injury got him back out there and he played 27 snaps. He better pick up his game and fast. The offense needs him.

*The offense was bad. Across the board.

Defense:

The defense had no answer for anything the Eagles did offensively. Wentz looked like Joe Montana in just his third career start. There are also two primary concerns on this side of the ball: 1.) Three weeks in and the Steelers have one sack, which wasn’t even what we consider a sack. Keith Butler has to come up with new ways to get pressure because rushing four isn’t doing the job. 2.) Tackling remains substandard and the speed of backs like Gio Bernard, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood have caused big problems. These things need to be addressed ASAP.

The Good:

*There is virtually nothing to write about. I guess Sean Davis looked good tackling, James Harrison got two of the three QB hits in limited snaps and Stephon Tuitt had a couple nice tackles for loss. That’s all I got.

The Bad:

*Again, signaling out specifics in such a poor performance doesn’t make a ton of sense. The defense had no answer for Philly’s screens and short passing attack. Of the Eagles 301 pass yards, roughly 200 were YAC (yards after catch). A defense that was seen as being fast certainly didn’t look it on Sunday.

*On the Eagles second drive with the score 3-0, they were going to face a 3rd-and-10, before Timmons was hit with a complete unnecessary (and correctly called) late hit on Trey Burton after a 3-yard catch. On the next series of downs Wentz had a 3rd-and-12 and completed a pass for 19 yards, the last play of the first quarter. From there the Eagles went for 11, incomplete pass, 15, 11, 1, 12-yard TD pass. Hot knife through butter, game effectively over.

Special Teams:

The Good:

*Jordan Berry was superb again averaging 55 yards on three punts. Chris Boswell made a 40-yard FG and the blocked FG was not his fault.

The Bad:

*The Steelers tried to return a couple kickoffs that were kicked down to the goal line. Neither Coates nor Fitzgerald Toussaint did well on their three combined returns. It’s time to use Justin Gilbert to return kicks.

Coaching:

The Steelers got out-coached in a big way in all facets. The 31-point loss was the largest of Mike Tomlin’s tenure and it also broke a streak of 305 games where the Steelers never trailed by 30 points, the longest in NFL history.

The Good:

*Down 20-3, I liked the decision to go for it on 4th down after the running into the kicker penalty. The Steelers faced a 4th-and-5 at the Eagles 33. The Eagles placed a wall of defenders at about the 29. The Steelers somewhat inexplicably ran a shallow cross to AB that went incomplete. I understand the goal of getting the ball into your best playmaker’s hands, but it didn’t seem to be the best call against that scheme. Oh, and DeCastro was called for holding on the play, so it wouldn’t have stood if they did get the first down. (Remember, this is “The Good”)

The Bad:

*The gameplans on both sides of the ball and the lack of in-game adjustments. That about covers it, right?

*Look, I understand the “Go down with the ship” mentality that Roethlisberger has and his wanting to be out there late in the game even though the outcome is decided, but what happened yesterday was ridiculous. I’m all for playing the starters even if there is only a minuscule chance for a comeback. But having Ben out there the last ten minutes was an incredibly dumb decision. The risk-reward ratio was 100/0. That is on Tomlin. And I don’t care how he spins it.

Big Officiating Calls:

*Some questionable calls, but no impact on the outcome.

Up Next: The Steelers return home Sunday to take on the (2-1) Kansas City Chiefs who forced eight turnovers, returning two for scores, in a 24-3 win over the New York Jets. The Kickoff for the nationally-televised game at Heinz Field is scheduled for 8:30 pm EST.

Reminder: You can hear me on the postgame show with Charlie Batch across the Steelers Football Network (WDVE, ESPN, steelers.com or the Steelers Gameday app) after every Steelers game and on weekdays on ESPN Pittsburgh 970 and 106.3 FM from 4-7 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.

  • LHW

    After that game, I don’t even know if the Eagles are good or not, the Steelers played that bad. My guess is they are not as good as they played and the Steelers are not as bad as they played. With that in mind, I think the Eagles are a better team. I think a big part of the meaning “better” in this case is the coaching staff and making the most of the tools they have.

  • RickM

    Excellent read and spot-on observations. Hopefully the injury front will not be quite as dark as it clearly has the potential to be.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    I had just finished retching from Sunday; read this, now I’m dry heaving.

    Spot on article.

  • Jason Vancil

    This is the 1st game where it looked like Ben was forcing the ball to AB. He looks like he has little confidence in anyone else. He misses Heath, no doubt. Hopefully Wheaton rounds into form, Bell provides his usual threat on dumpoffs and Ledarius Green offers a legit threat at TE. It’s obviously a work in progress.

  • Yeah, leaving Ben out there was stupid. Was Tomlin punishing him? Tomlin is weird at times.

    The only thing we can do is move forward. I just hope all upcoming teams don’t use the same offensive game plan against us. I know not all teams have a Sproles in their backfield, but I just hope that’s not our Achilles heal on defense for the remainder of the season. Did the Eagles layout the blueprint for all other teams to follow when playing against us? I guess we’ll find out in the coming weeks ahead.

    Also, for the most part, we had done pretty well against rookie QBs in previous years, but that was when Dick LeBeau was our DC.

  • Mark

    Best article I’ve seen yet. Could have done without how great the Punter did. Salt in wounds. Your points about the train wreck coaching was spot on.

  • k33ger

    I have had some time to calm down from the “Burn Wheaton at the stake” feelings I’ve had since this game. lol.
    Looking at it rationally, the last time I remember us playing the Eagles well was back when we whooped Terrell Owens and ruined their perfect record. I think the Eagles just have our number.

    That said, it seems clear to me Haley expected our Offensive Line to do a better job. I know he is capable of designing game plans with quick passes and even doing things like RB screens. The fact that wasn’t his setup on Sunday tells me he thought they could execute their usual mix of deep / intermediate plays. Strike to Haley.

    Defense…too many young kids. The big play by Sproles was a bad play by Burns or Sean Davis, unsure which number it was. I liked the idea in the beginning of not blitzing the eagles, but we didn’t cover well enough or prepare for their misdirection properly. Meh.

    I agree and liked the 4th down go for it, and also agree that the play call was horrid. I have never been a fan of any playcall on 3rd or 4th down that asks for the #1 read to gain YAC to get the 1st down. Shallow drags, RBs out of the backfield, etc. No. It’s ok for the #2/#3 read to do that, as an out if the #1 is not open.

    But I understand Ben having no confidence in Non AB receivers. They all let him down yesterday. Except maybe DHB. I really think we should do DHB and AB as #2/#1, and roll with it.

  • David Todd

    Thanks.

  • David Todd

    Thanks for reading.

  • Mark

    The Punter comment was my off-humor. Excellent analysis. Straight shooter. I dig it. Too many on here tiptoe around afraid to offend. Great work.

  • Mark

    If “Coach” Tomlin want to punish anyone it should be that pothead RB. I’d run him until he has to be carted off.

  • Mark

    OC needs to focus on bringing James around. Green was a mistake, I am certain we will discover by December.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    We have some really young players that are starting so we need to try and keep cohesion between all units even when we are being blown out.

  • AndyR34

    Dave – excellent commentary. I only have one quibble and that is your observation on no in-game adjustments…I think it is redundant. When do you ever see any by the Steelers?

  • Scott N.

    I’m surprised DHB wasn’t listed in this article. I thought his play last year was great considering his history.

  • Keith Evans

    we lost the battle in the trenches, Jarvis and moats were getting thrown around like ragdolls,and on the other side DeCastro and Gilbert looked like rookies! pathetic.

  • Paddy

    I think the Eagles are a pretty good team, all they needed was a QB who could follow and execute a system. Their front 7 are terrific and the secondary tackles well. The Steelers got behind and Ben couldn’t overcome the drops and poor overthrows he made. I am worried about #78 at LT, he’s not very good at all to play such an important position. Lastly Tomlin needs to do a better job game planning. This was supposed to be a Super Bowl team and so far they haven’t looked like it

  • Gloria Burke

    This was a beat down of epic proportions. I cannot remember feeling like absolutely NO ONE gave a wise crap after the first set of the second half…and that’s coaching, folks. They were just so flat and they seemingly made no adjustments to steer towards a different result . . . on offense or defense. Where was DWill? I know there were NO holes on the right side of the line, but there had to be something that might be effective. Did they NOT watch tape. And, for the love of all that’s sane, stop the delayed draw handoff (specifially cringeworthy with Richarson) with anyone who isn’t named Leveon Bell. It just doesn’t work. I don’t know if I’m more disgusted or if I’m more surprised at the end result. And believe me, I was disgusted. It was a two motrin PM night for sure.

  • charles

    It was a game reminiscent of 1967 and 1968. You had to be serious fan to be a Steeler fan then.

  • charles

    I think the problem is recognition of talent. Actually lack thereof. C and T have made bust after bust on first rounders (especially on D) and many wasted rounds after that including the scatbacks T so much likes. But there also was a large overconfidence in our coaches as well as a clear target on Steelers back with Pedersen and Schwarz.
    I appreciate the good honest evaluation the writer presents here…

  • Brian Miller

    True, my initial knee jerk reaction after the game was that Berry was the MVP.

  • Real smart.

  • Mark

    Trying to win a championship, right? Or are we concerned about having him when he’s 30? Who cares….

  • Mark

    Chances are this thick skulled knucklehead will be suspended again before his glorious career is over.