By Joe Staszak
By Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells’ standards, you are what your record says you are. So if that’s the case then the 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers should be considered legit, right? Well, not so fast. The Steelers might be the sexy girl hangin’ out at the club on Saturday nights but what we do we really know about her? Is she solid? Got good genes? How’s the mileage? Cool to talk to? Classy? Fun to mess around with? Or does she just smell nice and look good on your arm to trot her out for a lap in front of the boys and spectators alike? Pittsburgh might be 3-0 but the three teams they’ve beaten, the Giants, Broncos and Texans have a combined record of 1-11 and the one victory was a Denver come-from-behind nine point win over the Jets two Thursdays ago. The Jets by the way are 0-4.
She does have a nice body, no one will argue that. And when I say body I’m talking about anatomy. She looks good and feels good. Right now the Steelers are the healthiest team in the league. Only starting right tackle Zach Banner and backup offensive lineman Stefan Wisniewski are on the injured reserve list.
Their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is back after a season ending elbow surgery last year. Through three games Big Ben has thrown seven touchdowns to just one interception and has the 10th best QB rating in the league. And don’t forget the Steelers always seem to surround him with weapons. At his disposal are the likes of wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, rookie Chase Claypool, James Washington and tight end Eric Ebron. The aforementioned five have caught all seven of the TD passes that Rothliesberger has slung so far this season. While James Connor, Benny Snell, and Anthony MacFarlandhave been a very consistent running back triumvirate averaging 5.3 yards on the ground.
The real challenge though, for the 0-2-1 Eagles’ is their discombobulated offense trying to score against one of the league’s best defenses. The Steelers’ defense ranks third in DVOA, they are tied for first with Tampa Bay in opponent rush yards per play (2.7), and fifth in opponent points per game at a stalwart 19.3 and third in the league in opposing QB completion % (59.8). The Steelers defense is alsofirst in the league in sacks per game with 5.0 while the Birds have given up the third most sacks in the league with 14. And the Eagles offense averages just a paltry 19.25 points per game through four games of a very favorable early schedule.
The Steelers certainly get after you. Pro Football Focus has Pittsburgh’s pass rush graded as the NFL’s top unit. That’s a monumental concern for an Eagles offensive line that’s starting multiple backups at possibly both tackles and right guard. Pittsburgh blitzes more than anyone in the league and that could spell some issues for an inexperienced offensive line, who is also going to be trying to protect a quarterback, who has arguably been the NFL’s worst quarterback through four games in Carson Wentz. Wentz was solid in last Monday night’s win in San Francisco, but he’s still not quite where we expected him to be in year five. So this doesn’t exactly look like an ideal spot to be a “get right” game for Wentz.
You want to know why the Steelers have six rings and are one of the model NFL franchises in the league? Stability, it’s that simple. Since the late 60’s the Steelers have had only three head coaches and they all won Super Bowls. Mike Tomlin is the incumbent and is coaching his team for the 14th straight season. And get this – he’s never had a losing season in Pittsburgh. Some of his finest work came last year when he had his team in playoff contention with a second year quarterback with zero NFL experience in Mason Rudolph and an undrafted free agent rookie quarterback in Devlin Hodges. Tomlin is another underappreciated gem in this league. The fanbase gets on him for his challenge history and his questionable time management skills but the truth is there probably aren’t more than two or three coaches in this league that you would rather have running your football team.
But at the end of the day, wins and losses usually come down to the play of your quarterback. Like I said, Wentz has struggled mightily this season and has thrown a league-worst seven interceptions, matching his total from each of the past three years. But he’s been much more mobile lately, extending plays with his legs like he used to. Wentz has gained 102 yards on 16 carries in the past two weeks andhas scored a touchdown in each of the past three games. “I love being on the move and extending plays, making things happen,” Wentz said this week, “I think it puts a lot of stress on the defense. Obviously, I have to be smart and know when to take my chances and know when to throw the ball away. Especially with a team that plays a lot of zone coverage, when plays break down, they’re out of positionor guys are coming open down the field. When that happens there’s a lot of big plays to be had when you do escape and move the pocket.”
Big plays? Yep he said it. Big plays. They define football games. Right now the Eagles don’t have a lot of guys that can make big plays consistently. But the Steelers do. That’s why they’re 3-0. That’s whythey’re a touchdown favorite over the Eagles on Sunday. If the Steelers beat the Birds this weekend I might still say ask the question are they for real? Which would be almost insulting to a team that hasn’t started a season 4-0 in 41 years.