Eagles look to maintain hot start
It’s not a state secret.
Everyone knows if you take away the quick throws, prolong the pass rush and fill the gaps in the run game you have a real shot at defeating Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s just a lot easier said than done.
The Eagles are so full of adrenaline from an unbeaten start — sparked by the defense and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz — that they cannot wait to begin pounding that rock Sunday when the Steelers step onto Lincoln Financial Field (4:24 p.m., CBS, WIP 94.1-FM).
“They run the ball downhill and they’ve got good, athletic running backs,” Birds line-
Najee Goode said. “I mean, that’s their main goal I would say. But we’re going to stop it. We’re going to come out and do what we do. We’re going to rush the passer and we’re going to shoot gaps and we’re going to run downhill and knock the mess out of them.”
Eagles fans have been the 12th man in the series as the Eagles are 8-0 against the Steelers in Philly during the Super Bowl era.
In the first two games, the Eagles have played turnover-free football and registered four takeaways, one an interception by strong side linebacker Nigel Bradham, who has a history with Big Ben.
“I’ve played the Steelers plenty of times in my career with Buffalo so I’m kind of used to what they like to do in their zone blocking scheme and the way they pull,” Bradham said. “So it’s pretty much just one of those things where we’ve just got to be prepared and moving out there and doing our thing as a defense. It’s always your front that tends to disrupt the quarterback. You can do it by going after him, by blitzing every now and then. He’s good in the pocket and has the ability to make guys miss but we also want to still continue to put pressure on him and make him move in the pocket and pretty much just keep attacking all game.”
Roethlisberger, in his 14th season, is aware of the plan. He’s defeated it much of his career, one of the exceptions in 2008 at the Linc. The Eagles sacked him eight times in a 15-6 victory, Brian Dawkins jumping over an offensive lineman for a strip sack and recovery that registered 9 on the Richter scale in South Philly.
“Coach (Jim) Schwartz,” Roethlisberger said of the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, “when he was at Buffalo, Detroit, we watched a little bit of all those films and that’s his M.O. — let guys get after it. Have a great defensive line to get after the passer. Linebackers filling and speed off the edges. This is going to be a heck of a test for us.”
Roethlisberger’s penchant for prolonging plays breaks games open for the Steelers, who have outscored Washington and Cincinnati, 62-32, in their 2-0 start. It’s all but impossible to cover all-world receiver Antonio Brown when Big Ben is improvising. The Steelers also have a stable of deep threats, with Markus Wheaton expected to return this week.
For the Eagles, it starts with disrupting the smashmouth ground attack featuring DeAngelo Williams, who leads the league in rushing.
And it’s up to Wentz and the Eagles, who have outscored their opposition, 58-24, to do a better job of managing third down. Then again Doug Pederson, bidding to become the first Eagles head coach to win his first three games, is 4 for 4 on fourth down calls.
“You never want a team to dictate to you, one way or the other, what is going to happen,” Pederson said. “We just have to do our jobs. We have to put our guys in the best position possible. We’ve got to do a better job in the thirddown area offensively. I think we’re eight-for-30, something like 26 percent. We just have to focus on our job. We understand the power and the weapons they have on offense but we can’t focus on that. We just focus on what we do and get our guys ready to play.”
Pederson and Wentz, who is one victory from joining Mark Sanchez (Jets, 2009) as the second rookie quarterback to win his first three starts, would like the receivers to get over their drops. They’re tied for third in the league with five dropped passes, a conservative figure.
Jordan Matthews leads the Eagles with 13 receptions for 185 yards and one touchdown. He also tops the Birds with three drops.
Wentz nonetheless is connecting on 60.6 percent of his attempts with three TDs, no interceptions and a 94.1 rating. It’s the four sacks that concern Pederson, who doesn’t want his kid quarterback to get another rib cracked trying to figure out when to give up on a play.
Roethlisberger has been there, and done that. He told a Pittsburgh radio station he was so beaten up he almost retired after that loss to the Eagles in 2008.
“Now I understand that there’s a time and a place to sell your body out and a time and a place to get down and get out of bounds,” Roethlisberger said. “As a young guy, though, kind of the same shoes that Carson is in now, you don’t see that. You just want to do everything you can for the team. And you know your guys love it when you’re selling your body out to get a first down or trying to get an extra yard.
“At some point he’ll realize that it’s more important for him to be on the field than to be injured and get that extra yard.”
The red-hot Eagles defense will try to slow down Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger today.