Eagles-Steelers player matchups to watch in Week 8


The Eagles (6-0) are back after their Week 7 bye week and are hosting the Steelers (2-5) on Sunday afternoon at the Linc.

Here are some key matchups to watch:

Eagles takeaway defense vs. Kenny Pickett

The Eagles are the NFL’s No. 1 takeaway team with 14 in just six games. Of those 14 takeaways, nine are interceptions, which ranks second in the NFL. While those high takeaway numbers might not be entirely sustainable, the Eagles do have some ballhawks on their defense. And that’s especially notable this week as they play rookie Kenny Pickett. Since taking over for Mitchell Trubisky, Picket has played in four games (three starts) and has 2 touchdowns to 7 interceptions.

Pickett is just the 7th quarterback in NFL history with 2 or fewer touchdowns and 7 or more interceptions through his first four games. And he’s the first since Ryan Leaf back in 1998.

Pickett, 24, might end up being a good quarterback but he isn’t off to a great start. There have been some impressive plays but he doesn’t seem quite ready. The Steelers probably know that and they might even think Trubisky is a better option right now, but this team isn’t very good and has to start planning for the future.

The Eagles have to take advantage of Pickett’s inexperience and penchant for putting the ball in harm’s way. The Eagles have been very good against inexperienced quarterbacks in recent seasons and they’ll have a chance to feast on a rookie Sunday.

Steelers WRs vs. Eagles CBs

One thing Pickett has going for him is a pretty good receiver trio of George Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Pickens is the rookie from Georgia with the big attitude and bigger highlight reel. The second-round pick already has 26 catches for 338 yards and a touchdown and he’s done that on 40 targets. The guy who has been targeted by far the most for the Steelers is Johnson. He’s seen 67 targets and has 38 catches for 337 yards. Not exactly the highest catch rate but it’s clear the Steelers want to get him the ball.

For the most part, the Steelers operate with Johnson and Pickens outside, while Claypool gets the majority of his snaps in the slot — according to PFF 77% of Claypool’s snaps have come from the slot. That creates a unique matchup problem because Claypool is 6-foot-4, 238 pounds and Eagles nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox is 5-foot-9, 184 pounds. Of course, we all remember Claypool’s three-touchdown game against the Eagles in 2020. No Nate Gerry this time.

Josh Sweat vs. Dan Moore Jr.

The Steelers offensive line is pretty average but their weakest link is left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and that left side with Moore and left guard Kevin Dotson is definitely something to watch. According to PFF, Moore ranks 67th of 77 tackles in the NFL. Sweat had 2 1/2 sacks through the first three games of the season but has been shutout in the three games since and hasn’t registered a single quarterback hit in wins over the Jaguars, Cardinals and Cowboys. But this could be a big chance for the Eagles’ Pro Bowl defensive end to turn that around. Sacks can come in bunches and sometimes it just takes a spark. Also keep an eye on Robert Quinn. If the newest Eagle plays on Sunday, he'll be the guy replacing Sweat on that side of the defensive line.

Eagles OL vs. Steelers DL

The Eagles are going to avoid T.J. Watt in this game. Watt is still out with a pec injury and the Steelers’ defense is no where near as dangerous without the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers led the NFL in sacks last season with 55 but have just 12 through seven games in 2022.

There are a few individual matchups on the line to watch. Edge rusher Alex Highsmith often rushes on the right side of the defensive line so he’ll be matched up against Jordan Mailata in this one. Highsmith has 6 1/2 of the Steelers 12 sacks and has also forced a couple fumbles. The other 1-on-1 matchup will be on that same side of the line: Landon Dickers vs. Cameron Heyward. Yeah, Heyward is 33 now but he’s still really good and is coming off five consecutive Pro Bowls. He ranks as the 7th-best interior defensive lineman in the league this season, according to PFF. Stop Highsmith and Heyward and you pretty much shut down this Pittsburgh defense.

Jalen Hurts vs. weak pass defense

The Steelers have the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing defense. You can throw on these guys and you can do it in chunks. They’ve already given up 30 pass plays of 20+ yards this season, which is tied for the most in the NFL. In the last three wins, the Eagles haven’t needed Jalen Hurts to throw for a ton of yards. He has averaged under 200 yards passing over the last three. It hasn’t mattered because the Eagles have gotten some leads and run the ball but he has a chance to make it work in the air against this Steelers team, especially because they’ve really struggled to get pressure on Hurts.

Maybe the Steelers try to bring some other pressure to get after Hurts but if they do that, the Eagles have had an extra week to figure out some answers for dealing with the blitz. This could be a big game for Hurts.

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