Why Steelers never had a chance vs. Eagles' defense


The Steelers’ offense is basically dink down the field. And when dinking isn’t working? Then let’s try dunking. 

Jonathan Gannon’s gameplan? Let ‘em.

It's almost impossible to beat the Eagles playing the short game. So Gannon was more than happy to give the Steelers all the short stuff they wanted and trust his elite secondary to make plays if they managed to get down into Eagles territory.

It worked to perfection.

For the first time this year, the Eagles’ offense and defense both played a complete game, and the result was a resounding 35-13 win over the Steelers at the Linc.

The Eagles improved to 7-0, and their defense held a sixth consecutive opponent to 17 or fewer points, the 3rd-longest streak in franchise history and longest in the same season since 2001.

Coming into Week 8, the Steelers ranked last in the NFL at 4.8 yards per play. You’re not going to beat the Eagles at 4.8 yards per play. So the thinking was if the Steelers didn’t hit any big plays, they couldn’t win.

And guess what. The Steelers averaged just 4.3 yards per play Sunday. Even worse than their NFL-worst average.

The Eagles’ defense held the Steelers to 1-for-12 on 3rd down, didn’t allow a play longer than 25 yards and allowed just two harmless field goals on the Steelers’ last eight drives.

Kenny Pickett ran around and made a few plays, but the Steelers were never able to challenge the Eagles’ defense in a meaningful way. They scored an early touchdown thanks to a Brandon Graham penalty and didn’t get in the end zone again.

That’s really the hallmark of this defense. They keep people out of the end zone. Whatever it takes. It’s not always pretty, they give up too many rushing yards and they don’t tackle very well. But they do keep teams out of the end zone. 

The Eagles allowed five touchdowns in the opener in Detroit and have allowed nine in six games since. Only the Bengals have allowed fewer TDs since opening weekend, and they’ve played one fewer game.

They’re one of two teams that hasn’t allowed a touchdown longer than 25 yards all year. Overall, they’ve allowed only seven offensive plays over 25 yards, 2nd-fewest in the league (behind Dallas).

Gannon’s philosophy might drive some people crazy, but it works. This defense is so active that sooner or later someone is going to make a play. The Eagles have defended 62 drives since Week 2 and allowed nine touchdowns.  

The Eagles, with five starters who weren’t even here last year, are now No. 3 in the NFL in yards allowed per game, No. 2 in yards per play, No. 4 in passing yards allowed, No. 3 in interceptions, No. 5 in sacks and No. 4 in points allowed.

And when the defense needs a big play, somebody invariably makes one.

On Sunday, it was Javon Hargrave, whose 4th-quarter sack forced a Pickett fumble that Avonte Maddox recovered inside the Eagles’ 40, and then it was Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, whose fourth interception in three weeks later in the 4th quarter stopped a Steelers drive inside the 20.

That's an NFL-high 16 takeaways in seven games. Last year the Eagles had 16 takeaways all year.

“We feed off of each other,” Gardner-Johnson said. “We are brothers. If one person eats, we let him eat. We all eat and at the end of the day there is a plate for everybody, not just a plate for one person. When you have that type of mindset, you go out there and play for each other.”

The beauty of this team is its ability to play complimentary football. On Sunday, the offense put up so many points it forced the Steelers away from their methodical approach and that played right into the Eagles’ hands.

The Eagles’ next seven opponents – the Texans, Commanders, Colts, Packers, Titans, Giants and Bears – are ranked 29th, 27th, 30th, 26th, 24th, 21st and 20th in scoring. The Eagles don’t face an offense currently ranked higher than 20th until the Cowboys on Christmas Eve. They don’t face an offense currently ranked higher than 14th the rest of the regular season.

This defense is allowing 15.6 points per game and just 12.3 since the opener. 

Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, Miles Sanders and Co. get most of the notoriety and they deserve it, but this defense is just as big a part of this 7-0 start as the offense.

And just like the offense, there’s no reason to think they won’t keep getting better.

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