October 10, 2020
The Eagles will look for their second win — or, to put it another way, their third non-loss — in a row on Sunday when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers for a Week 5 matchup at Heinz Field. For the Birds, they'll be hoping the duct tape and string can hold this team together as it now has more than a dozen players on injured reserved thanks to big injuries week after week. For the Steelers, they're not only much healthier, but they'll also be coming off a surprise mini-bye week due to last week's game against the Titans being postponed over Tennessee's COVID-19 outbreak.
That's not great news for Philly, which was able to pick up a victory over the 49ers last week due in large part to San Francisco being in a similar injury situation and being forced to play without its starting quarterback, top running back and best defensive player. This time around, the test should be much stiffer as the Steelers not only boast an offense that can beat you in different ways, but a defense that is among the best in the NFL.
We've already taken a look at some matchups to watch, broken down the latest injury news and rounded up predictions from around the sports world, as well as offered up some of our own. We've also provided a look at the odds for this week, which opened with the Eagles as a seven-point underdog and has held steady throughout the week, according to the latest consensus odds at TheLines.com.
Now, let's take a look at some numbers to keep an eye on in Week 5 in the form of our five weekly over/unders...
[A quick reminder for those new to our over/unders: Unless it's explicitly stated, these are my own over/unders based on how I think the players/teams will perform on Sunday — and the advice that follows is where I would put my money if I had to. They are not all actual numbers you can bet on, but we'll let you know when they are.]
That's the current consensus total over at TheLines.com, and that's right in line with what our writers are predicting in this one, although there's an obvious lean toward the under with five of our seven writers' totals staying below 44 points. That being said, our average is just 43.7, so it might be closer than you think.
Still, this feels like an under game. The Steelers defense is fifth in the league in points allowed and have been the best rushing defense in the league through their first three games, allowing the fewest rushing yards and a measly 2.7 yards per carry. That's especially bad news for an Eagles team who might have wanted to feature Miles Sanders in this one as Carson Wentz will again be without all his top receiving options, with the exception of Zach Ertz. Add to that the Eagles' injuries across the offensive line against Pittsburgh's stout pass rush, and it could be tough sledding for the offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Birds defense, not unlike the Steelers, has been one of the best at getting after the quarterback, especially in recent weeks. And not only did they get their first turnover of the season last week, but they got three of them. Of course, that came against Nick Mullens, not veteran Ben Roethlisberger, but it's nice to see that they can at least make opposing defenses pay for their mistakes, something they'd failed to do through the first three weeks.
The Steelers have scored at least 26 points in each of their three games this season, while the Eagles have yet to score that many in any of their games. However, Pittsburgh has also not scored more than 28 points in any game this year, so the Eagles defense should be able to keep their offense in it. Realistically, a low-scoring game is the only way we see the Birds having a chance in this one.
We're only a quarter of the way through the NFL season, but somewhat shockingly Carson Wentz (111 rushing yards) is nearly halfway to his rushing total from all of last season (243) — and he's already surpassed his total from the 2018 season (99). That was aided by his best rushing performance to date against Cincinnati two weeks ago (65 yards). He then went out and backed that up with his fourth-highest total (37 yards) in last week's win over the 49ers. More impressive, perhaps, is that Wentz has a rushing touchdown in three straight games, and that could certainly continue against the Steelers as the once-mobile quarterback who seemed to shy away from running after tearing his ACL in 2017 appears to have regained his form on the ground.
So, what can be expected against the Steelers? Well, we're setting this number high — topping it would require Wentz beating his number from Niners game — but that might be what the Eagles need in this one. We've already mentioned how good the Steelers are against the run, as they've held opposing running backs to an average of just 40.3 yards per game, and the majority of that came in their Week 2 win over the Broncos when Melvin Gordon and Royce Freeman combined for 90 yards against them. But, for example, in Week 1 against the Giants, Daniel Jones was the leading rusher for New York, going for 22 yards on the ground while Saquon Barkley managed just six yards on 15 carries. (Yes, that's the defense Miles Sanders is going to be facing on Sunday.)
With Wentz playing with a group of mostly practice squad/unproven receivers, there's a chance he winds up doing some more improvisation this week. And no matter how good any defense is at stopping the run, they usually do the bulk of that work when they know the run is coming. When a play breaks down and a QB gets loose in the open field, that's a totally different story — and that's where Wentz has been thriving in recent weeks. I think the Eagles QB breaks off one run of at least 15 yards and has several more roll outs/scrambles that pick up a few yards or maybe even a key first down.
Of course, after scouting Wentz' last few performances, the Steelers would be wise to be on the lookout for him trying to make plays with his legs. This is going to largely come down to how many rushing attempts the Eagles QB gets, but he's averaged eight per game the last two weeks, and if he hits that number again in this one, I'd put my money on the over.
The former Rugby player turned Eagles offensive line project made his first start last week against San Francisco and held his own, much to the surprise of many Philly fans. The question now, however, is whether or not he can show some consistency, especially as the assignments get tougher. And he's certainly going to face a tougher test on Sunday in Steelers defensive end Bud Dupree. Jimmy Kempski wrote about this one in his five matchups to watch this week, and after seeing what Jimmy had to say, it's tough to see Mailata performing as well in his second start.
If he can keep it to one sack allowed, that's got to be considered a success for the Birds. But as for the 0.5 number above...
Carson Wentz's passing yards have been declining each and every week this season, with his lowest total coming last week against the 49ers (193). Unsurprisingly, this drop has coincided with the Eagles losing their top two wideouts (DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor) as well as Dallas Goedert, who was outplaying fellow starter Zach Ertz before breaking his ankle. Last week, Wentz's wide receiver trio of Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham and John Hightower combined for just 117 receiving yards. And had Fulgham not pulled down that big 42-yard touchdown grab late in the game, Wentz would've finished with just 75 passing yards to his wideouts. Ew.
And while that was enough to get it done against the 49ers, it likely won't do the trick against a Steelers defense that is going to make it even more difficult to get anything going on the ground.
As always, Wentz will spread the ball around on Sunday — and the running backs and tight ends will again play a big role — but it's going to be tough for the Eagles to put together a lot of slow, methodical drives against this Pittsburgh team. They're going to need to hit on some shots down the field, and connecting on just one of them might not only be the difference between hitting the over vs. the under here, but it could also be the difference between winning and losing.
Well, well, well. If it isn't my old nemesis. I've gotten this particular over/under wrong every week this season, and last week I said I was going to continue to take the under until the defense proved me wrong, and they most certainly did that against the 49ers. This week, I'm not going to make the same mistake. I don't see the Birds forcing three turnovers again, but I do think they'll get at least one against a Steelers team that has average one giveaway per game.
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