Well, I guess we have to give credit to the Yinzers. Those lousy, Terrible Towel-waving, Primanti Brothers-eating, pop-drinking, Sheetz-visiting Yinzers. They’re annoying with their six Super Bowl rings, but they’ve got a really good football team.
The Birds made it an exciting game, and perhaps played better than we thought they would, but then Chase Claypool torched Nate Gerry and Rodney McLeod late in the fourth quarter to score his 4th touchdown, and that was all she wrote. The defense made a rookie receiver look more like the second coming of Jerry Rice while giving up 38 points in a Swiss cheese effort. It was a tribute to Izel Jenkins at Heinz Field, which had a little less than 5,000 fans and looked like a pre-COVID Pittsburgh Panthers home game.
The story of this one could be any number of things. 3rd down defense was appalling. A questionable field goal try. Opportunities were there, but when you parse this game and isolate the most pivotal moments, Pittsburgh just made more plays and committed fewer mistakes.
1. Help me help you
The stats won’t be kind to Carson Wentz, who finished with two interceptions and a 75.7 quarterback rating.
But he honestly had a decent game, throwing some nice downfield passes and leading a handful of touchdown drives that went more than 75 yards down the field.
The first interception was a backbreaker, because it gave Pittsburgh great field position, but if we’re being fair here we can go to the school of “more than one thing can be true at once.” On this play, he’s locked into a timing route with his receiver, Zach Ertz plays a little soft, and there’s no flag for illegal contact:
That’s not going to get flagged on most occasions, but technically that’s illegal touching more than five yards down the field. It knocked Ertz off his route and Wentz completed a bullet to the other team instead. Three bad parts to that play, one on the QB, one on the tight end, and one on the refs.
After that, the other big killer was the shot for John Hightower right before halftime, the one where Wentz put it right into his arms, only to see the rookie completely whiff.
Look at this:
John Hightower looking like a 5th round WR. Perfect throw by Wentz. That should have been a TD. pic.twitter.com/k0OCxmDX2I
— Patrick (@EaglesPMC) October 11, 2020
Can’t throw a better ball than that, which makes it extra aggravating. It was 2018 and 2019 Nelson Agholor-esque.
These things kill you, because your struggling quarterback finally throws a couple of decent passes down the field, but receivers aren’t making the plays for him. “Help me help you” has to be the theme of this Wentz game.
Carson comes out of this with two picks, one of which shouldn’t entirely be faulted to him, and the other on late-game Hail Mary that basically served as a punt. Bottom line, he played well enough for the Eagles to win the game. Can’t put this one on him.
2. Travis Fulgham, WR1
How refreshing is it to see an Eagles receiver locate the football, then go up and attack it with two hands? It’s like being completely reborn. It’s like watching football that we haven’t watched since 2017.
Right now the Eagles’ best receiver is an Old Dominion walk-on. And he was awesome on Sunday, hauling in 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown. He’s only the third player this season to log a 10/150/1 game, behind Travis Kelce and Davante Adams.
As a reminder, Fulgham was waived by the Lions on August 9th, waived by the Packers on August 19th, and then claimed by the Eagles on the 20th. Last week he caught a game-winning touchdown and this week he ripped off bona fide WR 1 numbers.
It’s a great sports story; it’s just too bad we couldn’t enjoy Fulghamania with a win. The Travis Fulgham breakout game unfortunately goes down as a loss in the annals of Philadelphia Eagles history. But I’m still going to overnight a Fulgham shirsey to Lansdale.
3. Inexplicable defensive decision making
In the first half, the Eagles and Steelers traded absolutely ridiculous defensive coverages en route to allowing the opponent to score.
For the Eagles, it was drive three, highlighted by one play where the shut down corner was playing 10 yards off the ball, followed by the slowest corner playing bump coverage and getting torched.
This 3rd and 11 play was ridiculous, with the classic Jim Schwartz off coverage rearing its ugly head:
The Eagles are in dime right there, so two safeties back, three corners, and just one linebacker on the field. Jalen Mills plays three yards off his guy while Slay is inexplicably 10 yards deep. We’ve been through this before with Slay, going way back to week one. Just let him ride his guy and get up in his face right on the line of scrimmage. There’s no need to play him that far off when you already have a safety (Marcus Epps) on that side to begin with.
The second play was Mills getting cooked on a sequence where he got turned around by Claypool at the line of scrimmage, followed by Epps whiffing on the tackle:
I don’t get it. Your best cover corner is 10 yards off and your slower, converted safety is playing bump and run at the line. It’s like Schwartz believes the parts are interchangeable, when they aren’t.
The Steelers, not to be outdone, followed with a drive in which they only rushed three men on four different occasions, sometimes sitting with a spy on Carson Wentz to keep him in the pocket. That’s fine in theory, because you’re preventing him from using his feet, but if you’re gonna rush three, spy one, and drop seven, then he’s going to have a lot of time to throw the ball.
This is what it looked like:
On that particular play, Carson evaded a tackler and completed a 13-yard pass. Wentz was 5-6 for 53 yards on this drive, which ended with a Miles Sanders touchdown that tied the game at 14.
No more rushing three, ever again, no matter who you are. It’s Big 12 college football bullshit, not NFL football. Pittsburgh is too talented to run that gimmicky stuff.
4. Lateral movement and misdirection
Pittsburgh had a lot of success attacking the Eagles’ biggest defensive weaknesses, which are lateral movement and motion, plus the inability to read some bunchy formations.
Early on, Big Ben was throwing a lot of short passes underneath, YAC-type rub and drag routes just over the line of scrimmage. Look at the yellow box I brilliantly added to his spray chart to get an idea of how much dink and dunk garbage he was throwing:
He completed 17 of his 27 passes behind the line of scrimmage or right in that little five yard box. The yardage tells the story, doesn’t it? How many quarterbacks complete 79% of their passes and throw three touchdowns but don’t crest 250 yards?
The Eagles just have trouble with anything that moves horizontally. Presnap motion, wham blocks, gadgety wide receiver runs and that bunch formation over to the left that Pittsburgh scored on. This weakness was probably exemplified on the huge Ray Ray McCloud run that took place at the start of the third quarter, leading to a touchdown and putting the Steelers up by double digits. The Eagles’ defense bit so hard on the end-around that four Steelers were standing there looking for someone to block:
5. The million-dollar question
How does Nate Gerry end up on Chase Claypool at that point in the fourth quarter?
Seriously. It’s not even worth transcribing. It was a non-answer about watching the film and telling the media on Monday what happened. Obviously he doesn’t want to throw anybody under the bus.
I’m more interested in wondering what Rodney McLeod was doing on this play. It’s Cover 4 (quarters coverage), Roethlisberger sees the mismatch, checks to it, and then this happens:
CHASE CLAYPOOL NOW HAS 4 TDS 😳
116 total yards
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 11, 2020
“Ideally, would we like Nate to be on a wide receiver? No”
“We would prefer a defensive back but that was the call that was made defensively and they checked to a good play”
Uh, alright. Well, look, Pittsburgh splits the quarters coverage, and McLeod wasn’t there either. He started to come down on Mills’ guy instead and watched Claypool go right by him. I’m very interested to hear what the coaches have to say about this when they get through the film.
6. Mistakes and breaks
This is the longest list of the season. I don’t think we’ve reached 11 prior to this game.
- Darius Slay getting flagged on (an admittedly questionable) pass interference call.
- Malik Jackson unnecessary roughness for an automatic first down.
- JIM SCHWARTZ playing Darius Slay 10 yards deep on a 3rd and 11. Dude is a man coverage dynamo, please fire off coverage and soft zone directly into the sun.
- Wentz taking an inexplicably bad sack at the end of the first half.
- John Hightower not getting out of bounds after sideline catch before halftime.
- Horrendous clock management before halftime (more on that later)
- Cre’Von LeBlanc missed tackle on a 3rd and 5.
- Wentz interception.
- Jalen Mills red zone DPI.
- Jake Elliott getting enough leg on the 57-yarder but pushing it wide.
- Brandon Graham getting flagged for a facemask on Steelers’ final drive.
We never got a replay of the Jackson unnecessary roughness, because FOX is averse to replays for some reason (more on that later as well). The LeBlanc missed tackle as absolutely brutal, big moment in the game where the Birds came up short.
- Pitt roughing the passer penalty, which was probably also a bad call, though the dude did follow through and put some weight on Wentz.
- Steelers deciding to only rush three on four plays during second touchdown drive.
- DPI on Joe Haden on Quez Watkins downfield shot.
- Ticky tack offensive pass interference call on Chase Claypool.
- Eric Ebron fumble.
If we’re being completely honest, the refs kind of stunk in general, for both teams. The 3rd and 5 attempt for Fulgham looked like pass interference to me.
If the Eagles are from Philadelphia and the Steelers are from Pittsburgh, then they pulled these refs somewhere out of Pennsyltucky. Maybe Bradford or Shade Gap.
7. Ancillary wins and losses
Let’s check it:
- lost time of possession 34:43 to 25:17
- -1 turnover margin (both teams coughed it up three times)
- 10-14 on third down (71.4%)
- 0-1 on fourth down
- allowed Steelers to go 11-15 on third down (73.3%)
- lost 34 yards on 5 sacks
- 3-3 success rate in the red zone
- 9 penalties for 84 yards
- 20 first downs, 25 for Pittsburgh
- ran 57 total plays, Pittsburgh 67
Time of possession, turnovers, penalties, third down rate. They just aren’t out-voluming teams like they used to during the 2017 and 2018. They aren’t grinding down opponents and winning the four-quarter war of attrition.
8. Doug’s best call?
Greg Ward touchdown call. Very similar to the play they beat Washington with last season.
Also liked the two-point conversion call, moving Wentz outside of the pocket and then sneaking a receiver out as a second option with Ertz covered.
The other play that gets a thumbs up is the Jalen Hurts pass coming out of the timeout, which caught Pitt with their pants down. The Eagles went five wide with Jason Kelce lining up next to Carson Wentz, for a laugh out loud moment:
9. Doug’s worst call?
Not sure about the running play he called after they had to burn the timeout on the drive at the end of the first half. That forced them to take another timeout, with 27 seconds on the clock, then they completed a deep pass to JJAW, who didn’t have time to run back to the line to spike the ball and set up a field goal attempt. Bad clock management and lack of situational awareness there (FYI on the Fulgham catch the clock kept running because they ruled that his forward progress was stopped in bounds).
As for the 57-yard field goal try, it does feel like the wrong choice in hindsight, though Elliott got a ton of leg on it. My problem is that even if you hit that to take the lead, Pittsburgh still has more than three minutes remaining on the clock, with timeouts and the two minute warning. That’s so much time to work with, to only have to get into field goal range while down by one point. The correct decision was probably for Doug to run on 3rd down, then go for it on 4th.
10. “Carson Wentz ready to wind up and throw a touchdown to Carson Wentz”
Kenny Albert and FOX newcomer Jonathan Vilma on the call. Shannon Spake on the sidelines.
Vilma was not very good, and there was a lot of criticism on social media, but I’ll go to the bat for the guy by pointing out that he’s new to color commentary and obviously needs some time and experience to get better. He’s a Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowler and should bring that wealth of knowledge to the broadcast; he just has to get more comfortable with play-by-play and broadcast delivery.
Speaking of delivery, Neither Vilma nor Albert could pronounce “LeBlanc” correctly on the first few tries. I think I also heard “Lance” Johnson and did a double take when I heard Vilma say “Carson Wentz ready to wind up and throw a touchdown to Carson Wentz.”
The bigger issue was the technical side of the broadcast. What the hell is going on with FOX and replay? On the sideline non-catch and challenge, they cut out of the first replay to get back to in-game action, but the challenge came and they went right to commercial. We didn’t actually see a full replay until after the call was reversed, which kills the suspense and defeats the purpose.
One of the ways to fix this, and you need to clear this with advertisers beforehand, but you can double-box the commercials in a 2×1 graphic, which means you put the commercial in a big box with the volume up, then show us the replay and referee activity in a small box, with the volume down. That way you get in your ads, but we still know what the fuck is going on.