The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers are set to renew The Battle for Pennsylvania when they meet on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Their typically quadrennial rivalry has been back and forth since the turn of the century, with the home team winning each of the last five games. That trend seems likely to continue, with the 6-0 Eagles entering as 11-point favorites.
Philadelphia may be undefeated in part because of a weak schedule, but the Eagles have been absolutely dominant on both sides of the ball. They rank fourth in scoring offense and defense and first in takeaways and giveaways. It's a complete team that only got better over the bye week with the addition of edge rusher Robert Quinn.
The Steelers (2-5), on the other hand, look likely to fall below .500 for the first time in 16 seasons under head coach Mike Tomlin. Although they showed life in a 20-18 win over the Buccaneers two weeks ago, they rank last in the NFL in point differential (-55).
Pittsburgh has already played giant slayer once before this season against an NFC contender, so can the Steelers pull out another big victory? Or will the Eagles continue their undefeated march to a second No. 1 seed in six seasons?
Pittsburgh (2-5) at Philadelphia (6-0)
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Steelers stop the Eagles' bolstered pass rush?
The Eagles already had a dominant pass rush, ranking third in the NFL with a 52 percent pass rush win rate. But their trade for Quinn, who finished second in the NFL with 18.5 sacks last season, has the potential to push them over the edge.
Quinn joins an intimidating front that already includes Haason Reddick (4.5 sacks), Brandon Graham (3.0), Fletcher Cox (3.0), and Josh Sweat (2.5). Quinn is having a down year with just one sack so far this season, but that's in part due to him being one of the most double-teamed players in the league. Opponents can't do that anymore now that he's in Philly.
The Steelers will be the first team to quell this upgraded line, and it's unclear if they'll be up to the challenge. Although they rank sixth with a 4.8 percent adjusted sack rate and 10th with a 62 percent pass block win rate, regression is probably coming considering their lack of blue-chip talent. Left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and left guard Kevin Dotson are each among the five most penalized players in the league, and no one on the line has a PFF grade higher than 70.7 (James Daniels).
2. Will Pittsburgh slow the pace to avoid a shootout?
No matter whether Kenny Pickett or Mitchell Trubisky has been started under center, the Steelers' offense has struggled this season. Their season-high output is 23 points, which is almost four points less than the Eagles' season average. Simply put: they're not going to win a high-scoring affair.
Pickett, the rookie first-rounder, has been the more promising quarterback this season and is expected to start despite dealing with a concussion. He's a bigger downfield threat than Trubisky but also has a stunning 5.5 percent interception rate, which is nearly 247 percent higher than the league average.
The path to victory for the Steelers is to make sure they don't fall behind early so they can avoid needing to pass to win. By running the ball and minimizing possessions — potentially with some turnover luck by keeping the ball out of Pickett's hands — they'll have a chance to sneak out a close win.
Of course, being able to run the ball effectively is its own challenge. The Steelers rank 28th in yards per carry (3.7) in large part because of the aforementioned weak offensive line that ranks 27th in run block win rate (68 percent) and 25th in adjusted line yards (4.20). But Najee Harris and Co. may have a puncher's chance, considering Philly ranks 28th in yards allowed per carry (5.0).
3. Can Philly's rushing attack be slowed?
Pittsburgh may want to make this a running contest, but that is the Eagles' bread and butter. No team rushes more than the Eagles, and their 13 touchdowns on the ground pace the NFL as well. Philly doesn't have many explosive plays this season — its season-long run is 35 yards and the Eagles are averaging 4.2 yards per carry — but the team is consistent even when opponents know what's coming.
When the Steelers run the ball in this game, it seems like it'll be the case of a stoppable force going against a moveable object. But the opposite will be true when the Eagles have the ball. They rank fifth in run block win rate (74 percent), while the Steelers rank 26th in run stop win rate (30 percent).
Pittsburgh has an outside chance of getting T.J. Watt back, as the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year returned to practice after suffering a torn pectoral muscle and undergoing a preseason knee procedure. But he is unlikely to play, and there would be questions about his effectiveness if he did return.
Perhaps the bigger concern is what happened the last time the Steelers faced a running quarterback like Jalen Hurts: Josh Allen gashed them for 42 yards on five carries three weeks ago.
The Steelers just don't measure up to the Eagles at this point. Without some major turnover luck — and seemingly everything (but the 76ers) is coming up Philadelphia lately — they'll be happy to just cover the spread in this one and hope for some development out of Pickett. Philly's undefeated season will march on to Houston next week.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Steelers 13
*Price as of publication.