Match-Up Focus: Steelers vs Eagles

Player to Watch – Carson Wentz

Number 11 has been the biggest storyline in the NFL through the first 2 weeks of the NFL.  Scouts have been salivating at his play thus far.  He’s had command of the offense and hasn’t blinked under pressure.  He has a knack for knowing what the defense is doing before they do.  Per PFF.com Wentz is the highest rated QB at 90.8 this early in the season (Second behind Sam Bradford – only 1 start).  The Steelers defense will be sure to give him looks he hasn’t seen before.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Peterson came out throwing again like last week.  Take the guess work out for Carson and just let him throw it.  The Steelers have a respectable secondary of Gay and Cockrell.  Both have graded out per PFF.com at 76.2 and 73.5.  Ross Cockrell has a knack for finding the football.  Wentz hasn’t thrown an interception or had a TO this year.  Don’t be surprised if he has one this week.

Player to Watch – Jason Kelce

A lot of people including myself (and rightfully so) are losing patience with Jason Kelce.  It’s clear he’s undersized for the position but that didn’t stop him from being effective in the 13’and 14′ seasons.  He’s been awful this year.  The all – 22 doesn’t lie.  He’s continually being beat to both his left and right.  When he’s not being beat left or right he’s being bull rushed into Wentz’s lap.  If this keeps up the Eagles will look at making a change.  Through 2 weeks Kelce ranks 32 of 32 starting centers with a grade of 40.4 per PFF.com.  Kelce will have to be on his A game this week.  RE Cameron Heyward is a handful.  He plays all over the DL and the Steelers will make sure to get him matched up on the struggling center.  Blitz recognition will also be important.  As you will read down below the combination of Timmons and Shazier have a knack for shooting gaps and making plays.

Match-Up to Watch – Carson Wentz vs Timmons/Shazier

This will be fun to watch on Sunday.  The chess match between Wentz and these LB’s will have a direct effect on the outcome of the game.  There’s no doubt Timmons and Shazier will try and confuse Wentz with exotic looks and formations.  Both these guys are athletic enough to show at the line and float back into passing lanes.  Timmons has an overall grade of 67.8. He grades out vs the run at 73.1 and in coverage at 51.2 per PFF.com.  Wentz will need to find where these guys are located right at the snap and find a favorable match-up.   If I’m the Eagles Sproles is my go to guy here.  If they can get Sproles on Timmons I believe they will take that all day.  Shazier is the better of the two in my opinion however he has struggled at time this year.  He’s bee solid against the run at 76.4 but a liability in coverage at 41.9 with an overall grade of 63.4 per PFF.com.  If Wentz can frustrate the Steelers linebackers the Eagles will have a punchers chance.

Player to Watch – Nolan Carroll

The Steelers boast one of the league’s most lethal passing attacks even without Markus Wheaton and the suspended Martavis Bryant. Wheaton has missed the first two games with a shoulder injury, his status remains unknown for Week 3. Pittsburgh is averaging 270 passing yards through the first two weeks despite playing in sloppy conditions this past week at Heinz Field. Eagles starting cornerback, Leodis McKelvin, missed Monday night with a hamstring and is considered day to day for the Steelers game. The absence of McKelvin leaves Nolan Carroll as the Eagles number one corner. According to Pro Football Focus, Carroll ranks 94th out of a possible 104 cornerbacks in the league based on their grading. Carroll did not exclusively matchup with Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, but when he was targeted allowed two completions for 33 yards. Jim Schwartz didn’t seem to be afraid of allowing rookie corner Jalen Mills to line up opposite Jeffery despite the drastic size disadvantage. This week, however, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is a completely different type of player than Jeffery who can beat a secondary in almost every way imaginable. PFF grades Brown as the tenth best wide receiver this season as the Bengals held him to four catches for 39 yards last weekend. I don’t expect Brown to put up such mediocre numbers against the Eagles. Nolan Carroll figures to draw the assignment of covering Brown although doing so man to man will be a challenge. Many expect Roethlisberger and company to expose the Eagles cornerbacks in Week 3. Big Ben is not shy when it comes to attempting deep shots connecting on two long completions to Sammie Coates against Cincinnati. The play of Nolan Carroll will go a long way in determining the success of the Eagles defense.

Player to Watch – Alejandro Villanueva

Villanueva was previously in Eagles during the 2014 training camp under previous head coach Chip Kelly. At the time, Villanueva was a defensive end despite his unusual size for the position. He was cut from the team eventually winding up on the Steelers practice squad before making his debut at left tackle during the 2015 season. The switch to left tackle is a much better fit for the size of Villanueva who has become a solid starter in this league. Anthony Gargano of the Fanatic has a dynamite audio drop losing his mind in regards to Villanueva, and how Chip Kelly was not able to recognize he was really best suited to play tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Villanueva grades out as the 51st best tackle in the league through the first two games. He’s received much higher grades in the run blocking game as opposed to pass protection. PFF highlighted him as the Steelers best run blocker versus the Bengals. However, his pass protection grade is almost half of what his run blocking grade is thus far. He ranks 60th amongst tackles in terms of pass protection grades courtesy of PFF. Brandon Graham will likely be lining up opposite Villanueva. You could argue Graham has been the best player on the defense through two weeks, and the grades bear that out. Pro Football Focus has Graham ranked as the third best defensive end with only Jerry Hughes and Von Miller in front of him. He’s been strong both rushing the passer and setting the edge in the running game. The resigning of Vinny Curry left question marks surrounding Graham’s playing time, but he’s shown himself to be a force along the defensive line this season. The edge goes to Graham in terms of the pass rush grade where Villanueva ranks lower. Graham getting consistent pressure on Roethlisberger off the edge will be a huge key to slowing down the Steelers aerial attack.

Match-Up to Watch – Fletcher Cox vs David DeCastro

This matchup between Cox and DeCastro features two of the more highly regarded players in the league at their respective positions. Coincidentally enough both players received sizeable contract extensions in the offseason as well. Cox faced off with Bears right guard Kyle Long on Monday night who is viewed as a similar player to DeCastro. According to Pro Football Focus, the two lined up against one another for 31 snaps with Long only allowing a single run stop and one quarterback hurry to Cox. Through two games Cox ranks 13th among defensive tackles grading out at 79.7 courtesy of PFF. Aaron Donald, Gerald McCoy, and Geno Atkins currently grade higher than Cox through the early portion of 2016. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Cox he’ll be just fine, and offensive coordinators will continue to lose sleep worrying about him. On the other hand, Pro Football Focus has DeCastro graded as the 20th guard with a much higher run blocking than pass protection score. He faced one of the more potent defensive tackle pairings in the league last week, Geno Atkins and Domata Peko from Cincinnati. DeCastro has the luxury of center Maurkice Pouncey returning to action this season after missing significant time with injuries. I don’t expect the Steelers to exclusively have DeCastro block Cox one on one, but they paid him all that money for a specific reason. Deangelo Williams has been one of the best running backs in the league this season due in large part to the blocking of DeCastro. Cox’s ability to win his matchup against DeCastro will allow the Eagles defense to hopefully defend longer third down attempts.

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Sources – Pro Football Focus

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