The Eagles fell out of first place in the NFC East with Sunday’s loss to the Steelers.
Here are five reasons why Pittsburgh came out on top.
Third down blues
The Eagles entered the game ranked sixth in the league in third-down defense. But the Steelers converted 11 of their 15 third-down chances in their 38-29 win. Ben Roethlisberger, who came into the game with a 110.8 third-down passer rating, completed all 13 of his third-down attempts for 158 of his 239 passing yards, and two touchdowns, both to rookie Chase Claypool.
The back-breaker was a 35-yard touchdown pass to Claypool on a third-and-8 with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter. More on that particular play in the next segment. But getting off the field was an afternoon-long problem for the defense. The Steelers ran 10 more offensive plays than the Eagles and had the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than them.
This wasn’t a case, like the Rams game, of the Eagles giving up loads of yards on first and second downs and having to deal with a ton of third-and-shorts. Nine of the Steelers' 15 third-down situations were five yards or more. Six were eight yards or more. They just converted them.
» READ MORE: Grading the Eagles' performance
The Eagles got burned on a zero blitz on a third-and-6 on the Steelers' first touchdown drive. Roethlisberger completed a 15-yard pass to Claypool on a third-and-11 on the Steelers' second TD drive.
Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc missed a tackle on tight end Eric Ebron on a third-and-5 completion on a third-quarter TD drive.
Claypool had seven catches for 110 yards and three TDs. Five of his receptions were on third down. All resulted in first downs and/or touchdowns.
The case of the curious coverage
Before the Eagles snapped the ball on Roethlisberger’s game-clinching TD throw to Claypool on that third-and-8 play late in the fourth quarter, Fox analyst Jonathan Vilma noted that Claypool, who was lined up in the left slot in an empty set, was matched up against linebacker Nate Gerry.
If you’re Jim Schwartz, you don’t ever want this matchup, particularly in a game-on-the-line situation. A timeout — the Eagles had two left — would’ve been a good move. But Doug Pederson said Monday they didn’t want to use one up because they knew they’d be getting the ball back.
Claypool faked an in-route, then blew by Gerry as if he was standing still. He had a 5-yard cushion by the time he got to the 15 yard-line. It was one of the easiest touchdown passes Roethlisberger ever has thrown.
The Eagles had played man coverage on the previous two plays. They switched to zone on the touchdown play and were in their “dollar” sub-package, which includes six DBs and just one linebacker — Gerry.
The Steelers were in an empty, five-wide set. Roethlisberger noticed the Gerry-Claypool mismatch before the snap and checked to him. “Ben saw it and we have to live with that play,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “They came out in an empty set and it was a great call against the coverage we had. 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.”
The costly interception
Carson Wentz played pretty well Sunday, given the fact that he was under pressure on 40 percent of his dropbacks (Pro Football Focus). He threw multiple touchdown passes for the first time since Week 1. He turned in his best third-down and red-zone performances of the season.
But interceptions continue to plague him. He had two more Sunday, giving him nine in the first five games, or two more than he had all last season.
The second one was a desperation deep ball to John Hightower on a fourth-and-20 on the Eagles' final possession. But the first one, on a pass to tight end Zach Ertz early in the third quarter right after the Steelers had taken a 10-point lead, was a killer.
The fault lies with both Wentz and Ertz. Maybe more with Ertz, who allowed linebacker Vance Williams to completely knock him off his route with a shoulder bump he should’ve seen coming. The bump prevented Ertz from being where he was supposed to be when Wentz threw the ill-fated pass right into cornerback Steven Nelson’s hands.
Defenses have been able to completely take away Ertz since the injuries to DeSean Jackson and Dallas Goedert. He has just five catches for 14 yards in the last two games.
The interception by Nelson gave the Steelers the ball at the Philadelphia 23. Four plays and a questionable pass-interference call on Jalen Mills later, the Steelers owned a 17-point cushion.
The defense has had problems all season long dealing with gadget plays such as end-arounds, reverses, jet sweeps and bubble screens. Wide receivers and tight ends have accounted for 28.2% of the rushing yards against the Eagles in the first five games. Three of the eight rushing touchdowns the Eagles have allowed have been scored by wide receivers.
Sunday, 69 of the Steelers' 136 rushing yards were by wide receivers. Ray-Ray McCloud had 63 yards on two runs, including a 58-yard end-around early in the third quarter that set up a Steelers touchdown.
On the Steelers' first touchdown drive, McCloud picked up 8 yards on a jet-sweep toss (pass). Later on the same drive, Claypool scored from 2 yards out on a jet sweep run.
On McCloud’s long end-around, the defensive end and linebacker on the left side — Brandon Graham and Duke Riley — both got fooled, leaving McCloud with an uncontested edge.
Claypool scored two plays later on a 5-yard bubble screen, in which the Steelers bunched four receivers on the left side. Running back Trey Edmunds took out cornerback Jalen Mills and tight end Vance McDonald sealed off linebacker Alex Singleton and Claypool was able to walk in for an easy touchdown.
Penalties and the zebras
The Eagles committed nine penalties for 84 yards, eight of which were on the defense. Some were deserved, some weren’t. Referee Ronald Torbert and his crew clearly were determined to put their imprint on this game, and they succeeded.
They hit Darius Slay with a very questionable 21-yard pass-interference penalty on a second-and-16 play on the Steelers' first touchdown drive. The ball, which was thrown out of bounds, clearly wasn’t catchable, but the penalty gave the Steelers a first down at the Philadelphia 7-yard line. Two plays later, they penalized defensive tackle Malik Jackson for a mysterious unnecessary-roughness penalty that gave the Steelers an automatic first down.
The zebras called another questionable pass-interference penalty on the Eagles in the third quarter, this one in the end zone against Mills, who was covering wide receiver James Washington. Washington fell down, but Mills didn’t appear to have been responsible. Instead of a second-and-10 at the 12, the Steelers had a first down at the 1. James Conner scored two plays later to make it a 31-14 game.
Brandon Graham also was called for a face-mask penalty on the Steelers' game-clinching touchdown drive. Replays didn’t pick up the alleged infraction, and after the game, Graham said, “I do know I didn’t touch his face mask.”