PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger outsmarted the Eagles defense.
On the fourth and final touchdown by Chase Claypool, Roethlisberger said he changed the play at the line of scrimmage to exploit the Eagles' defensive play call, made evident by the group’s pre-snap alignment.
Roethlisberger said the Steelers expected the Eagles to send extra pass rushers based on what they’d seen on film, but instead, the safeties stayed back, leading him to call an audible to a play they’ve never actually run in that formation before.
“We expected them on that particular play to kind of go with an all-out blitz,” Roethlisberger said. “We had a play called to get the ball out quick and hopefully try and beat the blitz. They sat back in a cover-two zone, and it just wasn’t what we expected. I saw that, and I changed the play.”
Adding insult to injury after the Eagles lost, 38-29, to the Steelers at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger said the players on the field had never practiced the play he ended up calling.
“I think the coolest part about the whole thing is we’ve never run the play I called with that formation or that group on the field," Roethlisberger said. “So Chase had never been in that spot before.”
Claypool beat the coverage of linebacker Nate Gerry, with safety Rodney McLeod coming in late, and caught a 35-yard touchdown pass, his third receiving touchdown and fourth score of the game.
The rookie receiver had just six catches for 115 yards in three games entering Sunday, but he finished with seven catches for 110 yards against the Eagles.
Roethlisberger said he saw a performance like this coming for the second-round pick out of Notre Dame.
“We were texting on, I think Friday, as I was looking at film and sending him clips and talking about it with him through text,” Roethlisberger said. “I just told him, ‘Hey, you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to have a big game.' I’m glad it came to fruition.”
After the game, Claypool tweeted a picture of his head superimposed on Tom Brady’s body from Thursday night, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback held up four fingers in confusion.
“Building that trust with Ben really helped,” Claypool said after the game. “The longer we go through the season, the more trust we have with each other. So I think it just kind of shows on the field.”
Quez Watkins, the sixth-round rookie wide receiver sidelined since training camp with an upper-body injury, made his debut for the Eagles, albeit a quiet one.
Watkins and JJ Arcega-Whiteside were the only additions to the bedraggled wideout corps, but neither made a massive impact. Alshon Jeffery (foot) and DeSean Jackson (hamstring), who early in the week seemed like possibilities for this game, weren’t active. First-round rookie Jalen Reagor is several weeks away from returning from thumb surgery.
Watkins didn’t have any catches. His only noteworthy contribution came when he drew a pass-interference penalty in the third quarter. Arcega-Whiteside had his first catch of the season, a 39-yard reception at the end of the first half, but the Eagles weren’t able to stop the clock in time to cash in for a field goal before time expired.
Also inactive for the Eagles were tight end Hakeem Butler, running back Jason Huntley, cornerback Avonte Maddox (ankle), quarterback Nate Sudfeld, and defensive end Casey Toohill.
The Eagles signed safety Grayland Arnold to their active roster and activated corner Craig James, along with Watkins, from IR. They promoted practice-squad tight end Jason Croom and defensive back Elijah Riley from the practice squad for this game.
James came in for Darius Slay after Slay’s fourth-quarter injury and drew an offensive pass interference call on Chase Claypool. It wasn’t clear that James didn’t just fall down, and that Claypool shouldn’t have had yet another touchdown to add to the four that actually counted.
Rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts entered the game for just one play, but he actually got to line up at quarterback and throw a pass, a strike down the middle to tight end Richard Rodgers that went for 18 yards. It was Hurts' first NFL pass. It was Rodgers' only catch of the game, and one of only seven Eagles completions that didn’t go to Travis Fulgham (10 catches for 152 yards) or Greg Ward (four catches, 26 yards).