A closer look at the Eagles’ worst 3rd-down defense in 25 years


One of the big reasons the Eagles lost 38-29 to the Steelers on Sunday in Pittsburgh was because their defense simply couldn’t get off the field.

The Steelers in that game were 11-for-15 (73%) on third downs.

That’s the best third-down percentage against the Eagles in over 25 years. The Oakland Raiders converted 9 of 11 (81.8%) on Sept. 24, 1995 in a 48-17 win at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

And Sunday’s game was such a departure from previous games. In the first four games of the season, the Eagles were giving up conversions on just 37% of third downs.

So how did the Steelers do that to the Eagles on Sunday?

“He was on fire,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said about Ben Roethlisbeger.

In that game, Roethlisberger was 13 for 13 on third downs for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

But it wasn’t all Big Ben either. That’s just where it started.

“He was going to the right spots,” Schwartz said. “He was making accurate throws. When that happens, when you get a guy -- we blitzed, he wasn't letting the blitz get him. He was going to throw to the shallow cross and pick up a first down on that.

“When that happens, it puts more emphasis on you as a defense that you've got to play mistake-free football and whether it's a call by me or whether it's a penalty, we didn't have any like mental errors in this game, but whether it's a physical error like a missed tackle, or a penalty, a mental lapse when it comes to jumping offsides, or physical mistake like a DPI, all of those give a hot quarterback a second opportunity.”


Let’s take a look at all 11 conversions in chronological order and figure out what went wrong:

This play happened at the 11:42 mark of the first quarter on a 3rd-and-4. The Steelers have always been good at these kinds of little rub routes and they get the Eagles here out of a bunch formation. Eric Ebron sneaks in right behind Vance McDonald, who takes out Cre’Von LeBlanc, giving Ebron just enough of a cushion to catch this pass and get a first down. Quick and easy throw from Big Ben.

This next play came at the 6:48 mark of the first quarter, again on a 3rd-and-4. Chase Claypool is working against LeBlanc out of the slot. He’s just going to run a quick slant and Roethlisberger hits him in stride.

At the snap, Nate Gerry is showing blitz but drops into coverage. You’d like to see him drop quicker and read the quarterback better. His first step was the the other way. You’d also like to see LeBlanc attack a little better. This was too easy for Big Ben.

Later on the same drive, this play came with 4:52 left in the first quarter on a 3rd-and-6. This time, Schwartz dials up a blitz, bringing seven, but Roethlisberger doesn’t sweat it. He has receivers running shallow crosses and Jalen Mills is playing off. So Roethlisberger just releases a quick pass and Mills has to take a longer route in pursuit because of the rub route.

The Eagles have been beaten badly by receivers running the ball this year. This one wasn’t a huge gain but Claypool picks up three yards on a 3rd-and-2. Alejandro Villanueva does a nice job sealing off Derek Barnett. But then Duke Riley actually gets there and can’t make a play. And nice block from No. 14 to get in the way of a charging McLeod. If Riley makes this tackle, the drive might be over. Instead, the Steelers scored a touchdown.

This play happens early in the second quarter on a 3rd-and-11. I get that Darius Slay is worried about a big play but check out that cushion. He’s 10 yards off the line! Perfect pass from Roethlisberger for a 15-yard gain but the Eagles make this wayyyy too easy.

This play is a 3rd-and-6 from the Eagles’ 32-yard line and it goes for a 32-yard touchdown to Claypool. With one step toward the boundary, Claypool gets Mills turned and then beats him easily inside. But check out the play from safety Marcus Epps. C’mon, man. He over-pursues and gets himself way out of position. No way he shouldn’t have saved a touchdown.

Early in the third quarter, the Steelers faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 30. With a stop here, the Eagles would have started off the second half with a defense 3-and-out. Instead, they got a touchdown later in the drive to extend the lead to 10 points. This is just a quick throw to the flat to the tight end. LeBlanc needs to make this tackle, but he over-pursues and gets just one arm on Ebron, who spins free for the first down.


This look familiar? Bunch formation on the near side to clear out just enough space to convert on a 3rd-and-4. The Eagles saw it earlier in the game and still couldn’t stop it.

Fletcher Cox turned this from a 3rd-and-9 into a 3rd-and-4 with a defensive offsides, which can’t happen. As for the play, this falls under the category of the other guys get paid too. Slay’s coverage was tight on this pass to Claypool but Roethlisberger burned it in there and Claypool made a tough catch. Tip o’ the cap.

This is the play we’ve spent the last few days talking about. Roethlisberger checked to this play when he noticed Gerry 1-on-1 against Claypool. You see Nickell Robey-Coleman trying to tell Gerry to get more depth and he never does. Instead, Gerry freezes and McLeod is late with help.

This is the only running back run to pick up a first down and it came as the Steelers were bleeding the clock at the end.