Turnover ratio a factor: The challenge doesn't get any easier for the Steelers this week as they head across the state to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have the NFL's only perfect record to date, sitting at 6-0 and presenting a challenge on multiple fronts.
The Eagles are ranked fourth overall in the NFL in defense and are tied with the Los Angeles Rams for second-fewest defensive points allowed per game (16.0), trailing only the Buffalo Bills. The defense has held opponents to a 66.0 passer rating this season, lowest in the NFL, and limited opponents to the second-lowest completion percentage (56.8 percent).
An area where they have excelled this season is in turnovers, leading the NFL with a plus-12 turnover ratio, which includes 14 takeaways.
"I see some really tangible reasons why they're undefeated, to be quite honest with you," said Tomlin. "They're plus-12 in the turnover game. They've gotten 14 turnovers on defense. They got corners who are a veteran group. They're highly ball aware. They got good ball skills. They got a front that applies pressure and creates an environment where turnovers happen.
"They're highly ball aware. If you watch their sack reel, their rushers are not only trying to take down the quarterback, but they're trying to take down the ball. They get a lot of sack fumbles because of it. That's a component of it that produces the plus 12."
Another big reason they are winning the turnover game is the Eagles have committed only two turnovers this season. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had completed 123 of 184 pass attempts for 1,514 yards, six touchdowns and only two interceptions through six games.
"They're unbelievably efficient in terms of maintaining possession of the ball and it starts with their quarterback, Jalen Hurts," said Tomlin. "I've just got so much respect for him and the way he plays the position, his intangible quality, his leadership skills, his prudent decision making, his prudent use of mobility at the position. It's all really good and that's why they have very little negativity in their offense. They utilize his mobility schematically in situational moments. It's challenging for the defense on possession downs in a tight red. I think he's got six touchdowns via the ground.
"And so that turnover component and his prudent decision making, his ball security and the ball skills in that secondary are the reasons, significant reasons why they're an undefeated group."
A look at pregame warmups before the Steelers' Week 8 game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field
Mutual respect: Earlier this week, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts sang the praises of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
And it wasn't just because the way Fitzpatrick plays the game now.
It's because of the relationship the two formed while they were both at the University of Alabama.
"Thirty-nine (Fitzpatrick) is a guy you know where he is on the field," said Hurts. "I have a lot of respect for him, knowing him personally, knowing the type of man he is, the character he has and the work he puts in.
"I remember a lot of nights where it was Saturday night, Friday night and everybody is out and I think I am the only one going to the weight room, to the field to do extra work, but Minkah was there too.
"He plays defensive back, and he would go out there and run routes for me. That is how versatile he was. A lot of respect for Minkah. He has been making big-time plays since I have known him."
Fitzpatrick smiled when he heard Hurts' words, because he remembers those nights. And they were nights he enjoyed because he is a football junkie who loves helping teammates.
"I recognized Jalen as a guy who is a hard worker," said Fitzpatrick. "He came from a hard-working family. His father was a football coach. Hard work was ingrained in him. I consider myself a hard worker. Whenever I see a guy willing to put in work to get better, to win games, I do whatever I can to help him. I challenged him to help him get better. He is a quarterback, so I ran routes. I love playing football, so any chance I got to play football, I did it."
While getting the extra reps helped Hurts, it also benefited Fitzpatrick.
"It definitely helped me," said Fitzpatrick. "Just catching the ball as a DB, you only get so many catches in practices. So, catching passes helped.
"I was also picking his brain, how he sees the field, and stuff like that. It gave me a little bit of insight into how the quarterback sees the field."
Hurts has led the Eagles to a 6-0 record so far this season, with only two turnovers, and his success doesn't surprise Fitzpatrick.
"He is a competitor. A great player," said Fitzpatrick. "His decision making. He is reading the field and putting the ball where he needs to. He is getting the ball there quick. Not taking too many sacks or hits. He is seeing the field and making decisions quick.
"He was one of my favorite guys to play with. Going against him is going to be fun. I know he will come out there with a chip on his shoulder."
Wanting to create splash: One of the main points of emphasis Coach Mike Tomlin made following the loss to Miami, was the Dolphins ability to take advantage of turnovers while the Steelers didn't do the same.
The Steelers defense had four opportunities for interceptions but weren't able to hold on to any of them.
Now, going against an Eagles offense that has only turned the ball over two times in six games, the focus on creating turnovers is even greater as getting splash plays from the defense could be a necessity going against an undefeated team.
"There are so many different ways," said defensive tackle Cameron Heyward of how to create splash on defense. "Catch the balls we're supposed to catch. Get the sacks we're supposed to get. When you do get the sack, strip the ball. Then the running backs, you have to lay the wood and punch the ball out.
"Those are different ways we can get turnovers. I know we are playing an opponent that has only turned the ball over twice in six games, so we have our work cut out for us. But we have to make sure we take advantage of those opportunities."
The Eagles are 6-0 and coming off a bye, a well-rested unit that is looking to continue that success. And while Heyward admits the defense has their work cut out for them, that's how he loves it.
"They've done a great job in the first six games," said Heyward. "As a competitor you just want to play good opponents. We get to do that this week."
While containing quarterback Jalen Hurts will be first and foremost on the list of things to do for the defense, it doesn't stop there. Running back Miles Sanders has 105 carries for 485 yards and four touchdowns to date and can be a nightmare if he breaks free.
"He does a great job going north to south, but he can also bounce it," said Heyward. "That RPO, either Jalen is taking it and passing or running. But if you don't take Miles Sanders seriously, he is going to really dice you up."
Regardless of who has the ball in their hands, stopping them early is paramount. Last week the Dolphins jumped out to an early lead, and while the defense settled down it wasn't enough to secure victory in the 16-10 loss.
"I know we settled in in a hostile environment," said Heyward. "I thought we reacted well to the touchdown early and then some field goals. But we have to get off the bus and not let them score any points."
Facing the best: A few weeks ago, guard James Daniels sang the praises of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers front seven.
This week, it's the Philadelphia Eagles front that is getting Daniels' praise, and it's well-deserved.
The Eagles defense, led up front by 11-year veteran Fletcher Cox, is ranked fourth overall in the NFL and will be one of the toughest challenges so far this season.
"I think they're better than Tampa's defensive front," said Daniels. "They're really good. I haven't played them in a couple of years. Last time I played down there was pretty much different people playing. They're a really good front. I'm excited to get a chance to play them."
Daniels is one who doesn't back down when it comes to going against the best of the best, and he knows he is going to face that in Cox.
"He's big, he's strong and he's been playing at a high level for a really long time," said Daniels. "Probably one of the best defensive tackles the NFL has ever seen, so pretty excited to get a chance to play against him."
That excitement will only matter if the offensive line does their job against the front. They have been effective when it comes to protecting quarterback Kenny Pickett, which Daniels gives credit to Pickett for as well, but admittedly need to pick things up in run blocking.
"Kenny has done a really good job of getting the ball out on time," said Daniels. "For example, there's a play I got beat on Sunday and Kenny got the ball out, so it looks good just because he got the ball out. If he has to hold the ball, that's a sack. It's just a really good job of getting the ball out on time.
"I do feel like we have been better pass blocking than we have run blocking. We have to keep on focusing, keep on getting better in practice with our run blocking. Hopefully we'll get the run game going this Sunday."
A look at player arrivals before the Steelers' Week 8 game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field
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