There’s about 300 miles of driving distance between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
But in the fifth week of the NFL season, the gap between these Pennsylvania cities felt infinitely wide.
The Steelers have a week of soul-searching ahead after the Jaguars came into Heinz Field and thumped them Sunday, 30-9. Ben Roethlisberger had a shockingly-bad day, throwing five interceptions and failing to produce a touchdown.
Philadelphia’s win was just as decisive as Pittsburgh’s defeat was maddening. Carson Wentz chucked for 304 yards and four touchdowns — to four different receivers — as the Eagles routed the Cardinals, 34-7.
Which outcome is more of a stunner? You decide.
We need the history books to put Big Ben’s stink-bomb in proper context. He finished 33-for-55 passing for 312 yards — that’s just 5.7 YPA. Four of the five picks were probably his fault; on the other one, a receiver fell down. His fantasy score was a paltry 2.58 points; the third-lowest score among quarterback who have attempted 50 or more passes since 1970. Usually volume bails you out in this sort of game, but not Sunday.
Part of this shocker was driven by Jacksonville’s blossoming defense, of course. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey looks like a future DPOTY candidate. Barry Church and Telvin Smith took interceptions to the house. This unit can make you look rotten in a hurry.
The Steelers also struggled to get the ground game unleashed. Le’Veon Bell was held to 47 yards on 15 carries, and while he tacked on 10 catches, they went for just 46 yards. Bell is still struggling to find his All-Pro form. Antonio Brown (10-157-0) is one of the few Steelers who won’t want to burn the Week 5 tape, though it took him 19 targets to get there.
Can Roethlisberger rebuild his confidence, at age 35, no less? Remember, this is a quarterback who whispered about retirement in the offseason. We’ve seen him struggle in recent road games, but this was a home game as a heavy favorite. It’s hard to imagine him doing much in Kansas City next week.
Afterwards, Ben Roethlisberger said, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.” Asked: What makes you say that? Says, “I’m not playing well enough.” https://t.co/w1IcjgnYKY
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) October 8, 2017
The Jags offense followed the simplest blueprint going — lean on Leonard Fournette, unplug Blake Bortles. Fournette rumbled for 181 yards and two scores on 28 carries, wearing down the Steelers front and eventually trampling over it. Meanwhile, Bortles attempted just 14 passes and didn’t even top 100 yards.
Jacksonville’s nasty and emerging defense gets an intriguing challenge against Sean McVay’s Rams next week.
Back on the Wentz Wagon
Wentz was more teaser than pleaser in an uneven rookie year, but he’s looking like a franchise player in 2017. Wentz only missed on nine of 30 pass attempts in the throttling of Arizona.
The Cardinals took Alshon Jeffery (3-31-0) out of the game — the Patrick Peterson Effect — but it didn’t much matter. Wentz completed long touchdowns to Torrey Smith (capped by a fantastic team celebration) and Nelson Agholor, he nailed the expected score to Zach Ertz, and he added a TD flip to Trey Burton for good measure.
Overall, Wentz used eight different receivers to get to his 304 yards. It reminded you of the type of work Matt Ryan did in his MVP season last year; take the good matchup, spread the ball around, don’t force the ball to any specific target. Wentz is also playing his best when the stakes are highest — he has a 137.8 rating on third down, and a 111.6 rating in the red zone.
The second-year quarterback is getting plenty of help, of course. LeGarrette Blount (14-74-0 on the ground) has been consistent and effective in his four games. The Eagles have a plus offensive line. The receiving tree has a variety of weapons, players who offer differing skill sets.
You’ll be able to get a close look at Wentz & Friends the next two weeks — Philly has a couple of Island Games coming up. First it’s a Thursday trip to Carolina (and a surging Cam Newton), then it’s a Sunday night home game against Kirk Cousins and Washington. Sounds like must-see TV to me. Wentz figures to be under the QB1 umbrella all season.
You should drop Eric Ebron like he’s a pass intended for Eric Ebron.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) October 8, 2017
Pianow on the Take
• Teams are reluctant to make significant personnel changes following a win, so Jay Cutler might be spared despite his awful play against Tennessee. But Matt Moore is the best active quarterback on the Miami roster.
• DeShone Kizer isn’t anywhere close to ready. The Browns did him a disservice asking him to start opening day. Kevin Hogan deserves a chance handle this job. Despite a 207-yard edge in offensive yards, the Browns threw away a very winnable game against the Jets. Hue Jackson is now 1-19 as Cleveland’s head coach.
• I have no idea why the Cowboys don’t use Brice Butler more. It’s not like we’re talking about the 1998 Vikings here. There’s a need for more downfield threats.
• Houston’s defense lost two critical players, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus — probably for the season. But it’s a good thing for Deshaun Watson’s fantasy value. Volume isn’t everything, but it’s a huge head start. Given how intimidating the Jaguars defense has looked, maybe Bill O’Brien deserves a pass for not starting Watson Week 1 against Jacksonville (though Watson played half of that game anyway).
• Evan Engram’s bagel against the Chargers is shocking when you consider how every significant NYG wideout wound up injured. I’d still give Engram a strong fantasy look going forward, though it’s a hellish draw next week, a date at Denver. New York’s running game looked terrific Sunday — even the offensive line played well — but that’s probably more a statement about the lousy Chargers run defense than anything else.
• Aaron Jones was third on the Packers RB depth chart entering Week 4, but clearly looked better than Jamaal Williams after Ty Montgomery was injured. With that, Jones earned the right to start in Week 5, and he was terrific all day in Dallas (19-125-1). It’s a clear reminder that teams rarely lock in the ordering of their non-starters; getting married to an old depth chart is a fantasy leak.
Tyrod Taylor holding the ball forever because he’s looking for Charles Clay.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) October 8, 2017
• How can the Colts possibly keep Marlon Mack on the bench now? Getting center Ryan Kelly back was also a significant boost. Jacoby Brissett made some good plays and bad plays (the end-zone interception in overtime can’t happen), but give him credit for picking up a new offense so quickly. He’s poised in all situations; the moment never overwhelms him.
• Cam Newton’s dismantling of the Lions (141.8 rating, three touchdowns) was his most important game of the year, given that he did it against a real defense. Newton doesn’t have the fastest targets in the league, but he might have the biggest wideouts with Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. I’m not going to discount TE Ed Dickson either; while the 175-yard game was an obvious outlier and fluke, he did chip in 62 yards the previous week, and this offense has a fairly narrow passing tree.
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