The Steelers held off the Eagles' comeback and pulled out the win, 38-29, on Sunday but the game wouldn't have been that close if the defense managed to get off the field on third down.
The Eagles were 10 of 14 (71 percent) on third down and converted on five third-and-long situations, two of them coming from 12 and 17 yards out. The Eagles also scored touchdowns twice on third down. The Steelers have struggled on third down prior to Sunday's game and now are tied for 28th in third-down defense. The Eagles' capability to convert on third down was the main reason why they made it a close contest after trailing 31-14 in the third quarter.
"We just didn't do a good job of controlling the circumstances, and really some of the circumstances were advantageous to us, meaning third-and-long (situations)," Tomlin said today during his weekly press conference. "The big play popped by Miles Sanders, first you have to give kudos to him, but they ran a draw play on third-and-9 into the teeth of a blitz, and we had unblocked people at the point of attack.
"We just have to make those plays, and sometimes the process of learning is not an alteration of what it is we do in preparation, or even the level of attention to detail in terms of our play. It's just an acknowledgment that in those weighty moments you have to make those tackles, you have to make the catch, you have to make the significant block. Sometimes through the course of this journey there are some negative experiences along those lines and they just provide reinforcements to things that we already know. There may not be any adjustment moving forward except an acknowledgment of how miserable it is. That play changed the trajectory of the day for them and for us, particularly as it pertained to those possession downs, and it made it tough sledding along the way."
After going three-and-out on their first two possessions and up to their final two possessions, the Eagles converted on 10 straight third-down attempts. A lot of that success had to due with the connection of Carson Wentz to Travis Fulgham, who the Steelers simply didn't have an answer for in the game. Fulgham finished the day with 10 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown. Fulgham was on the receiving end on five of the Eagles' 10 third-down conversions and scored a touchdown.
"Some of the issues aren't issues," Tomlin said. "Some of the issues are that No. 13 (Travis Fulgham) was making some combat catches and you have to acknowledge that. A couple of those conversions were thrown into tight coverages and were great throws. That one down the middle of the field, we were in two-deep, man-under, and Mike Hilton was in close proximity to (Fulgham), and he made a combat catch down the middle of the field running blind. You have to respect that. He made a circus, jump-catch in front of our bench with Steve Nelson draped all over him and challenging the catch from start to finish.
Tomlin credited the Eagles for making plays, as they are paid professionals as well. And when that occurs, he expects his players to fight through adversity and continue to battle.
"It's not always something that you have to fix," Tomlin said. "And that's what I meant when I said earlier that sometimes it's just an acknowledgment that they work, that they have a plan, that they have quality players who are capable of making plays, and sometimes they're going to make a play and you have to roll up your sleeves and fight on. It's good to see our group gain that understanding. Everything doesn't require a meeting or a dry-erase board or an adjustment. Sometimes it's just, get back out there and fight. And there was some of that. If I didn't acknowledge that, I'd be doing the Philadelphia Eagles a disservice."