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Steelers

Eagles defensive ends pose threat for Steelers' Roethlisberger

| Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, 7:54 p.m.
The Eagles' Connor Barwin (left) and Brandon Graham celebrate after sacking Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III during the fourth quarter Sept. 11, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
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The Eagles' Connor Barwin (left) and Brandon Graham celebrate after sacking Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III during the fourth quarter Sept. 11, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Like the Steelers, the Philadelphia Eagles would rather not blitz unless necessary, instead relying on one of the NFL's fiercest defensive fronts to pressure the quarterback.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz isn't looking to complicate matters Sunday when the unbeaten Eagles and Steelers tangle at Lincoln Financial Field. The best chance to win, Schwartz figures, is to keep Ben Roethlisberger under duress.

“There are a lot of matchups we need to win,” Schwartz said. “We haven't had to rotate as much up front as we anticipated.

“We'll do whatever we can to win a particular game.”

Schwartz concedes that his secondary will be pressured to slow a receiving corps led by Antonio Brown, who is coming off an uncharacteristic four-reception game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“You have to cover longer against Roethlisberger,” Schwartz said. “He doesn't do it outside the pocket much anymore, but he slides and picks his way around the pocket.

“(Roethlisberger) isn't afraid in there. Our pass rush has to keep coming. He doesn't have a clock, which it why he has the ability to extend plays. You can grab his jersey, but he's still going to throw it.”

Steelers tackles Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva will be tested by defensive ends Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin. So far, most of the Eagles' six sacks have resulted from pressure off the edge.

Graham is considered a tempo-setter. He has a team-high two sacks, three tackles for loss and three of the team's league-high 11 hurries.

“Anytime you've got that 4-3 front, you pay those guys a lot of money to wreak havoc by themselves,” Steelers guard David DeCastro said. “That's why it's going to be a big job for us up front. They don't want to blitz because they want their linebackers dropping in coverage.”

The Eagles have owned the line of scrimmage in their first two games, thanks largely to Graham, Barwin and backup Vinny Curry, who has delivered big plays.

“They have a lot of motor guys,” DeCastro said. “They get their sacks by effort, and it speaks to what we have to do to fight even harder and longer. We don't want Ben having to extend plays any longer than he has to.

“You get a quarterback hit early, that's never good. It'll make him think about things he doesn't have to.”

Gilbert called the Eagles front four “relentless.”

“You have to respect that as an offensive lineman,” he said. “They have a whole new demeanor about them. They have a new identity, which looks pretty good.”

The Eagles are much more disruptive up front than the Steelers' first two opponents of the season.

“We'll adjust after every series,” Schwartz said. “As the game goes on, you have to figure out how to put out fires. Some of it has to do with physical play, which takes a toll (on an offensive line).”

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is confident he has a line that can keep up.

“I believe that group has a chance to be a dominant group,” Haley said. “I expect that group to kind of lead us down the road.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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