Getting To Know The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Los Angeles Chargers have a crucial AFC matchup with the Steelers this week, and despite the frustration from the fan base, this is a great opportunity for them to bounce back and gain back some traction within the conference. Despite losing three of the last four games, the Bolts are very much in the playoff picture and we’ve really seen each team in the conference go through their ups and downs. The Titans are currently the number one seed in the AFC but they started the season 2-2 and the two losses were a blowout at the hands of the Cardinals and a rather poor showing against the Jets. The point is how do you rally after going through adversity and poor showings. I happen to think the Chargers will bounce back this week against the Steelers.
That being said, let’s dive into this Steelers team.
2020 Season In Review
At one point last season the Steelers were the class of the conference. They were undefeated and some media members were even talking about a career resurgence for Ben Roethlisberger. They started the season 11-0 but finished the season 12-4 and lost in the wild card round to the division-rival Browns.
In the end, the 11 wins masked the issues that were troubling the Steelers. Especially with an offense that relied upon volatile yards after the catch opportunities from Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Chase Claypool. The Steelers had been one of the best offenses of the 2010s during Big Ben’s prime, but the 2019 and 2020 versions of the offenses were plagued by his declining physical ability as well as a declining offensive line.
The franchise has been and will be at the mercy of Roethlisberger’s timeline at this point of his career. They’ve made it clear that he will be the starter as long as he wants to keep playing. Once he decided to stay on board for the 2021 season, the offseason became about supporting him at a higher level.
Key Additions And Departures
Like many NFL teams around the league, the Steelers entered the offseason without a ton of spending ability in free agency. They spent a good amount of their limited space in bringing players like Zach Banner, and Smith-Schuster. Because of the limited cap space, they also lost key players like Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler (thankfully), Alejandro Villanueva, James Conner, and Mike Hilton. Their longtime stalwart center, Maurkice Pouncey, also retired.
In addition to some of their re-signings, the Steelers did sign three former Chargers players: Melvin Ingram, Trai Turner, and Kalen Ballage. Ingram, of course, has since been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Turner and Ballage are playing key roles for them, however. Turner has been a solid presence for their offensive line and is really the only veteran player. Ballage is their second running back and doesn’t play a ton but has been ok when called upon.
The most important offseason additions for the Steelers came through the draft. They are getting contributions from five of their 2021 draft picks. Najee Harris is obviously the most impactful from a statistical standpoint. He is seventh in the league in rushing yards right now with 627, and he’s added 317 receiving yards, as well as six total touchdowns.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth, center Kendrick Green, and left tackle Dan Moore were their next three picks and all three are starting. Freiermuth leads them in receiving touchdowns with four and is fourth on the team in targets. Green and Moore have started every game for them so far and it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for both rookies, but the Steelers have a strong history of developing offensive linemen and they seem to be trending in the right direction.
There were a lot of negative feelings towards the Steelers in the offseason because people questioned if they could have made better roster decisions, such as upgrading the offensive line earlier in the draft. However, the rookies have played well and the Steelers, like everyone else in the AFC, are in the mix for the playoffs. They are currently 5-3-1 and sit one spot ahead of the Chargers.
Similar to the Bolts, the Steelers have an opportunity to gain ground in the AFC picture over the next few weeks. After their Sunday Night Football matchup with the Chargers, the Steelers will have back-to-back division games against the Bengals, and Ravens before the home stretch of their season. There has been incredible parity in the conference this year, but thankfully we should be closer to gaining a much clearer picture over the next few weeks about several teams, including the Steelers and Chargers.
History Against The Chargers
The past matchups with the Steelers have not been kind to the Chargers. The two have played 34 times in their history, and Pittsburgh has come out on top 24 times. They have played 11 times since 2000 and the Chargers have managed to win three of them, the most recent being the Sunday Night Football matchup in 2018.
That night, the Chargers went into halftime trailing 23-7, appearing to have zero answers for James Conner and Antonio Brown. After a 73-yard punt return by Desmond King tied the game, the Chargers took the lead on an 18-yard touchdown run by Justin Jackson. The Steelers matched with their own touchdown drive. Philip Rivers then led a masterful game-winning drive that finished with a Michael Badgley field goal and the Chargers won 33-30. It was a masterful comeback win that helped them build momentum towards their 12-4 finish and subsequent playoff victory in Baltimore.
It’s unfortunate that this matchup is not going to feature two healthy teams, with both T.J. Watt and Joey Bosa potentially not playing. Both secondaries are banged up, although Michael Davis and Nasir Adderley will be returning for the Chargers which is huge. Despite the injuries on Pittsburgh’s side, I expect Mike Tomlin to have his team ready – he always does.
The Chargers should win this game, but the offensive struggles over the last month cannot be ignored. Still, Justin Herbert has proven throughout his short career to being very capable of bouncing back after poor performances and that’s what should be expected of him on Sunday night. I’m picking the Chargers in this one, 20-17.