The Chargers and Steelers square off on Sunday Night Football on Sunday, in a game that probably should have been flexed. This is the story of two teams with high expectations that have seen key injuries dramatically alter their season arc. The Steelers are onto their third quarterback while the Chargers are down to their third and fourth options at offensive tackle and safety. Today we will take a look at what’s left of each team’s offensive and defensive units and how they matchup in this crucial Week 6 tilt.
Chargers Offense Vs Steelers Defense
The Chargers offense is coming off of its worst performance of the season managing just six points last week. Heading into their last drive, when the game was out of reach, they had gained an abysmal 185 total yards of offense.
This week, the game plan for the team has to be cashing in on scoring opportunities. The Chargers had four trips into the red zone last week and came away with only three points while committing two turnovers. I expect when they get close this week they will look for Mike Williams, who is still looking for his first score after ranking 6th in the NFL with 10 touchdowns last season.
One battle in this game that I’m looking forward to is Austin Ekeler against rookie linebacker Devin Bush. Even with the return of Melvin Gordon, Ekeler managed a franchise-record 15 receptions in Week 5. The Chargers love throwing to their backs so the super athletic Bush should have plenty of 1-on-1 opportunities with Ekeler in the open field.
Another key matchup in this game is the Steeler’s stellar defensive line versus a weak Chargers offensive line. Tackles Trent Scott and Sam Tevi have been the weakest links and will have a tough time trying to stop T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward. The Steelers have already notched 19.0 sacks this year and will have another great matchup.
One way Los Angeles will try to combat the pass-rush will be running the football. The Steelers have a formidable front but they can be gashed on the ground. Melvin Gordon will have to muster up a better performance than the 12 carries for 31 yards he had against Denver. Expect the Chargers to try and use a lot of misdirections and jet sweep motions to attack the edge of Pittsburgh’s defense.
The last big matchup is going to be Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen versus the Pittsburgh secondary. After getting off to a hot start, Allen has just 9 catches for only 66 yards in his last two contests. In 2018, Allen racked up 14 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers and will need some more magic this week.
The key for Rivers is going to be ball security. The signal-caller has turned the ball over in every game but one, and the Steelers defense has created 12 takeaways this season. The Chargers cannot afford to give a limited Pittsburgh offense extra chances.
Chargers Defense Vs Steelers Offense
The Steelers offense has been hard to measure this season due to its top two quarterbacks being injured. Now, undrafted quarterback Devlin Hodges gets the nod. For a very little known guy, Hodges can sling it setting the all-time FCS passing yards record. Last week, the Steelers did a good job of giving him some nice easy rhythm throws and taking some timely deep shots. I expect more of the same in this one, and the Chargers should not take him lightly given they let Jeff Driskel and C.J. Beathard hang with them last season.
One of the best match-ups on this side of the ball is the Chargers pass-rush against a very good pass-protecting offensive line. Joey Bosa has been phenomenal this year, but pressure from the unit has been very inconsistent. Going against a rookie quarterback, the plan is going to be to rattle him early.
Against the Broncos it was Uchenna Nwosu who stepped up, and with Melvin Ingram questionable he should get a chance to be productive again. If the Chargers can’t get pressure with four defenders early, look for Gus Bradley to send some corner blitzes. Especially when Hodges can move a little bit.
To slow down the Steelers offense you have to account for their two top playmakers JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Everyone in the Chargers secondary will have their eyes on the young wide receiver, but Casey Hayward should follow him around on most plays. He excels in creating space on crossing routes, and Pittsburgh will find creative ways to get him touches.
The Steelers have had a miserable year running the football averaging only 67.0 yards per game. However this week they get to go up against a front seven that has already allowed two teams to run for over 190 yards against them. Conner has yet to show up this year, but he could look more like his 2018-self in this one. If he struggles on the ground, the Steelers could attempt to use him more in the passing game and test out the shaky tackling of the Chargers defense.
The Chargers defense needs to get off to a quick start after putting the team in a 14-0 hole against Denver after two drives. This will also be a big test to see if the defense can finally settle in without key starters Adrian Phillips and Derwin James. Los Angeles is running out of options defensively, and if they can’t figure it out this week, it’s going to be a long season.
If we have learned anything from the Chargers this season, it is that they are maddeningly unpredictable. On their best days, they can hang with almost any team, but on their worst days, they can lose to anybody. The team has to have a bad taste in their mouth after giving Denver their first win, and they should come out with a dire sense of urgency.
In this game, I’m not sure that Pittsburgh can make the Chargers pay for their many deficiencies. At the same time, the Steelers pass-rush could derail Philip Rivers and force some game-altering turnovers. One thing is for sure, it should be close. The teams have combined to play in seven one-score games already this year. I think this scrappy Steeler team will hang in, but I have the Chargers taking this one 31-21.