The Los Angeles Chargers host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11, and it is all about playoff seeding. Aside from the Tennessee Titans, almost every other AFC team has a decent shot at the playoffs. There are few who don’t, but as a courtesy to their fanbases, these teams will remain unnamed. The Chargers are 5-4 and are right in the thick of the AFC West race. The Steelers are a gross 5-3-1, but a tie is better than a loss, and they still have a legitimate shot in the north. Sometimes it is okay to state the obvious: this game is a big one.
Who will step up for the Steelers on defense?
Normally it is a lock to assume the Steelers will be rock solid on defense. They rank 12th overall in average yards per game, but it’s the big play sacks and turnovers that usually lead them to success. In Week 11 it will be tough for them to live up to their elite standard.
TJ Watt and cornerback Joe Haden have both been ruled out due to injury. Star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has tested positive for COVID-19, and has also been ruled out. These are impossible shoes to fill, but they are too good of a defense to implode completely. Head coach Mike Tomlin and DC Keith Butler will have their guys ready to play. However, I have to think Justin Herbert is salivating at the chance to throw without worrying about Watt, Haden, and Fitzpatrick. The Steelers front seven will have to generate pass rush early and often to help out their secondary. Cameron Hayward and Chris Wormley should be up to the task, but someone from the linebacker group needs to have an impact as well.
Austin Ekeler is the key for the Bolts
Ekeler is the do-everything back that the Chargers have to get going if they are to have success. Ekeler has scored a touchdown in four of the five Chargers’ victories, and has gone scoreless in two of their four losses.
Getting Ekeler to around 100 all-purpose yards usually spells success for the offense and the team. Ekeler also helps to keep opposing defenses guessing, and with the Steelers D missing some key pieces, Ekeler could have an extremely productive game.
Steelers O-line versus the NFL’s worst rushing defense
The Steelers have struggled all year to create running lanes for rookie standout Najee Harris. Though they should feel an injection in confidence in facing the Chargers, who are allowing 155 rushing yards per game. Najee Harris has stepped into a role as one of the highest-volume backs in the NFL, and he will be key to the Steelers success on Sunday night.
The Chargers’ rush defense looked better last week against the Vikings, allowing just over 100 yards to Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. They are hoping to continue to improve their ranking against an offensive line that has caused Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked 18 times in 8 games, and which has helped Najee Harris to a very pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry.
The keys to success
To beat the Chargers, the Steelers will want to adopt the Vikings’ strategy from last week: win the time of possession battle. The Vikings had the ball for over 36 minutes, compared to the Chargers 23. Justin Herbert can’t hurt you and your banged-up defense from the sideline! They will need to move the chains and sustain TOUCHDOWN drives. Yes, I wrote that in all caps, because I don’t think they can win with five Boswell field goals.
To beat the Steelers, Justin Herbert needs to get back on track. He threw for only 195 yards against the Vikings, while mustering just a 58.8% completion percentage. This offense is too good for that. Herbert needs to throw a lot, and make sure there’s a healthy dose of Austin Ekeler to help him get in rhythm.
I have been feeling all year that the Steelers have been quite fortunate to win some of their games. Not losing last week was also lucky, and I think they will get exposed in primetime this week. Justin Herbert will take advantage of the Steelers sub-standard defense, and the Chargers win big: 31-13. Ekeler scores twice and has 150 total yards.
Have a great weekend of football, everybody!