It’s been like two months since I last had to write one of these when the Pittsburgh Steelers were coming off of a loss. It doesn’t feel good, and it also doesn’t help that they are playing one of the top teams in the AFC, hosting the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field tonight for a primetime affair.
What will I be looking out for? First and foremost, uh…ball security. The Steelers lost last week because they turned the ball over four times. You can imagine this was drilled into their heads this past week. They can’t afford to lose the turnover battle against a team as good as the Chargers.
And giveaways is only one have of the turnover equation. The defense is, I expect, going to play more aggressive beginning in this game in trying to get the ball back. Expect to see the likes of Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and Sean Davis attempting to make more plays on the ball in the air. It means more risk, but offers more reward, which is something that Head Coach Mike Tomlin said he accepts as part of the equation.
The biggest thing to see is how running back James Conner bounces back from a string of negative plays. He had two big drops and a fumble over the course of the past two weeks, and he hasn’t supplemented that with a lot of production or scoring.
The team has done a nice job of rallying around him and propping him up, letting him know that they still know he’s the same back that is on the verge of a 1000-yard rushing season and already has 11 touchdowns. But don’t be surprised if we see Jaylen Samuels get a few more snaps in passing situations either.
At the wide receiver position, the first question that has to be answered is whether or not James Washington is even going to be active. If not, that Ryan Switzer will probably play about 80 percent of the snaps in which there are three receivers on the field.
Defensively, controlling the run game is going to be an important first step, even with Melvin Gordon out. Stephon Tuitt needs to have a big impact in his first game back in this area, as does Javon Hargrave, who has been playing some of the best football of his career over the past month.
Who is the dime defender going to be if both Morgan Burnett and Cameron Sutton are out? Will Marcus Allen or Olasunkanmi Adeniyi see any playing time defensively? And, oh yeah, is Bud Dupree going to be playing? If so, how limited will he be?
The biggest thing that interests me with the Chargers if they are going to use Casey Hayward to shadow Antonio Brown. JuJu Smith-Schuster is repeatedly showing teams that you pay too much attention to Brown at your own peril, because if you pull resources away from the other guy, he’s going to burn you.