Do you know what’s generally not a good idea? Sticking an inside linebacker on one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. You know what’s a really bad idea? Refusing to make an in-game adjustment that prevents that from happening over and over and over again, which is exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed to happen last night with the Los Angeles Chargers’ Keenan Allen.
Allen would finish the game with 14 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown as he continually found himself open. According to the NFL’s ‘Next Gen Stats’, the wide receiver was targeted nine times on throws on which a linebacker was the nearest defender in coverage on the play, which is the most since they started tracking such data in 2016. That’s not a huge timespan, but still, being the most isn’t good.
Whether it was Bud Dupree or T.J. Watt or L.J. Fort or Vince Williams or Jon Bostic, it didn’t matter, he caught passes against all of them. And part of the reason for that was because the Chargers realized that the Steelers were going to keep giving him that.
Philip Rivers more or less said as much after the game. “They really like to match everything and zone everything up. If Keenan is number three, he’s going to get matched up with a linebacker and they just kind of match everything up. They’re dogging backers. They’re all over the place blitzing guys, but not bringing a lot of guys so there are still people out there in zones”, he said.
Added Head Coach Anthony Lynn, “I thought Keenan won his one-on-ones and he got open. He’s a big target to fill. He’s a heck of an athlete and for Keenan to be such a big man, he can really can directions quickly and we just took advantage of the matchup”.
The Chargers frequently slid Allen inside and played Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams on the outside which, depending on the look the Steelers defense was in, would often get him on a linebacker. Especially since they were down a couple of defensive backs in the game, it made it even more difficult to make adjustments.
In case it wasn’t clear, Rivers added more on the subject later on. “That is what this team does, they stick with what they do”, he said of the Steelers. “Keenan is a tough cover in the slot and inside”. He even talked about how Allen ended up taking a lot of the positions Antonio Gates would have because “when you’re in that groove, you aren’t worried about touches and all of those things”.
Alex Kozora is going to explore some of the film about how this played out on the field a bit later in the day, but this is to go and show that the Chargers knew exactly what they were doing in exploiting the Steelers’ tendencies, and how they kept picking at it as it continued to work without their making an adjustment.