The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their twelfth game of the 2018 regular season Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers in what figures to be another interesting contest between the two teams seemingly headed for the playoffs. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their fourth home win of the 2018 season Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Run, James, run - The Chargers defense can be run on and especially to their right side. The Steelers had some success running to their left last Sunday with running back James Conner but they failed to stay committed to it as much as they probably should have been. Conner is coming off a few very unproductive games and it would be nice to see him start Sunday night’s game against the Chargers with some successful runs to the left and and up the middle and then build on those. The Chargers are now without defensive tackles Corey Liuget and Brandon Membane so there’s no reason why the Steelers offense shouldn’t have success running the football Sunday night. 4 yards and a cloud of dust on every play isn’t a bad thing.
Focus on the little backup bolt – The Steelers defense should have a lot experience by now against smallish shifty running backs having recently faced Christian McCaffrey and Phillip Lindsay. They’ll face another one on Sunday in Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who will start in place of the injure Melvin Gordon. While Ekeler is a step down from Gordon, he’s still a good running back and has even caught 32 passes for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns so far this season. Look for Ekeler to be targeted early and often out of the backfield by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. We might even see a wheel route or three as the Steelers defense has had some issues covering that kind of play so far this season. It would be nice to see Ekeler have to pass protect quite a bit Sunday night so the Steelers defense should force him to display that portion of his game with nicely designed blitzes. Hint, he’s not great at doing such.
First and win – The Chargers offense has been phenomenal so far this season on first downs as they are averaging over 7 yards per play. That success on first downs has led to them facing a very low amount of third downs so far this season. That said, the Chargers offense is less than average this season on third downs and 3 of Rivers’ 6 interceptions this season have come on 3rd and long plays. It all starts on first down Sunday night for the Steelers defense.
Play in their yard some – The Steelers offense has moved the football effectively most of the season. However, they’ve been forced to do so on very long fields and especially since their bye week. Sunday night against the Chargers the Steelers need to start at least a few drives on the positive side of their own 45-yard-line. That field position can only come via a turnover or long return. While Steelers returner Ryan Switzer has been exciting to watch this season, he’s yet to break off a big one. Sunday night against the Chargers would be the perfect time for him to do that a few times.
No Bosaconstictor – Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is now back healthy again after missing most of the season with a foot injury. The Ohio State product registered his first two sacks of the season last Sunday and he’ll present a huge challenge for Steelers tackle Matt Feiler, who did not play last week. The Steelers offense smartly protected rookie tackle Chukwuma Okafor from Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller last Sunday via slides to his side and tight end chips. They’ll likely need to have a repeat performance of that Sunday night against Bosa and hope that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva can handle the Chargers other great pass rusher, defensive end Melvin Ingram, one-on-one most of the game.
Spare the feet – The Steelers didn’t pack nearly enough feet for their trip to Denver last weekend. Not only did the offense turn the football over four times last Sunday, there were a few drops mixed in with a few untimely penalties. The defense also gave up a few big plays that turned out to be huge. The Chargers are a much better team than the Denver Broncos are and even without having Gordon Sunday night. Merely losing the turnover battle Sunday night to the Chargers could be enough for the Steelers to suffer a home loss. quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has 5 interceptions in the last two games, needs to have a clean turnover sheet Sunday night and the defense needs to do their part by showing more ball-awareness and registering a few turnovers of their own.