The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their sixth regular season game of 2019 on the road Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers with a chance to get their second win of the season entering their bye week. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their second win of 2019 against the Chargers.
Don’t paint the field yellow – Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin might have painted the barn yellow this week but hopefully the team doesn’t paint the Dignity Health Sports Park field yellow with penalty flags. With the Steelers starting a rookie undrafted free agent quarterback Sunday night against the Chargers, any kind of mistakes must be kept to a minimum and that includes penalties. Against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, the Steelers committed 11 penalties for 76 yards. Two of those were for roughing Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and two more were neutral zone infractions on the defense. This will be an easy game for the Steelers to beat the Steelers and penalties will help in that matter.
No wounded ducks – It will be hard enough for rookie undrafted quarterback Devlin Hodges to beat the Chargers Sunday night on the road and even harder if he throws an interception or two. In his NFL debut last Sunday against the Ravens, Hodges got away with two ill-advised passes. One was intercepted but wiped out by a defensive penalty while another deep one probably should’ve been picked off. Both were extremely poor decisions by Hodges, who doesn’t appear to be scared to push the football down the field.
Light the Lamp – The chargers placed center Mike Pouncey on their Reserve/Injured list this week with a neck injury and that means guard Dan Feeney will slide over and take his spot. It also means that the Chargers new starting left guard will be Forrest Lamp and he’s yet to play a full game. Steelers defensive linemen Cameron Heyward should have a few nice chances to get after Lamp Sunday night and Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler needs to scheme a few things up to ensure such a one-on-one situation is created multiple times throughout the contest. Heyward needs to make a game-changing play or two against Lamp Sunday night
Run left – The Chargers defense hasn’t been great against the run through five games and especially when it comes to defending runs to the left side of the offense, the right side of their defense. Successful runs on early downs against a Chargers defense that could have defensive end Melvin Ingram back on the field along with fellow defensive end Joey Bosa is a must. The Steelers run game to date hasn’t been great and that needs to change Sunday night if the team wants to have a legitimate shot at beating the Chargers on the road. The Steelers won’t have Jaylen Samuels Sunday night to help starting running back James Conner so rookie Benny Snell Jr. will likely get a few chances to show that he can break off a few nice runs.
Makeable thirds – The Steelers offense enters Sunday night having converted just 28.3% of all third down opportunities and only three other NFL teams have been worse. Getting in third and 6 or longer with a rookie undrafted quarterback making his first NFL start is just asking for trouble. Somehow, someway the Steelers offense needs to get in several third and short situations Sunday night and then make sure to convert them. Either that or avoid third downs altogether.
Keen on Keenan – Last year in the Steelers road loss to the Chargers the team’s defense allowed wide receiver Keenan Allen to catch 14 passes for 148 and a touchdown. Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt did a great job of moving Allen around in that game to take advantage of a few matchups that included the wide receiver sometimes being matched up against a linebacker. Such mismatches just can’t take place Sunday night and the Steelers would be wise to put either a cornerback or safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on Allen throughout the game. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers must be made to beat the Steelers by throwing to wide receiver Mike Williams or his running backs.
Unexpected score – The Steelers will need to steal a position or two Sunday night and there’s no better way to do that than to get a defensive or special teams touchdown, something we haven’t seen out of Pittsburgh in a while. The Chargers do have eight giveaways so far this season and their punt and kickoff coverage units are rankled right near the middle of the league entering Sunday night. Last season the Chargers returned a punt for a touchdown against the Steelers in the fourth quarter and that changed the complexion of the game. Can the Steelers get a big play Sunday night from a very unlikely source? They might need to if they want to come away from Los Angeles with a win.