The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their tenth regular season game of 2021 on the road Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, and they’ll likely enter that contest marked as nearly a touchdown underdog. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game Sunday night at SoFi Stadium to come away with their sixth win of 2021 season.
Charge Ahead Often On The Ground – The Los Angeles Chargers will have outside linebacker Joey Bosa on Sunday night against the Steelers, but they won’t have two other key defensive players due to COVID-19 issues. Chargers defensive linemen Christian Covington and Jerry Tillery will miss the contest Sunday night against the Steelers due to both still being on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Additionally, the Chargers might not have defensive lineman Linval Joseph Sunday night as well as he entered the weekend listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. The Chargers run defense hasn’t been great even with Covington, Tillery and Joseph so that means the Steelers offense should try to run early and often against that front seven. The more the Steelers offense runs on Sunday night, the less opportunity Bosa will have to rush after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger so that’s another incentive to keep rookie running back Najee Harris busy early and often. It will really be disappointing if the Steelers can’t run on the Chargers Sunday night.
Be West Coast Blitzburgh – With Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt not playing Sunday night due to injuries, Pittsburgh’s four outside linebackers for that contest will be Alex Highsmith, Taco Charlton, Derrek Tuszka, and Delontae Scott. That’s obviously not ideal and the hope is that Tuszka and Scott won’t have to play much at all. Not having Watt Sunday night will mean the Steelers defense might have issues getting consistent pressure on Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert should the unit continually rush four or fewer players. In short, the Steelers defense should up their blitz percentages quite a bit on Sunday night. The unit must force Herbert to get rid of the football extremely quick throughout the game and especially with two other key defensive starters, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Joe Haden, not playing Sunday night.
Chase An Occasional Explosive Play Deep – The Steelers will get wide receiver Chase Claypool back on Sunday night against the Chargers and that’s certainly great news. The Chargers defense will likely be keyed in on stopping the Steelers running game Sunday night and if that’s indeed the case, Claypool, and fellow wide receivers Diontae Johnson and James Washington should get occasional man-to-man Cover-1 looks. Roethlisberger is not scared to go deep against man Cover-1, so I expect he’ll throw deep around five or six times against such a coverage. As of late the Steelers offense has really been missing the kind of downfield explosive plays that Claypool produced during his rookie 2020 season and that includes the several deep pass interference penalties he drew as well. If the Steelers are going to win Sunday night in Los Angeles the offense needs to run the football consistently and effectively with a few explosive passing plays mixed in. Claypool is due to go off Sunday night upon his return and the Steelers really need him to as well.
Be Prepared To Be Booted Often – Herbert is sure to use boot play action Sunday night against the Steelers defense as his tape from this season says as much. In fact, he has 22 completions outside the pocket off play action so far this season with three of those going for touchdowns, In total, those 22 completed throws have produced 309 total passing yards for the Chargers offense. That Herbert boot off play action usually results in the Chargers quarterback making an easy levels-type throw or taking a deep shot. The Steelers defense has certainly noticed the heavy boot action by Herbert so far this season and how the unit counters that will be interesting to watch.
Don’t Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away, Now – In Week 10 at home, the Steelers tied the Detroit Lions. Why? Well, losing the turnover battle 3-0 is probably a suitable place to start. Not only that, all three turnovers by the Steelers offense came on the Lions side of the field. For the season, the Steelers have 11 total giveaways with 10 coming from the offense. While that number is not awful, it’s still too many when you consider the Steelers have just 8 takeaways on the season. It’s hard to imagine the Steelers defense registering many, if any, turnovers Sunday night against the Chargers so in short, the offense better not give the football away like the unit did last Sunday. Losing the turnover battle to the Chargers Sunday night on the road is sure to result in a loss.