As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) today’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
My prediction is at the bottom.
THE STEELERS WILL WIN IF…
1. They Run The Ball Successfully And Efficiently
Pretty simple. Chargers enter this game with the league’s worst run defense. On top of that, they’ll be without DTs Jerry Tillery and probably Linval Joseph, who is doubtful in this game. Those are two good interior linemen, and the fact they’re missing makes the Chargers’ bad problem worse. Pittsburgh must stay on script and run well on first down. You’d love to see an explosive run or two as well. But at the last, Najee Harris and this offense should average 4-5 yards per carry with a run success rate – at the minimum – coming in at 50%.
2. Safeties And Linebackers Play The Seams
That means defending the likes of Keenan Allen, Jared Cook, and watch out for backup tight end Donald Parham, a 6’8″ power forward with three touchdowns on just 11 receptions this season, two of them coming inside the 10-yard line. Cook is an athletic tight end who can run downfield and the Lions had chances to make those plays last week, but QB Jared Goff was too injured and ineffective to capitalize. Allen, as usual, is a third down weapon and may need to be bracketed in those big-time moments. Of course do that, and there will be 1v1 matchups for Herbert to take advantage of.
3. Return Game Makes A Splash
It was interesting to hear Mike Tomlin lead with special teams during his Tuesday press conference. He noted the Steelers’ inability to generate a long return on any of Ray-Ray McCloud’s six punt returns against the Lions. McCloud’s six returns are the most of a Steeler since Antonio Brown in 2010, but he couldn’t find a crease on any of them. That doesn’t all fall on his shoulders, that’s a unit-wide stat, but it’d be nice to see a long punt return to boost this team and offense on the road where they’re underdogs.
THE STEELERS WILL LOSE IF…
1. Cornerbacks Lose Jump Balls
Our X-Factor of the week. How the Steelers, for example, handle Mike Williams will be big in this one. Guys like Cam Sutton and James Pierre need to step up and make plays. Turnovers, ideally, but Steeler corners have just one interception this season after picking off eight last year. But they have to at least high-point the ball and win red zone fades and go balls downfield.
2. Dan Moore Jr. Can’t Handle Bosa
Joey Bosa isn’t Myles Garrett. But he’s close. And if Moore plays the way he did against the Cleveland Browns, it could be a long day for Ben Roethlisberger’s return. Moore only gave up one sack to Garrett but several more pressures and almost-sacks. He’ll have to play better with his feet and his hands in this one, especially assuming the Steelers don’t give him a lot of help as was the case against Cleveland. I’m sure Moore picked up some pretty important lessons weathering Garrett’s storm, so hopefully he can consistently seal the edge against Bosa.
3. Red Zone Trips Don’t Finish
Two key reasons why the Steelers had a disappointing tie against the Lions last week. Turnovers, which everyone talked about, and red zone failures, less discussed. Pittsburgh was just 1-3 in the red zone last week, punching it in on their opening drive but failing their next two, both of which were goal-to-go situations. Can’t have that this week against the Chargers, whose offense isn’t as productive as it could be, but is in a better place than Pittsburgh’s.
Season Prediction Record