As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X-Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Here’s our X-Factor for Sunday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers.
X-FACTOR(S): MIKE TOMLIN/KEITH BUTLER
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is on the line. And they’re in an awfully tough spot to try to turn the year around, facing the 8-3 Baltimore Ravens without Joe Haden and potentially/likely without Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt. On paper, this does not look like a good matchup for Pittsburgh. Not one bit.
That’s where coaches come into play. They’re the captains, the leaders. Like the old saying goes, any captain can lead when the seas are calm. When the storm comes in, the waves start rolling, that’s when captains – and coaches – earn their money. The ones who can win with scheme and overcome the talent gap, just in the way Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins’ blitzed their way to an upset victory over the Ravens several weeks ago.
It’ll be up to Tomlin and Butler, and whoever else responsible for formulating the defensive gameplan, to come up with answers. Because on the surface, it feels like a lose/lose. Go all-out to stop the run, and the Ravens will throw. Even if you choose that approach, defend the run at all costs, what’s the right plan? Expect Pittsburgh to use the “mesh charge” they’ve implemented before to attack Lamar Jackson and force the Ravens’ running backs to win, not their quarterback. Still, this run defense has had a host of issues that Pittsburgh’s trying to solve in a matter of days. The Steelers usually add a new wrinkle for each one of these meetings – the mesh charge, their three outside linebacker package – but Tomlin’s options feel more limited
Blitz Lamar Jackson, the script against him, and risk putting a younger, struggling secondary on an island. Play coverage and Jackson will get all day in the pocket to throw or run. It’s been a losing battle for Pittsburgh all season long and one Tomlin’s openly admitted to doing a bad job preparing for, saying this following the loss to the Chargers.
“I take responsibility because I didn’t put these guys in good enough position to be successful given the circumstances.”
That mission will be just as tough this time around. Will this be the week they blitz, something they haven’t done virtually all season? Against Jackson last season, Pittsburgh blitzed 34% of the time, much higher than their 2021 average of roughly 25%.
Regardless of approach, Tomlin and Butler’s gameplan must be sound. To give his players a fighting chance. That doesn’t guarantee a win but Pittsburgh must do something different. Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity and will only bring the same ugly results.