Coming off the a sloppy win, the Chargers face a team who was rolling offensively before their stud QB, Ben Roethlisberger, went down with an injury. Since then, from a production standpoint, the Steelers offense has fallen off of a cliff. Conversely, the defense is playing their best football of the season these last 2 weeks. Let's start with them.
When the Chargers have the ball
The Steelers run defense has been pretty stingy these last 2 weeks. Take away a 33 yard scamper from Justin Forsett and they're giving up 3.9 yards a carry on 57 carries against the Rams and the Ravens. They're getting production all around but Stephon Tuitt, who will be lined up across from D.J. Fluker, has been playing at the highest level. Tuitt has 4 sacks, 3 QB hits, and 12 stops on the season.
No one on the Chargers defensive line has more than 7 stops this year. As I mentioned, the there are a handful of Steelers making plays up front. Hell, I even saw Cam Thomas beat the center and blow up a play in the backfield a couple times. This will be a challenge for the Chargers depleted offensive line.
As well as the run defense has played the Steelers pass rush is 5th in adjusted sack rate. The Chargers have 6 sacks on the season as a defense. Against the Ravens the Steelers had 5 sacks. A few of those were due to the QB holding the ball too long but it's also a result of the Steelers overloading one side and sending more than the offense has to block. The Steelers run a true "over" 3-4, which means the nose tackle will be head up on the center. In 1-on-1 situations the drop off from Chris Watt to Trevor Robinson is steep. This would've been a tough matchup if the Chargers were fully healthy up front but given 4 out of 5 lineman are listed questionable or worse. Advantage: Steelers
RBs finally neutralized?
For 4 weeks I've given the advantage to the Chargers running backs versus the opposing teams linebackers. This is the 1st group of linebackers they've run into that have the athleticism to match them. It certainly helps that both Lawrence Timmons and Sean Spence are being kept clean by the defensive line but they can get to the ball carrier in a hurry and lay the wood. 94 is Timmons. He's not leaving the field. He's likely the player to matchup against Woodhead.
Timmons will miss tackles at times but his presence seems ubiquitous on the field. As for Spence, he's only 231 pounds but can really get sideline to sideline.
They use him on blitzes off the edge. Spence had 2 sacks against the Ravens. Though Spence has missed 3 tackles in limited duty, I do think they will bring the "thump" and win this matchup. Advantage: Steelers
There are injuries at the receiver position. Malcom Floyd is questionable and Stevie Johnson is out. That's not good for the Chargers. The last couple weeks the Steelers pass defense has been great, surrendering under 200 yards in both contests. That's more of a product of the pass rush plus playing QBs who hold the ball longer than they should. Even though he's missing his top 2 targets, Philip Rivers without Johnson and Floyd is still 27 greater signs bette than Nick Foles and Joe Flacco. Rivers is going to hang in there until the last second if he has to, like the long pass to Dontrelle Inman a week ago.
2 of Pittsburgh's top 3 CBs are a 4th rounder from 2014 who has some stiffness and a UDFA from 2012. Catching the Steelers in a blitz or just clearing out the middle of the field for the short crossers should be where the Chargers offense lives tonight. The UDFA I mentioned is number 41, Antwon Blake. I'd target him early and often. He's a shotty tackler at best. But so is the majority of the secondary. Expect a big night from Keenan Allen. While the Chargers are missing 2 of their top targets they get some tight end back who I heard has been somewhat productive in the past. Even shorthanded, advantage Chargers.
When the Steelers have the ball
I wasn't selling it short when I mentioned the Steelers offense has fallen off a cliff since the change at QB. The drop in offensive DVOA has been quicker than the "Free fall" ride at the Del Mar fair. It's no secret as to why. The thing about Mike Vick is that he's not very good. The Chargers do have an innate ability to make below average QB's look better than they really are, but Vick is 41st in DVOA in passing. That's dead last. That's worse than whatever a Jimmy Clausen is.
As far as the offensive line goes, they're very good. At least when it comes to creating running lanes. The Steelers have the best running back in the NFL. He's been the beneficary of some friendly lanes to run through.
San Diego has been a lot of things up front but consistent or good isn't 1 of them. This is another week where the team can win up the middle. The Steelers center looks like a liability. It's going to come down to, gulp, tackling their running back 1-on-1.
Pittsburgh's adjusted sack rate is poor but it's mostly on the QB. Vick makes Roethlisberger look like Peyton Manning when it comes to getting ride of the ball quick. It's so bad, almost laughable. He holds it, holds it, and holds it, waiting for something to develop. Here's the amount of seconds he was sacked against the Ravens. 5.12, 5.72, 3.62, 4.1. This isn't counting the amount of clean pockets he left. The Chargers had 4 sacks a week ago and there's not a single reason the team shouldn't get multiple sacks this week. Vick is trash emoji. Advantage, Chargers.
That should be your reaction when you read "it comes down to tackling Le'Veon Bell in space. First off, Bell is obnoxiously patient when it comes to letting plays develop.
He's not going to go down easy, either.
I would put Eric Weddle on him. You think the Steelers weren't grinning ear to ear when they saw zero adjustment made when Duke Johnson split out and Donald Butler covered him? Bell will do the same.
I've felt like I've already given you too many words on this matchup. Even though it's time for a change at linebacker, there's no great matchup here for San Diego. Advantage, Steelers.
100 meter dash
That's what it seems like the Steelers receivers run. They can all fly. The "slowest" just happens to be the best WR in the NFL. Antonio Brown has rare acceleration. That's why he's so dangerous after the catch. He can get to top speed in about a step and a half. He's impossible to guard from the slot.
Then he throws in nuance and tempo in his route running and poor DBs don't stand a chance.
It's a catch 22 with Brown. You put a safety over him and you leave yourself a guy short to stop the run. Or, you put a safety over him and he runs right by both the corner and safety covering him.
Common theme in these vines are all Big Ben throwing him the rock.
In what's the upset of the season so far, Patrick Robinson has been the best CB on the team. In recent weeks, Steve Williams hasn't been too far off.
Only 5 CBs have a lower QB rating when targeted than Steve Williams this year. 1 of them is Pat Robinson. Crazy— KP (@The_KP_Show) October 7, 2015
This offseason I wrote how Robinson had a very successful outing versus Brown. With both Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers listed as questionable, this is somewhat refreshing. The Chargers will still need 1 to be effective when the Steelers spread them out. Save Brown, I'm underwhelmed by their WRs. Factor in the threat of Weddle jumping routes over the middle of the field and Vick being Vick I go Advantage Chargers here.
This week I had the staff give me their prediction plus a surprise performance.
Kyle: Both offenses will move the ball easily between the 20's. The 1 area San Diego's defense has been impressive this year is on 3rd downs, 8th best in the league, and in the red area, where they're giving up the 9th fewest TD percentage. I like the Chargers 24-20 with Jason Verrett playing and getting his 1st interception of the season.
Max: Steelers 27 Chargers 21. The Chargers have been held to less than 20 points against the two Top-10 defense they have faced so far this year and this week's opponent will be the third. Pittsburgh has had a large drop off with Mike Vick who seemed unable to throw more than 5 yards downfield. Unfortunately, while the Chargers showed much better pass rush last week, they did not tackle well in short yardage. LeVeon Bell helped carry the Steelers last week and should feast on a Chargers defense that has been very poor against the run. Expect Pagano to load the box and challenge Vick to beat him deep. A few deep completions for Vick will propel the Steelers to victory this week.
Garrett: Surprise: Melvin Gordon scores his first touchdown because this schtick hasn't quite run its course yet. Steelers are gonna send the house & Rivers will never get any time to get anything going. Steelers win 24-16.
SDNativeinTX: Both offensive game plans are run to perfection and as a result, Dick LeBeau laughs so hard for so long, it nearly registers on a Richter scale in Tennessee. Surprise performance is Ryan Carrethers who looks like he is doing press sets with Cody Wallace and is living in the Steeler backfield as a result. The Bolts manage to break serve and have the ball last in the game and win 37-35.
Jamie: The Chargers should come out throwing early, using well timed deep balls to discourage the Steelers from blitzing and set up the run. They'll look for Allen and Gates but I have a feeling Dontrelle Inman catches Pittsburgh off guard with a big game in the middle of the field. Chargers manage to pressure Vick and force a couple mistakes, off-setting a big game from Bell. Chargers 30, Steelers 24.
Jordan Lee: With both Johnson and Floyd banged up, that means a steady diet of Gates, Allen and Woodhead through the air. However it's Dontrelle Inman who comes up with some big catches late while Gordon finally hits pay dirt. The offensive line delivers another surprisingly decent performance and the Chargers outlast the Steelers on Monday Night. Chargers 30 Steelers 24
Richard: The return of Antonio Gates is an anticlimax as the passing attack is led by Ladarius Green and Keenan Allen. Le'Veon Bell runs wild on the defense, but the Chargers hold on at home 24-21.
Daniel Stebbins: Offensive shootout. Chargers passing game and Steelers run game put up huge numbers, with SD coming out on top 37-24. Instead of predicting a first TD for Gordon, I say Oliver runs one in from within the 3.
Ruben Gonzalez: The Chargers will win. I imagine a formation with double tight ends of Gates and Green with Woodhead in the backfield and Allen and Floyd split out wide. Plenty of options for Philip even though he's working behind a depleted offensive line. Its a bang bang type of night as long as Reich listens to me. Defense doesn't even have to work hard. Chargers win 34-10.
Jeff: have confidence the Chargers offense can score points against a depleted and distinctly not vintage Steelers defense. But after seeing what Josh McCown and Duke Johnson did to the Chargers defense, I have virtually no confidence Chargers' DC John Pagano can come up with a defensive gameplan to stop Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and company. Especially not after Steelers' OC Todd Haley has had 4 extra days to prepare for the Chargers. Michael Vick is no Ben Roethlisberger, but he's still better than Josh McCown. Steelers 30-24
Matthew Stanley: I think gates has a big first game back. 100+ yards and a TD. I could see this being a shootout, looking a lot like the Steelers vs Patriots game earlier this season. Chargers pull it out because I flew out for the game and they owe me. Chargers win 34-31
John Gennaro: The Chargers defense gets plenty of pressure on Michael Vick and wins the turnover battle. Gates gets his 100th TD but the Chargers offense doesn’t do much besides avoiding mistakes. 17-10 Chargers win.