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LAC v. PIT as told by NFL Matchup

I tried to use complicated numbers to make this week’s matchup a little less cloudy.

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If you guys haven’t found the twitter account for ESPN’s NFL Matchup, I would highly advise you to do it as soon as possible. They focus on analytics and paint a advanced metrics through a simple medium to educate fans on the teams who are doing the best or worst in a plethora of different categories.

As the Chargers prepare for a trip to the frozen tundra of Heinz Field, arguably their toughest task of the season, I dove into a handful of these categories to really paint a clearer of how this matchup will unfold.

We all know the tale of the tape. Both teams are considered powerhouses in the AFC and boast two of the best record in the conference. The Chargers sit at 8-3 while the Steelers are just behind them at 7-3-1. Both teams had (sad face emoji) a pro bowl-caliber running back, dynamic wide receiver groups, and a quarterback from the vaunted 2004 draft class. Both usually have high expectations for each season and this is the first year in awhile that all the expectations of come to fruition.

In such a big game, fans of each team are likely clamoring to find where their team could gain advantage over the other. This is where the work of NFL Matchup comes in. From here on out, using recent posts from their page, I’ll be shedding some light on where the Chargers should look to exploit the Steelers while retaining some caution on where the Bolts will likely to need focus in order to avoid being the ones getting exploited.

Spread Out The Steelers’ Defense

When running their Base defense, the Steelers are tied with the Buffalo Bills in allowing 4.5 yards per play when in this formation, good for third best in the league. Base formations are usually used to defend formations such as 21 (two backs, one tight ends) and 22 personnel (two backs, two tight ends). Without Melvin Gordon, i’d expect the Chargers to be a little more spread out than usual. Although Austin Ekeler is capable of running between the tackles, the team has never shown a propensity to force him into that situation. I believe keeping the Steelers out of their best defensive packages will bode well towards a victory.

Chargers’ Best Defensive Package Coincides With Steelers’ Offensive Tendencies

The Steelers run a lot of plays out of 11 personnel (1 back, one tight end). This maximizes the amount of capable pass-catchers for Big Ben and, in turn, potentially open up running lanes for James Connor on the ground.

Unfortunately for Pitt, the Chargers spend the majority of their defensive snaps in nickel (five defensive backs) and dime packages (six DBs) in order to get their best and most athletic players on the field. Slot cornerback Desmond King leads the team in interceptions while being one of the most sure-handed tacklers on the entire team. In order for him to see the field, the Chargers must stay in the nickel.

Both Teams Thrive After The Catch

So far this season, both the Chargers and Steelers have been among the best at accumulating yards after the catch. They join the Miami Dolphins, all tied at third-best, with an average of 6.5 yards after the catch.

However, the story is a little different when it comes to total yards after the catch. The Steelers currently have three players among the top-20. James Connor actually leads the team in the category with 518 yards which is good for fifth in the NFL. Second on the team and eighth in the NFL is Juju Smith-Schuster with 465. Juju is followed by Antonio Brown who stands at 412 yards.

The only member of the Chargers in the top-20 is Melvin Gordon (I know, no Tyrell) who is currently just behind Connor for sixth in the league with 492 yards.

Both Teams Can Explode At Any Time

The Chargers hold a sizable edge over the Steelers when it comes to “explosive” plays as they lead the league with 78. The Steelers are tied with the Bengals and Panthers with 58, good for ninth in the league.

The Chargers currently have two wide receivers in the top-20 of average yards per catch. Tyrell Williams is currently fourth with an 18.54 average while Mike Williams stands at seventh with 17.46 per catch.

The Steelers, on the other hand, don’t have a single player on the list. But if he change the category to players with “big catches”, which are considered receptions of 25 yards or more, the Chargers all of a sudden have no one within the top-20 while the Steelers have two. Brown is tied for fifth with 10 big catches while Smith-Schuster is tied at 14th with eight.

Quarterback Play In Red Zone Will Be Paramount

Even though Rivers and Big Ben have each done a phenomenal job at keeping their offenses moving up and down the field, their individual play while in the red zone is vastly different and could be the deciding factor in this matchup.

Rivers is ninth in the NFL with a 105.0 passer rating while operating from inside the 20-yard line. Roethlisberger currently has the third-worst rating in the league with a 71.4.

Among qualifying quarterbacks, #7 also leads the NFL in red zone interceptions with four while only one other quarterback has at least three. Rivers is tied with a ton other passers with just a single pick.

Seeing how the Steelers have gone away from riding their workhorse running back into the ground, this seems like a stat that the coaching staff needs to exploit as much as possible. The Chargers have been known for their bend-but-don’t-break defense that allows a fair amount of yards between the 20’s but still maintains the mantle of the league’s third-best red zone defense.

If the Steelers are going to shy away from running Connor from within the 10, the Chargers should look to bring the heat on Roethlisberger when it matters most.

So I hope this vast amount of information helped paint a better picture of what to expect when the Chargers head East to Heinz Field this coming Sunday. I fully expect to see the yardage totals rise and rise throughout the evening but, in the end, I believe it will be the team who manages to make the least amount of mistakes, especially in the most crucial of moments.

It also wouldn’t help to get the old December Rivers back after a couple recent years in hiatus.