3TFO: Chargers @ Steelers, Week 14
The Chargers have been disappointing this season, to say the least. After starting 3-1, they have lost seven of their past eight with their only win coming in a home game against the Chiefs. It was right around this time last year that they were also out of the playoff race at 4-7, and then won four of their last five games when they didn’t have much to play for.
This year they have a chance to play spoiler to the Steelers, who are currently tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the last AFC playoff spot. A lot of the strengths of these two teams match up with each other, but injuries to the Chargers might be too much to overcome. While Pittsburgh has ended up as the heavy favorite, here are two matchups that the Chargers need to win, as well as one where San Diego needs to not completely fall apart.
Chargers Offensive Tackles vs. Steelers Outside Linebackers
The offensive line has had its fair share of problems, which includes poor play from Michael Harris at left tackle. This week he is doubtful to play with an ankle injury, while right tackle Jeromey Clary is doubtful to play with a knee injury. At left tackle we will likely see Kevin Haslam who saw his first offensive action last week when replacing Clary at right tackle. He allowed one sack, one hit and six hurries. At right tackle we should see Reggie Wells, who signed with the team Wednesday. He last saw an offensive snap in 2010, and has spent most of his career playing at guard rather than tackle. Needless to say, the tackles will be a problem area. It doesn’t help that Philip Rivers completes just 44.4% of the passes he gets off under pressure, and has already been sacked 36 times, which is second-most in the league.
The players who can’t wait until kickoff so they can increase their sack numbers are Lamarr Woodley, James Harrison, and Jason Worilds. Woodley is questionable to play and has averaged just 2.7 pressures per game. He has gotten the best of weak right tackles before, like in Week 2 when he had a sack, two hits, and four hurries against Austin Howard of the Jets. While Harrison’s overall PFF pass rush rating of -1.5 suggests he might not have a great day, he has recently stepped up his pass rushing game. He has a sack in each of the past three weeks, and has a pass rush rating of +3.3 over those games. For these pass rushers it looks like the best is yet to come.
Chargers Wide Receivers vs. Steelers Cornerbacks
The Steelers’ big injury news is that Ike Taylor is out for at least this game and likely more. The injury will give the Steelers’ younger cornerbacks a chance to shine. Keenan Lewis will continue to start at one cornerback spot, where he has allowed just 51.8% of passes thrown his way to be caught, and leads the league with 13 passes defended. Cortez Allen typically comes on the field as a slot corner in the nickel defense, but in this game he will also play the outside corner spot in the base defense. He has allowed only 53.1% of passes thrown his way to be caught, and has eight passes defensed.
Their biggest challenge will be stopping Danario Alexander, who in recent weeks has emerged as the Chargers’ best option at wide receiver. Over the past four weeks he has averaged 5.75 catches for 101.5 yards and .75 touchdowns per game. Opposite of Alexander is Malcom Floyd, who consistently has a positive receiving grade but typically doesn’t put up huge numbers. He has a very high 70.8% catch rate to go along with a high 15.0 yards per catch, but has not had more than 70 yards during the past seven games. It will be a battle of strength versus strength that San Diego needs to get the best of in order to have a chance at victory.
Heath Miller vs. Chargers defense
Heath Miller has been the most consistent receiving option for Pittsburgh, and in recent weeks he has just been getting better. He has a catch rate of 76.7%, which is third-highest for tight ends with 50 or more targets. He had 97 yards on five catches last week, which is his best performance in terms of yards this year. His six catches for 63 yards the week before was his third-highest in terms of yards.
Miller might have a harder time this week because over the past nine games the Chargers have allowed just 32.7 yards per game to tight ends. That number is down to 19.2 if you just include the past seven games that weren’t against the Denver Broncos. For the season, Atari Bigby had allowed 237 of the 558 total yards allowed to tight ends. He is out with a groin injury, and his replacement Corey Lynch has allowed just one catch for 7 yards on three targets to tight ends. This is another battle where the strength of the Chargers matches up with the strength of the Steelers.
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