Preview: 2015 – Game 5 – San Diego Chargers

I had a lot of optimism going into this game. Then Ryan Shazier and Martavis Bryant were both ruled out.

That doesn’t mean I’m still not optimistic, however. With 11 days to prepare, the offense should feel more comfortable with Michael Vick under center, as opposed to the single day of practice, with additional day “walk through” that lead into the Ravens game (where I still felt the team had a winning game plan, but failed to execute in several areas.)

At 2-2, Monday night’s game feels like a “must-win” for the Steelers, who with a loss, would fall 3 games behind the 5-0 Cincinatti Bengals. I’m not sure I’m ready to toss in the towel that quickly, and considering the lackluster play of those teams not in the lead of their divisions, a wildcard is far from question.

However, the Steelers will need to pickup victories in Ben Roethlisberger‘s absence, and a win in San Diego would go a long way toward the eventual goal of making the playoffs. Vick should be ready, and the team is prepared to let Le’Veon Bell shoulder the workload. In 2 games this season, Bell already has 282 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns.

He will face the 29th worst defense against the run, so the opportunity is certainly there. The return of TE Matt Spaeth will help the “unpopular” double TE sets, which not only help open up the run game for Bell, but protect Vick.

The Chargers defense has also given up the 28th most points in the NFL, including 28 points to the Detroit Lions, 31 to the Minnesota Vikings and 27 to the Cleveland Browns. The Chargers won 2 of those games, both at home, where they are unbeaten this season. If Vick can lead this offense in much the same way Big Ben did, limiting mistakes in the process, this could be another coming out party for the Steelers’ O, which is 10 of 13 (76.9%) in the red zone this season, tied for 4th best in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Steelers defense will face the 2nd best passing attack in the league. I’m of the opinion that Philip Rivers folds under pressure: he has a great 70.9 completion percentage with 8 TDs, but has also thrown 4 picks.

Rivers will regain one weapon in TE Antonio Gates, who returns from a 4 game suspension, but loses another in WR Steve Johnson, who was ruled out for the game. I had previously pointed out that the Steelers being weak against tight ends is partially myth. Tonight’s game will give us the full picture, and Sean Spence will once again need to answer the call at inside linebacker.

Tonight will also be a true test for a band of unknown defensive backs, who have overachieved expectations thus far this season. San Diego WR Keenan Allen has resurfaced after a sophomore slump in 2014, with 33 receptions, 387 yards, and 3 TDs. (By comparison Antonio Brown has 34 receptions, 478 yards, and 2 TDs.)

Up front, the defensive line will also regain NT Daniel McCullers, which should be a boost against a banged up San Diego offensive line.

The X-factor will be the Steelers new kicker, their 3rd replacement this season, Chris Boswell. He comes into a position under much scrutiny, after his predecessor (Josh Scobee) missed what would’ve been two game-winning field goals against the Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh’s previous game.

I always tend to be biased and optimistic for the Steelers, but this game should be winnable. Admittedly, without Bryant and Shazier, I feel less optimistic, however, Mike Tomlin is 9-2 on Monday Nights, so if this team took the additional time afforded by a Thursday slate the previous week, they should be overprepared to bring home a victory.

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