Steelers Scouting Report: What to expect from the Los Angeles Chargers

This past Sunday was a rough one for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. While they didn’t lose, it sure felt like it as they tied the winless Detroit Lions.

Fortunately, that game is now behind them and a new opportunity awaits. The bad news is, this is going to be a much tougher task as the Steelers will be on the road this weekend for a Sunday Night Football matchup with a very talented team in the Los Angeles Chargers.

Much like Pittsburgh, the Chargers are in a tight division race and will be looking to make a move as their rival, the Kansas City Chiefs look to finally be back to playing good football. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at this week’s opponent.

Injury Report

Unfortunately for the Chargers, it is looking like they could be without some key players this weekend, all on the defensive side of the ball. Star defensive end Joey Bosa and starting defensive tackle Jerry Tillery are both currently on the COVID-19 list, along with linebacker Drue Tranquill and defensive end Christian Covington.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph (shoulder) and strong safety Alohi Gilman (hamstring) are also both trending in the wrong direction as they were both unable to participate in Thursday’s practice.

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Chargers have one of the most dangerous offenses in football

One thing that stands out with this Chargers team is that they can move the ball and put points on the board. This is due in large part to their star second-year quarterback and 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert. He has picked up right where he left off from last season as he sits at sixth in the league in passing with 2,545 yards for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Herbert’s top target once again this season is veteran wide receiver Keenan Allen who has 65 catches for 698 yards and two touchdowns so far. He is joined in the passing attack by a dangerous deep threat in Mike Williams, along with rookie receiver Josh Palmer and veteran tight end Jared Cook.

Herbert will be facing a Steelers secondary that has been decent against the pass but has had to fight through injuries/absences. Unfortunately, they will be without their star free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as he was placed on the COVID-19 list.

They will also likely be without the star of their defense, outside linebacker T.J. Watt which will be a huge loss for their pass rush. Hopefully Alex Highsmith and Taco Charlton can fill in nicely off the edge and take some pressure off some fresh faces on the back end.

While their passing game has been outstanding, the Chargers also have a solid rushing attack. Running back Austin Ekeler has turned into one of the more dynamic backs in the league. This season, Ekeler has carried the ball 112 times for 523 yards and five touchdowns. He also adds value in the passing game as he has 39 catches for 340 yards and four touchdowns.

Ekeler will be facing a Steelers front seven that has struggled the past few weeks against the run. They are missing Stephon Tuitt‘s presence on the interior and it has shown. They currently sit at 25th in the league in run defense, allowing 123 rushing yards per game. The run game last weekend for the Lions is what truly kept them in the game. If the Steelers want any shot at making a run, the whole front seven must play better but linebacker Devin Bush Jr. in particular will have to lead the defense and step up to show why the Steelers traded up to draft him.

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How will the Chargers defense fair with missing pieces?

So far this season, the Chargers have been near the middle of the pack on the defensive side of the ball. They are 17th in the league in total defense, allowing 361.1 total yards per game and 25.3 points per game.

The strength of their defense so far has been against the pass. Los Angeles currently sits at fourth in the league in passing defense, allowing only 206 yards per game and 12 passing touchdowns while coming away with six interceptions.

Their secondary is led by star strong safety Derwin James Jr. who is solid in coverage but also leads the team with 80 tackles on the season. He will be joined in the secondary by Nasir Adderley at free safety, along with Chris Harris Jr. and Michael Davis starting at the corners. Rookie Asante Samuel Jr. will also be in the rotation at corner.

They will be facing a Steelers passing attack that got off to a very slow start but had started to pick it up a little. Unfortunately, they took a step back last week as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was placed on the COVID-19 list. Roethlisberger has yet to be activated this week but there is still some hope. Backup Mason Rudolph simply didn’t cut it last week and hopefully will be able to rise to the challenge if called on again this Sunday.

While they have been strong against the pass, the same can not be said for the Chargers’ run defense. They are currently dead last in the NFL at stopping the run, allowing 155.1 rushing yards per game and 12 rushing touchdowns. To make matters worse, their front seven will be shorthanded this week.

As I mentioned, defensive end Joey Bosa is likely out which will leave Uchenna Nwosu and Kyler Fackrell as the starters off the edge with Chris Rumph II as the only listed backup. Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery is also out and Linval Joseph also could miss.

If both are out, they could be in some trouble as their three interior defensive linemen will be Joe Gaziano, Breiden Fehoko, and Justin Jones. Behind them, Kenneth Murray Jr. and Kyzir White will be the starters at linebacker.

This group will have a huge task ahead of them as they will be facing an absolute rising star in rookie running back Najee Harris. The rookie has truly gotten going lately as he is sixth in the league in rushing with 176 carries for 646 yards and four touchdowns. However, they took a huge hit to their run game as starting left guard Kevin Dotson will likely miss this game with an ankle injury. Hopefully J.C. Hassenauer can step up and be effective in his place.

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Final Thoughts

As I already briefly mentioned, this is a huge game for two teams that are very much in their respective division races. The Steelers have had a history of playing well against the Chargers, especially on the road. However, these are two completely different teams compared to the last time they played.

For the Steelers, a lot will be reliant on who is under center. If Ben can go, I am a lot more confident. However, this feels like a huge game for Najee Harris regardless. This Chargers front seven has been awful this season and that will be maximized with their missing pieces. I see Harris going for over 100 with a pair of touchdowns.

For Los Angeles, I think they attack us hard in the passing game. With Minkah out, there will be some inexperience on the backend that I believe Herbert will take advantage of. The loss of Watt will also hurt but Highsmith has shown that he is a force to be reckoned with as well.

The key will be stopping Ekeler on the ground. If he gets open holes like we saw last weekend against Detroit, this game could get ugly. However, this feels like a game where guys step up and clean things up.

At the end of the day, I actually still feel very good about this game. The Chargers are a playoff caliber team but so are these Pittsburgh Steelers. Los Angeles will make some plays on offense and this will be a very close game down to the wire but they simply have too many holes in that defense that I think the Steelers will take advantage of. I see Pittsburgh driving down the field late to give Chris Boswell a chance to win it, ending in a 27-24 victory.

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