3Rivers’ Takeaways: Steelers showed fight late only to allow Chargers to take win

Christina Rivers (3Rivers_Writer on Twitter) offers her Pittsburgh Steelers post-game takeaways, both positive and negative, as Steel City Underground extends its coverage of the Steelers’ on-field performances throughout the 2021-22 NFL regular season.

After their tie game with the winless Detroit Lions in Week 10, expectations varied as to how well the Pittsburgh Steelers would do on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers. Concerns lingered on the number of key players Pittsburgh wouldn’t have on the field up until kickoff on Sunday Night Football. Those concerns became realized as the Chargers got off quickly, offensively, and just kept coming. The Steelers were able to grab 24 points in the fourth quarter of the game thanks to a heads-up play on special teams, a tipped ball they intercepted, and a field goal. The Chargers answered with a quick touchdown and the Steelers offense just had no gas left in the tank.

The fact that Pittsburgh finally seemed to have woken up in the final quarter was a hopeful sign, as they showed a lot of heart and fight late. Unfortunately, they just did not have enough left on defense, either, to keep the Chargers from being able to add 14 points in the final quarter and take the win.

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Thoughts on the Steelers’ offense

There were quite a few things that appeared to be on track for Pittsburgh offensively. Najee Harris went over the “1,000 yards from scrimmage” mark and became the first Steelers rookie to do that in just their first ten career games. In this game, Harris played a big part in grinding out tough yards against a Chargers defense that was determined to make Ben Roethlisberger earn every gain. Under near-constant pressure, the offensive line had a tough task to handle with the number of injuries they’ve experienced, and there were several times that Roethlisberger was hurried, or they could not create room for Harris to get a gap. Harris gained 39 yards rushing on 12 attempts and one up-and-over the line for a touchdown. Harris added five receptions for another 20 yards of offense.

Roethlisberger didn’t look “rusty”, as some predicted he might after spending last week on the COVID-19 protocol, but he didn’t necessarily look comfortable, either. With his offensive line often getting pushed back into him in the pocket, he worked with what he had and actually made a handful of smart, accurate passes down the field. He wasn’t able to get too mobile or exceptionally creative with the playcalling. He also didn’t throw an interception, something that usually bodes very well for how the Steelers fare in a game. In the end, though, his teammates didn’t give him the help he needed to get the ball moving and give the Steelers a shot to make one more comeback attempt in the final two minutes of the game.

Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool were definitely the most impressive receivers in this game. Johnson made one reception along the right sideline that was only outdone by the dime Roethlisberger threw to him just a couple of plays later for a touchdown in the left side of the end zone. Claypool had a couple of passes that he went up high to snag and had five receptions for 93 yards. Johnson had seven receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown.

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Thoughts on the Steelers’ defense

The fact that Cameron Heyward, after working as hard as he was in the trenches all game long, had to run down Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert speaks volumes about how inconsistent this Steelers defense is right now. Yes, they were without T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Joe Haden. Yes, they miss Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt. The guy who has been the glue for Pittsburgh’s “D” has been Heyward. He may have been let down by his teammates on defense with that chase-down, but he didn’t quit; Heyward set a pass – almost like he was playing volleyball – so high into the air that it landed in Cameron Sutton‘s hands for an interception. It was a huge play.

Unfortunately, it took much too long for the interior linebackers and defensive backfield to figure out what Herbert and the Chargers were exploiting. Austin Ekeler was able to score four times (two rushing, two receiving), in large part, due to miscommunications, poor tackling, and positional battles lost. Along the defensive line, there just wasn’t a ton of pressure placed on Herbert early enough to rattle the young signal-caller. When adjustments did take place, the Chargers were able to defeat nearly every good thing the Steelers had done with a pass to a wide-open receiver that forced Tre Norwood to look a complete fool on the play he should have had help on.

It wasn’t that there wasn’t effort given by Pittsburgh on defense. They simply could not account for the fact that Herbert was able to burn them by taking the ball on a carry himself, the number of targets the Chargers have offensively and keep Ekeler contained.

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Final thoughts

This wasn’t a game that gave Steelers fans much hope, at least through three quarters. The fourth quarter was exciting. Seeing Pittsburgh score 24 points and then get a perfect game from Chris Boswell – how can that not be exciting. Unfortunately, this team has so many issues with personnel it seemed more like a fluke that Miles Killebrew blocked a punt, that Roethlisberger threw no picks, and Pittsburgh came away with an interception.

The AFC North gets shaken once again as the Steelers watched the hard fight they gave come up short. With the loss, Pittsburgh moves to 5-4-1. Meanwhile, the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals aren’t necessarily running away with any potential playoff spots, but they all won in Week 11. If Pittsburgh wants a shot, they’ll need to figure out much earlier in their next handful of games how to utilize the personnel they have available to fight from the opening kickoff and not allow themselves to dig the hole they fall into.

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