In the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers were Super Bowl contenders bouncing off of decent seasons. However, neither team has placed themselves where they want to be after five games. Coming into Week 6, the Chargers are falling behind the Kansas City Chiefs while the Steelers are trying to survive in the weak AFC North.
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The Steelers (1-4) will try to bounce back when they travel across the country to face the Chargers (2-3) for the Sunday Night Football game. The Steelers are looking for their future identity while dealing with multiple injuries. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers are looking to incorporate running back Melvin Gordon after his holdout while dealing with their own injuries too.
With what was supposed to be a marquee Sunday matchup, how can these teams capture the must-needed win?
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has played conservatively this season. In fact, before Rudolph made deep passes to Diontae Johnson against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mason Rudolph’s air yards were -0.1 yards. Instead of Rudolph, though, the Steelers are handled by the undrafted rookie from Samford, Devlin Hodges.
How can the offense start warming up like the end of the Ravens game? The answer is simple: give Hodges as much time as possible. The Chargers are 16th in the NFL in sacks (12). The Steelers’ offensive line needs to step up and play like Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell are sitting back there still.
When Hodges had time against the Ravens’ defense, he made spectacular passes down the field.
Another extra option is utilizing rookie running back Benny Snell, Jr. since Jaylen Samuels is out for about a month with a hip injury. Bringing in Snell for wildcat plays as well as giving James Conner a breather will be important.
Defensively, the Steelers need to continue taking the load. Other than in the Patriots and Seahawks games, this defense has been impenetrable. They created five turnovers against the undefeated 49ers and forced Lamar Jackson to throw three interceptions.
The defensive front must wreak havoc on Phillip Rivers and force turnovers. These turnovers will give the Steelers good field position and limit the points for the Chargers.
Overall, the Steelers need to test the waters and work with the tools they are handed with this game and season.
But how do the Chargers prove they should win as the favorites?
First of all, the Chargers cannot overlook the Steelers’ record. Three of the Steelers’ four losses came at the hands of a pair of undefeated teams in the Patriots and 49ers, as well as a 4-1 Seahawks team.
Diving in deeper, though — the Chargers need to convert on third down. The Steelers’ defense will force the Chargers into all types of third-down spots. The Chargers are seventh in third-down conversions while the Steelers’ third-down defense is 23rd in the league. So, if the Chargers can work the Steelers through third-downs and create long drives, things will be smooth and will work in L.A.’s favor.
Also, the Chargers need to force the linebackers to cover receivers and running backs. The one downside to the Steelers’ defense is that the linebackers struggle in coverage and the defensive backs usually cannot support. The Chargers need to use the mismatches to their advantage.
On the defensive side of the ball, confuse Hodges. Blitzing all day will not work against him as he moved the ball smoothly against a blitz-happy Ravens.
However, disguising defenses, throwing in combo coverages, blitzing, and forcing bad decisions is how the Chargers can introduce Hodges to the league.
Finally, the Chargers cannot allow No. 2 wideout Diontae Johnson to break coverages.
The Chargers are currently -7 point favorites. This game will be close and most likely come down to a final drive or two. Despite the close game, the Chargers will win by a field goal or less.