We have talked in depth about how well the Steelers have performed without their number 1 running back, Le’Veon Bell, tonight we get the chance to see how the Chargers operate without theirs.
In what could be a January dress rehearsal in the AFC playoffs, the Chargers will be without running back Melvin Gordon, who is dealing with a knee injury. He has been a major part of the Chargers’ success this season, running for 802 yards and 9 touchdowns to go along with 44 receptions for 453 yards and 4 touchdowns. Austin Ekeler has the task of replacing Gordon, and he has proven to be a capable option himself.
As mentioned in Phil’s article this week, ball security was an issue last week. James Conner has been more than an adequate replacement for Bell, rushing for 849 yards and 10 touchdowns and catching 49 passes for 453 yards and a score. The Steelers will be looking for Conner to keep hold of the rock though after a costly fumble last week.
Phillip Rivers may be a bit of a dark horse in the MVP race. He ranks 3rd in the NFL in passer rating and has 26 touchdown passes against 6 interceptions. He was immaculate in last weekend’s 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, setting records for pass completions to open a game and completion percentage finishing with 28 completions from 29 attempts.
The Steelers of course have Ben Roethlisberger but his problem this season has been interceptions. He has thrown 12 of them, tied for the second-most in the league, and he threw 2 critical picks in last week’s loss to the Broncos. Turnovers in general have plagued the Steelers. They had another four against the Broncos, giving them 19 for the season. Only 6 teams have more turnovers, and all 6 have losing records. Incredibly the Steelers turnover differential sits at minus 7 on the season.
The Steelers have the Chargers number at Heinz Fields with a 14-1 record in such contests. The Chargers however, have played well on the road this year, winning four of their five games away from home. Maybe playing in LA in front of more opposition fans is providing them with an unexpected benefit. However, the Chargers still must prove they can beat the top teams. All but one of their wins this season have come against teams that currently have a losing record. The one exception was the victory over Seattle, which is barely over .500 at 6-5.
There are plenty of other marquee names lining up for both teams in this one with the likes of Antonio Brown, Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, TJ Watt and impressive rookie Derwin James all set to feature. It has the potential to be an excellent football game.
The Chargers would appear to be firmly locked in the playoffs regardless of if they can catch the Chiefs in the AFC West. The Steelers hold the division lead in the AFC North but a loss here could make things very tight in that division if results from the earlier games work against them. In that regard this is probably a bigger game for Pittsburgh and I would expect them to remove some of the issues that we saw last week. I’m a huge fan of what the Chargers are doing though and feel they will be a team that people will want to avoid come January and I think a big road win would send out quite the statement here.
Enjoy the game if you are staying up through the night to watch it.
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