Los Angeles Chargers @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Vegas: PIT -3.5
DomModel: PIT +1.029
Recommendation: LAC -3.5
Los Angeles Chargers:
-WR Tyrell Williams (quad) was active week 12, but only played 9 snaps. He was limited in practice on Wednesday (11/28) and Thursday (11/29).
-RB Melvin Gordon III (sprained MCL) was injured week 12. He will likely be out at least 2 weeks. He did not practice on Wednesday (11/28) and Thursday (11/29).
-DT Corey Liuget (quad) was injured week 11. He is on IR.
-LB Kyzir White (knee) is was INACTIVE weeks 5 – 10. He has been placed on IR.
-LB Denzel Perryman (hamstring/knee) was injured week 11 and is out for the season.
-RT Marcus Gilbert (knee) was INACTIVE weeks 8 – 12. He did not practice on Wednesday (11/28) and Thursday (11/29).
-DE Stephon Tuitt (elbow) was INACTIVE weeks 11 and 12. He was limited in practice on Wednesday (11/28) and practiced in full on Thursday (11/29).
-S Morgan Burnett (back) did not practice on Wednesday (11/28) and Thursday (11/29).
When Los Angles has the ball:
The Chargers are coming into this one without their star running back, Melvin Gordon. Though Gordon has always been a workhorse, his efficiency numbers have exploded this year. Gordon is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and was on pace for 1,826 all purpose yards and 14 TDs this season. It’s impossible not to acknowledge the loss.
The good news for the Chargers is they have an extremely capable backup in Austin Ekeler, who can come in and literally replace everything Gordon was asked to do — both as a rusher and a receiver. Ekeler has been phenomenal this year — he’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry and caught 10 balls last week after Gordon got hurt. The Gordon news hurts, but it won’t kill them because of how good Ekeler is.
As for the passing offense, they rank 2nd in pass offense DVOA. Rivers is averaging 9.0 yards per attempt and has an incredibly favorable TD:INT ratio (26 TDs, 6 INTs). His primary target is Keenan Allen, who is on pace to catch 100 balls this year. After Allen will be a mix of Mike Williams, Ekeler, and Tyrell Williams (if healthy).
The Steelers defense is full of mediocrity. Their pass rush can be impressive, lead by three defenders who are over 30 pressures on the season (Cameron Heyward (44), Bud Depree (36), and TJ Watt (34)). However, they don’t cover particularly well. Against the run, they give up 4.2 yards per carry and rank 13th in run defense DVOA. So yeah, more mediocrity. They don’t suck, they aren’t great.
TL;DR Conclusion: We should still consider the Chargers offense elite, even without Melvin Gordon, and this isn’t a defense we need to fear. From a matchup perspective, the Steelers blitz often and have the personnel to get after the passer. That’s not fun for the Chargers offensive line, which is generally horrible. We can take some solace that Rivers gets the ball out quickly, typically favoring his slot receiver (Keenan Allen) and running back (Austin Ekeler).
When Pittsburgh has the ball:
The Steelers roll into this one with an elite offense. Though Big Ben is having a down year, his infamous home/road splits still hold true. Ben is rocking a 107.9 QB rating at home, with an 87.3 rating on the road. Luckily for Ben, this one is at Heinz Field.
The Steelers offensive line, when fully healthy, is one of the best in football. However, they will be without RT Marcus Gilbert.
The rest of the Steelers offense is a familiar tale by now. James Connor has taken full control of the Le’Veon Bell roll, and he’s been fantastic. Connor is on pace for over 1,200 yards and 15 TDs on the ground alone. Through the air, he’s on pace for 659 yards. Speaking of air, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster make up one of the better receiving duos in all of football. Typically speaking, Brown will man the outside while Smith-Schuster takes slot duties.
Fun fact about JuJu, he was born “John Smith.” His nickname comes from his aunt, and he legally added “Schuster” when he was 18 to pay respect to his step-father. So good old John Smith went from having the most boring name of all time to one of the more interesting ones. Well played, good sir.
Los Angeles’s defense:
The Chargers defense levels of mediocrity is only rivaled by the Steelers. The good news is Joey Bosa is back, and he’s rolling. Last week, Bosa had 5 pressures and 2 sacks. He played on 33/47 defensive snaps, and appears fully healthy. Bosa teams up with Melvin Ingram to form a great 1-2 punch off the edge. However, the rest of their front 7 kind of sucks. They rank a “whatever” 16th against the run in DVOA.
The defensive backfield, however, is pretty damn impressive. Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams cover the outside guys, while Desmond King takes the slot. King will have his work cut out for him against JuJu, but he’s been one of the better slot corners in the NFL (per PFF). At safety, 17th overall pick Derwin James is putting together an impressive rookie season. He should be in the running for defensive rookie of the year.
TL:DR Conclusion: This should be a fun as hell matchup. Ben is at home with all of his weapons healthy, and in 2018 — there aren’t many defenses in the entire NFL that can slow them down. The matchup to watch is the Chargers left side pass rush against backup RT Chukwuma Okorafor (thank you copy and paste).
That’s it for now, bitches.