Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1, 3-6 ATS) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-4, 5-4), 8:20 p.m.
Brolley’s Steelers Stats and Trends
Pittsburgh is 7-2 toward unders.
The Steelers are 2-6 ATS in their last eight games.
There’s a chance Ben Roethlisberger could miss this week’s showdown against the Chargers since the vaccinated Roethlisberger was showing symptoms from COVID-19 over the weekend. Mason Rudolph needed 50 passes to post 242/1 passing (4.8 YPA) in a tie against the Lions last week. Big Ben posted 205/2 passing in his last contest against the Bears in Week 9, and he’s yet to reach 18+ FP in each of his first eight games.
Diontae Johnson was his typical busy self against the Lions in Week 10, even with Rudolph in the lineup. Johnson saw a team-high 13 targets (26% share) against the Lions, which he turned into 7/83 receiving to give him 14+ FP in seven of his eight games this season. Diontae has posted 11+ FP in all eight of his games this season. Justin Jefferson (9/143 receiving) and DeVonta Smith (5/116/1) have beaten up an undermanned Chargers’ secondary in the last two weeks.
The Steelers were down to James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud as the second options with Chase Claypool (toe) out of the lineup last week, but Claypool is trending toward returning. Claypool hasn’t reached 50+ receiving yards since Week 5 and he has just one receiving TD in seven contests this season. Washington has just 3/57 receiving on nine targets the last two weeks, but he scored a touchdown against the Lions, while Ray-Ray posted career-highs across the board with 9/63 receiving on 12 targets. Los Angeles has been beat up a bit by WRs the last two weeks, but they’re still giving up a league-low 27.1 FPG to WRs this season.
Pat Freiermuth made a costly mistake at the end of overtime by not getting out of bounds and fumbling on Pittsburgh’s final offensive play, but he still posted 4+ catches for the fourth straight game. He did see his snap share dip to 62% with Eric Ebron back in the lineup — he sat at 78% and 71% in Weeks 8-9. The Chargers are giving up a league-high in receiving TDs per game (.8) to TEs after allowing two scores to Tyler Conklin last week.
Najee Harris keeps chugging along with 16+ FP in eight straight games after posting 26/105 rushing and 4/28 receiving against the Lions last week. He’s posted 22+ carries in five straight games and 3+ catches in four straight contests since the Steelers lost JuJu Smith-Schuster to a season-ending shoulder injury. The Chargers are giving up a league-high 127.8 rushing yards per game to RBs, and Dalvin Cook posted 27/118/1 scrimmage in this matchup last week.
Brolley’s Chargers Stats and Trends
Los Angeles is 6-2 toward unders in its last eight home games.
The Chargers are 1-3 ATS in their last four games.
The Chargers have dropped three of their last four games outright and ATS since Mike Williams cooled off after his scorching hot start. He’s fallen below eight FP with six or fewer targets in four straight contests after hanging 22+ FP in four of his first five games. The Steelers haven’t allowed an individual WR to reach 70+ receiving yards in four straight games, but they could be undermanned with Joe Haden (foot) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (COVID) looking iffy for Sunday night.
Justin Herbert has averaged 5.0 YPA or worse while completing less than 59% of his passes in Los Angeles’ three losses in the last four games, and he’s fallen below 225 passing yards in each of those defeats. Herbert’s aDOT has fallen to 6.9 yards over the last four games after he averaged 8.0 yards in the first five games when he was rolling with Williams. The Steelers could be down elite pass rusher T.J. Watt (knee/hip) this week in addition to their secondary concerns, and they showed some vulnerabilities against Justin Fields in Week 9, allowing 291/1 passing.
Keenan Allen is the one player who has seen his production spike since the offense started to struggle in Week 6. He’s topped 17+ FP with 11+ targets in three straight games after posting 8/98 receiving on 11 targets last week against the Vikings. Amon-Ra St. Brown (4/61 receiving) and Jarvis Landry (5/65) have posted team-best lines from the slot in this matchup in recent weeks.
Jared Cook is coming off his second one-catch performance of the season, and he’s fallen below 30 receiving yards in six of his last eight games. The Steelers have given up just two receiving TDs to TEs this season.
Austin Ekeler has fallen below 15 FP in three of his last four games since the LA’s offense went into the tank after scoring 22+ FP in four straight contests in Weeks 2-5. He’s still sitting around 70% of the snaps most weeks, but Larry Rountree did vulture a goal-line touchdown after Ekeler had seen seven of the first eight carries from inside the five-yard line this season. Lions RBs combined for 38/227/2 rushing against the Steelers last week, which was just the ninth time Pittsburgh has allowed 200+ rushing yards in the last 51 years.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 27.2 (18th)
Plays per game: 72.1 (3rd)
Pass: 61.8% (12th) | Run: 38.2% (21st)
Pace: 25.1 (2nd)
Plays per game: 64.6 (24th)
Pass: 65.2% (24th) | Run: 34.8% (6th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
Steelers-Chargers is the second-best game of the slate in adjusted pace / plays behind Chiefs-Cowboys. Even though these offenses match up well together, there are a few concerns I have in this game…
L.A.’s offense has gotten off course over the last month after putting 47 on the Browns defense back in Week 5. Since then, we’ve seen Justin Herbert put together two of his worst starts (vs. Patriots and Ravens), they shredded the Eagles, but then immediately were sluggish again last week against the Vikings. My read is that Mike Williams’ knee injury zapped the lone deep threat they have in this offense and the numbers back that up. Over the last month, Herbert’s average depth of target on throws from a clean pocket is a measly 6.0 yards – which ranks 24th-of-32 QBs in this span. In their first five games, Herbert’s clean pocket aDOT was 7.4 (16th).
Meanwhile, you know the issue with this Steelers offense. Ben Roethlisberger is driving the last few miles of his career with the gas tank on E. This offense just has no explosive ability any more because Big Ben’s arm is fried. Speaking of aDOT from a clean pocket, Big Ben is at 6.0 yards on the full season. Only Jared Goff (5.2) is lower. If this game is going to be a shootout, we need the Chargers to re-discover their early season form.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
With a target share of at least 18% in four straight games, Pat Freiermuth has cemented his status as the present and future at TE for the Steelers. The Chargers have yet to figure out a way to slow down opposing TEs. They are permitting the fifth-most FPG to the position (16.6). Both of these teams are hanging onto their playoff lives, but the Steelers badly need the victory here to avoid looking ahead to 2022 preparation before the season has even concluded.
Teams invested in analytic trust are taking advantage of Justin Herbert’s issues with man coverage. However, the Steelers have not shown us anything this season that would indicate they’d be prepared to flip their schematic rotation to defend Herbert. I’d consider it a near-100% likelihood that Pittsburgh will maintain their current shell devotion.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
There seems to be some optimism from the Steelers’ perspective that QB Ben Roethlisberger will be cleared to play for this week. But we won’t know until this weekend.
Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers won't know if he is cleared to play until Saturday. FYI: The plane to LA leaves at 3 pm.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) November 18, 2021
If Ben can’t go, Mason Rudolph would start again, and either QB will have the services of WR Chase Claypool this week — Claypool missed last week’s action with a toe injury but doesn’t have an injury designation this week. In Claypool’s stead, slot WR Ray-Ray McCloud saw 12 targets… but McCloud is likely to get a lot of coverage from slot master Chris Harris Jr. this week. So yeah, it’s a Diontae Johnson spot… as always. The Chargers have a bunch of players on the COVID list, as well.
One thing that was a bummer from last week — the return of TE Eric Ebron did indeed hurt the role of Pat Freiermuth. Freiermuth ran a route on just 61% of the Steelers pass plays while Ebron was at 32% in Week 10.In Week 9, Freiermuth ran a route on 73% of the Steelers pass plays. And of course, there was that fumble…
Wes likes the spot for the rookie TE, so I think the Steelers will give him a chance to bounce back, but this does give me some pause.
The Chargers are coming off another anemic offensive performance, and the lack of deep speed is affecting this offense. Here’s Graham from Stat-Pack:
One big thing the Chargers are missing right now is deep speed. They just don’t have a burner to stretch the field and it’s allowing defenses to keep everything in front of them. As a result, Justin Herbert’s average depth of target has plummeted to just 7.3 yards (27th-of-35 qualifying QBs).
Just 8.8% of Herbert’s throws have traveled over 20 yards in the air, which ranks 30th.
For reference, 8.6% of Trevor Siemian’s throws have gone over 20 yards.
And of course, it’s not for lack of talent — few QBs have the gun Herbert has. And he does get some good luck here in this matchup, with TJ Watt (knee) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (COVID) unlikely to play.
Here’s Graham from Start/Sit on Big Mike:
“After yet another down game (4/33 on six targets) against a banged up Vikings defense, it is clear that Williams probably isn’t 100% after hurting his knee back in Week 6. Since then, Williams’ production and usage has dropped off of a cliff as the wideout has gone from 23.2 FPG in Weeks 1-5 to just 5.8 FPG in Weeks 6-10. The big thing that is missing right now is deep targets and those vertical looks were a huge reason why Williams was going off every week to start the year. If he can’t get vertical and clash with cornerbacks like he wants to because of a sore knee, the Chargers are going to continue to not use him in that way. Williams will get another chance to re-find his previous form next when L.A. faces an extremely beat up Pittsburgh defense that just played a five quarter game against Detroit, but I don’t think you can trust him as anything more than a boom/bust WR3 in shallow leagues.”
Mike Williams deep targets (15+ air yards) per game:— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) November 18, 2021
Weeks 1-5 – 3.2 (fourth-most)
Weeks 6-10 – 1 (67th)
The Chargers have also been rotating their tight ends, which makes Jared Cook near impossible to play at this point.
Here’s Scott Barrett from Start/Sit:
“Cook had a season-worst performance last week, catching just 1 of 3 targets for 10 yards. He’s now fallen under 30 receiving yards in 4 of his last 5 games. And Donald Parham continues to get more work and look like the more capable pass-catcher, having out-scored Cook in 3 of their last 5 games. So, Cook is just a low-end TE2 this week, in a bottom-10 matchup against the Steelers, who held TJ Hockenson to zero fantasy points on 1 target last week.”