The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions Week 10 matchup ended in a grueling 16-16 tie. QB Mason Rudolph caught a lot of criticism and did miss several key throws, but did enough to put the Steelers in position to win the game. He finished 30 of 50 for 242 yards a touchdown and an interception. RB Najee Harris finished the game with 26 carries and 105 yards on the ground. WR Diontae Johnson led the way on offense in receiving yards once again with 7 receptions for 83 yards. The Steelers move to 5-3-1 on the year and travel to the west coast to take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football. Before we go into that matchup, let’s take a deeper look at last week’s game against the Lions.
Last week in review
The 3 things I noted to keep an eye on last week were:
1) Another one: Beware of the “trap” game
The Steelers technically avoided the “trap” game loss, with the game ending in a tie, but I think I can speak for every member of the fanbase when I say this game felt like a loss. Even with team dealing with a list of injuries and QB Ben Roethlisberger being ruled out due to testing positive for COVID-19 the night before the game, the team had plenty of chances to come out of this matchup with a win. There are no excuses, the Steelers just didn’t get it done Sunday. The offense had a couple of chances to put the game away in OT, but those chances withered away with two crucial fumbles.
2) Address the running game
The Steelers ran the ball well, but even with 31 carries for 145 yards, there should have been more of a focus on the run game to create more of a balance. Especially on a cold rainy day, there was no reason for Rudolph to throw the ball 50 times. Harris rushed for a 4-yard per run average on the day and even Rudolph broke 4 runs for 36 yards. T Joe Haeg came in and played well in relief for G Trai Turner in his first snaps at guard all season to help the offense open up holes for Harris. The run game was working, the team should’ve relied on it in a heavier fashion.
3) Who’s Stepping Up?
With WR Chase Claypool out last week, someone needed to step up and take over his targets. Return man Ray-Ray McCloud led the offense in receptions with 9 on 12 targets for 63 yards. McCloud seemed to be a feature focal point for this offense last week. I mentioned last week of the possibility of WR Anthony Miller possibly getting the opportunity to be called up from the practice squad, but WR Steven Sims received the nod. Sims took 5 snaps, but didn’t receive any targets. In the absence of Claypool, McCloud stepped up when his number was called on Sunday.
Let’s take a look at 3 things we should watch for against the Chargers
1) Next Men Up
#Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will be activated to the team’s 53-man roster after passing the NFL’s required COVID-19 protocols. He will fly separate this afternoon from the team’s charter plane to Los Angeles with the expectation of starting Sunday night vs the #Chargers.
— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) November 20, 2021
With the great news of Roethlisberger passing his COVID test as reported this morning, we have our future 1st-ballot Hall of Fame QB1 back this week, so rejoice Steeler fans! With that great news, to put a damper on the good vibes, the Steelers have already ruled out G Kevin Dotson, CB Joe Haden, OLB TJ Watt, and DE Isaiahh Loudermilk. Look for the Steelers to start veteran backup G B.J. Finney in place of Dotson and CB James Pierre to start in place of Haden, both players have proven that they can step up when their names have been called in the past. Let’s hope they can continue that trend tomorrow night! I expect to see OLB Taco Charlton to see significant snaps for the 1st time since joining the team. Charlton played a season high 23 snaps last week, in relief for Watt. You cannot just replace an All-Pro edge rusher, but I’d like to see Charlton help the Steelers’ defense to consistently put pressure on Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert in this huge opportunity for the former 1st round pick. FS Minkah Fitzpatrick is still on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, so I anticipate another former first round pick, Karl Joseph, to be called up from the practice squad to back-up rookie Swiss army knife, Tre Norwood at the free safety spot. Norwood has played extremely well at several different spots in limited snaps this season, but will have huge shoes to fill in place of All-Pro Fitzpatrick.
2) Keep Pressure on Justin Herbert, Don’t allow the Chargers to take the top off!
With the Steelers missing two stars on the defensive side of the ball in Fitzpatrick and Watt. The Steelers are down a pass rusher and a safety that both have a huge impact on how well this defense performs. That could spell for a huge disaster tomorrow night. The Steelers have to find a way to consistently put pressure on QB Justin Herbert so that the quarterback doesn’t have time to get the ball to his two playmaking receivers, Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. This is a huge opportunity for Alex Highsmith to match his production with the hype he’s received as a pass-rusher. In the past, the Chargers have done an excellent job with moving Allen around to create mismatches against the Steelers’ defenses. The Steelers have to have an answer for Allen. I also look for the Chargers to take advantage of the absence of Fitzpatrick to take a lot of chances downfield to Williams. Norwood will be tested in centerfield early on.
3) Communication is key
With Roethlisberger attending meetings virtually this week due to being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, the lack of practice could cause some timing issues between the quarterback and his playmakers. I look for the Steelers to open up in the passing game early to allow the quarterback to get into a rhythm. If the Steelers’ offense can get into sync and score points early, it would help take a lot of pressure off a beat up and injured defense. The defense has carried the load the majority of this season, it’s time for the offense to take a turn. If there was a week for this sentiment to be necessary, it would be this week!