Los Angeles Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

In this Sunday Night Football AFC cross-divisional matchup, the surging Los Angeles Chargers, fresh off a big win, travel northeast to the wintry three-river area to take on the inconsistent Pittsburgh Steelers, fresh off a big loss, happening December 2 at 8:20 pm at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA, broadcasted by NBC.

 
 
 
 
 

The 8-3 Los Angeles Chargers:

You know 8-3 Los Angeles Chargers were blowing out their Week 12 enemy, the Arizona Cardinals, when head coach Anthony Lynn let the backup quarterback play to keep the starter safe.

That starter, veteran Philip Rivers, left that game with a passer rating of 138.4 after throwing a near-perfect 28-for-29 for 259 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions for the big win.

Los Angeles is a 4-1 road team that’s 5-2 against AFC rivals, so they have a decent shot of coming into Heinz field and defy the odds that are currently against them. 

The 7-3-1 Pittsburgh Steelers:

Despite a fake field goal turned touchdown and a 97-yard touchdown pass to stiff-arming receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and despite having almost ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t tie up the Week 12 game against the Denver Broncos with a touchdown.

In fact, Big Ben’s second interception of the game with just a minute to go – this one haphazardly thrown into the end zone – was the nail in the coffin as the 7-3-1 Pittsburgh Steelers went down 17-24 to the mediocre Broncos.

Pittsburgh is 3-2 at home and 4-3-1 against AFC teams, and after their surprising Week 12 loss, expect the Steelers to take it out on the Chargers outdoors in front of a hometown, wintry crowd.

What’s at stake:

These two teams have met 32 times (including 3 postseason games), with Pittsburgh winning 23 games and Los Angeles winning 9 games. The Steelers have won nine out of the last eleven meetings, the most recent victory taking place in October of 2015.

If the Chargers win this matchup, their record will be 9-3 and they’ll stay within one game of the Kansas City Chiefs currently at the top of the AFC West, assuming the Chiefs beat the hapless Oakland Raiders in Week 13.

But if the Steelers come out on top, they’ll be 8-3 and stay atop the AFC North and at least one game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, who face the Atlanta Falcons earlier that same day.

Questions to answer…

Who’s favored to win this Week 13 Chargers-Steelers matchup?

Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?

Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?

We’re going to compare the Chargers and the Steelers and attempt to answer those questions and more.

The 2018 Chargers offense on a roll

Los Angeles has won seven of their last eight games but those victories were against weaker teams – 49ers, Raiders (twice), Browns and the Cardinals – and they haven’t faced a higher ranked defense since the Bills (2nd best in the league) in Week 2.

But they did outscore and beat the Bills, so it’s possible to do the same against the Steelers, something quarterback Rivers and his main targets – receivers Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams and tight end Virgil Green – expect to do.

The Chargers offense scores 27.9 points per game, and they’ll need at least that to outscore Big Ben and company. 

Chargers rushing attack on back up

With running back Melvin Gordon (knee) out against the Steelers (see below), the job of running the ball for the Chargers goes to backup Austin Ekeler.

Ekeler, in his second year, is proving to be a versatile dual threat, having rushed 70 times for 409 yards and a touchdown while catching 32 balls for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Los Angeles offensive Injuries

Running back Melvin Gordon (knee) is listed as out against the Steelers due to a sprained MCL and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

The 2018 Steelers offense as good as Big Ben

Steelers fans are getting anxious for another trip to the Super Bowl, so this is a must win season for veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and for head coach Mike Tomlin, too.

They’re getting it done, with Big Ben’s 3.664 passing yards ranked 2nd in the league along with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, his Steelers’ perch atop the AFC North still fairly solid.

While defenses are double-teaming All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, it’s fun to watch second-year player Juju Smith-Schuster, an All-Rookie last season, catch deep balls and everything else for a 6th ranked 1,055 total receiving yards.

Pittsburgh’s run game

It’s an old story by now, but one worth retelling about how a young second-year running back named James Conner is having such a terrific year that the entire football world has forgotten how amazing a veteran All-Pro player he had to replace.

What was his name again? Doesn’t ring a Bell.

Conner has not disappointed Steelers fans, more like shocked and awed them by running 186 times for 849 yards and 10 touchdowns while also catching 49 passes for 453 yards and another touchdown.

Pittsburgh offensive Injuries

Tight end Xavier Grimble (concussion) was placed on concussion protocol.

Tight end Vance McDonald (hip) may be limited at practice this week.

Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) is listed as questionable for Week 13.

Chargers Defense ranks 9th in the league

Los Angeles allows opponents to score 19.9 points and gain a total of 334.8 yards per game with a pass defense ranked 7th and a rushing defense ranked 13th.

The Chargers are tied for sixth most interceptions with 11 but are only middle of the road in total sacks, their 28 putting them tied for 16th.

Chargers Defensive Players to watch:

Free safety Derwin James is T-22nd in the NFL for most combined tackles with 78, also with 3.5 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, 2 interceptions and 9 passes defended.

Defensive end Melvin Ingram has 5.5 sacks, four passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble.

Defensive back Desmond King has three interceptions, tied for 8th most in the league, and returned one of those for a 42-yard touchdown.

Nose tackle Brandon Mebane (personal) is listed as questionable for Week 13 against the Steelers.

Steelers Defense is 6th overall

Though the Steelers’ defense is ranked higher the Chargers’, Pittsburgh allows opponents to score more points per game (22.6) than Los Angeles does (19.9) but the Steelers only allow teams they’re playing to advance the ball a total of 334.8 yards per game.

The Steelers rank 9th against the run and 6th against the pass and have the most quarterback sacks in the league with 39 but they only have 6 interceptions, which is T-24th.

Steelers Defensive Players to watch:

Inside linebacker T.J. Watt, an All-Rookie last season, is tied for seventh most sacks in the league with 10, and has 50 combined tackles (10 for loss), 15 quarterback hits, a pass defended and four forced fumbles.

All-Pro defensive end Cameron Heyward has 6.0 sacks already, plus he’s got 33 combined tackles (7 for loss), 12 quarterback hits, a pass defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt (elbow) is listed as questionable for Week 13.

Special Teams Stats Comparison

Punters:

Los Angeles’s punter, Donnie Jones, a free agent pickup acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in October, has punted 25 times for a net average of 38.9 yards per punt, ranked 26th in the NFL.

Pittsburgh’s punter, Jordan Berry, is in his fourth year and has been a Steeler his whole career. So far, he’s punted 47 times for a net average of 39.5 yards per punt, ranked T-18th in the league.

Placekickers:

Los Angeles’s placekicker, Michael Badgley, a free agent pickup from the Indianapolis Colts in October, is 9-for-9, his longest has been a 46-yarder.

Badgley hast missed one extra point attempt (16/17).

Pittsburgh’s placekicker, Chris Boswell, in his fourth year, has only ever been a Steeler in the NFL and so far he’s 9-for-13, his longest a 50-yarder.

Boswell had a field goal attempt blocked in Week 12 but made up for it later in the game when he threw into the end zone for the team’s first touchdown on a fake field goal attempt.

Boswell has missed 4 extra point attempts (33/37).

Punt Returners:

Los Angeles’s punt returner, cornerback Desmond King, is ranked 14th in the league in return average.

King has returned 18 punts for 212 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 11.8 yards per return, his longest for 56 yards.

Pittsburgh’s punt returner, wide receiver Ryan Switzer, was All-Rookie last season and is currently ranked 27th in the league in return average.

Switzer has returned 23 punts for 195 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 8.5 yards per return, his longest for 23 yards.

Chargers–Steelers prediction and odds

The oddsmakers have the Steelers favored over the Chargers by 3.5 with an over/under of 51.5.

CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:

Pete Prisco goes with the under and has it Chargers 26, Steelers 23

John Breech takes the over and predicts it Steelers 34, Chargers 31

 
 

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