The Los Angeles Chargers square off against another opponent without a winning record. The Pittsburgh Steelers come to town with Devlin Hodges leading the team. Hodges was originally the third stringer, but injuries have put him in the spotlight. Despite their 1-4 record, the Steelers have been competitive in each game besides the season opener. They are another team that has been decimated by injuries, but have found ways to overcome and stay competitive. With both teams having a disappointing start to 2019, this game is about staying relevant in the playoff race.
The Chargers were nonexistent on offense last weekend against the Denver Broncos. The biggest problem was the pass rush, and they now face an opponent who has been getting to the quarterback all year. The Steelers have the third most sacks in the league, and their consistent pressure has allowed the passing defense to thrive. As a result, they also have the fourth most interceptions. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will need to be more creative with his blitz pickup, and having Gordon and Ekeler on the field could be the answer. Last week Gordon saw 12 carries to Ekeler’s three, and Keenan Allen was a non-factor. The 2019 Chargers are a better offense when Ekeler is the main back because of the mismatches he creates. When defenses are forced to scheme on Ekeler, the chain reactions allow for playmakers like Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to find holes in the defense. With the possible return of Hunter Henry, the Bolts should allow Ekeler’s role to return to its original state. Having a more involved Austin Ekeler should expand the offense’s horizons as Gordon and Henry come back to game speed. Once Ekeler is a factor, the Bolts could employ both backs on the field to maximize the pressure on the defense.
The Chargers need to make the undrafted rookie uncomfortable. Devlin Hodges should expect defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to coach his most aggressive game yet and send the house on every play. Joey Bosa has been explosive lately, and Uchenna Nwosu is being utilized once again. Nwosu recorded his first sack of the year last week, and Bradley has gradually used him in more packages. It’s up to Bradley to continue using his young linebacker and keep the Steelers on their heels. Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been great on passing downs and has allowed the second fewest sacks with just five. Whoever is in their pocket will have time to throw, and it’s most likely that Hodges will be doing his best to get the ball out quickly. Different packages and fronts will be necessary in order to get to Hodges before the ball is released. The Steelers are a poor running team, but the Chargers are also a poor run defense. This will be a good game to gauge the level of play of rookies Jerry Tillery and Drue Tranquill. If the two draft picks can perform, the Chargers have a good chance to completely shut down the Steelers offense.
So far the Bolts have been their worst enemy. They have been playing down to the level of their competition, and crucial mistakes have cost them multiple games. The Steelers have been in every game since being blown out by New England, and if the Bolts lose to Hodges then the season is almost certainly a disappointment.