Cheat Sheet: Steelers at Chargers

How to Watch/Listen

  • TV coverage: Broadcast locally in Pittsburgh and nationally on NBC (WPXI-TV)
  • Steelers Radio Network - Game coverage begins at 8:20 p.m. ET; Pregame programming begins at 4:00 p.m.; Postgame coverage starts immediately following the game.
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Injury Update

The Steelers hit the field in preparation for Sunday night's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, and it was a mixed bag as far as injuries go.

Check out the most updated Injury Report: Click here >>>

Series History

While the Chargers lead the playoff matchups 2-1, Pittsburgh owns this series overall with a commanding 24-10 lead. This series began in 1971, and the Steelers won the first six matchups. San Diego then won the next three. But the Chargers have losing streaks of six, five and five against Pittsburgh over the 50 years these teams have been squaring off. After a long stretch in which the Chargers won just five of 21 games between 1983 and 2009, these two teams have gone back and forth over the past five meetings, with the Steelers winning the most recent matchup in 2019.

The Season so Far

  • The Steelers three losses this year have been by a combined 33 points. The other six games have favored Pittsburgh by 25 points. Pittsburgh's point differential therefore is -8 while the 5-4 Chargers differential sits at -9. Los Angeles has lost three of their last four games. Their point differential during that stretch is -35.
  • Of the Steelers eight remaining games, five are on the road. Four are against divisional opponents and seven of the eight foes are AFC teams currently very much in the playoff picture. The 4-5 Vikings are the only team remaining on the schedule with a losing record currently, but Minnesota have produced 10 more points than they have allowed.
  • After 10 weeks of NFL action, the Steelers opponents to finish out the season are collectively 45-30. That is good for a .600 winning percentage and the most difficult remaining schedule in the entire league. As for the rest of the division, the Ravens (.579) is second most difficult, the Browns (.563) are fourth, and the Bengals (.553) future opponents are the fifth most difficult. In contrast, the Titans remaining opponents right now have a combined 22-42-1 record with a .346 winning percentage, which is the easiest of all 32 teams.
  • Pittsburgh's offense produces 5.0 yards per play. The Chargers offense produces 5.8 yards every time they snap the ball. Both defenses are surrendering 5.6 yards per play.
  • In terms of points per play, the Chargers offense is 13th in the NFL and Pittsburgh's offense is 26th. But the Steelers defense is 8th in the NFL in this metric while Los Angeles defense is 21st.
  • The Chargers produce the sixth most points per drive on offense, while the Steelers offense is 23rd. The Steelers defense is 8th and Los Angeles is 24th on defense.
  • The Steelers are now -3 with their turnover differential while Los Angeles sits at +2. Pittsburgh has just eight takeaways. Only the Ravens, Jets, Jaguars, and 49ers have fewer and only the Jets and 49ers have fewer than Pittsburgh's three interceptions. The Steelers have only turned the ball over 11 times, which is 12th best in the NFL, but Los Angeles has only turned it over on 9 occasions-only four teams are better. The Chargers are one of five teams to have only lost two fumbles, which is tops in the NFL. Los Angeles has put the ball on the ground five times and only lost two of them. The Chargers opponents have fumbled 14 times, but Los Angeles only recovered five of those opportunities. Pittsburgh's five interceptions lost is sixth best in the league.
  • Excluding overtime, Pittsburgh now is 11th in the league in time of possession. Los Angeles is tied for 26th with the Giants. Last week against the Vikings, Los Angeles held the ball for just 23:45. The previous week, in a win over Philadelphia, they held it for 33:37. But in the previous two games, both losses, they had the ball for 24:36 against New England and just 21:53 vs. the Ravens.
  • Los Angeles is 23rd in the NFL in terms of starting average field position. The Steelers are 29th.
  • The Chargers opponents are averaging just under 50 rushing yards more per game than Los Angeles, who average 100.2 yards on the ground per game. Pittsburgh's opponents average 28.3 more than the Steelers produce per game.
  • In terms of yards per route run for the top wide receivers from these teams, Diontae Johnson is at 2.12, Mike Williams comes in at 1.96, Keenan Allen is right behind him at 1.95 and Chase Claypool has produced 1.86 receiving yards every time he runs a pass route.
  • On third downs, the Chargers offense ranks seventh in the NFL, while Pittsburgh's defense comes in at sixth. The Steelers offense is 15th in third down conversion percentage and Los Angeles' defense is 30th. The Chargers opponents are converting on third downs just under 46% of the time.
  • While it wasn't a loss for the Lions in Pittsburgh last week, only four teams in the history of the NFL have ever lost when running the ball for 200+ yards while getting three or more takeaways with zero giveaways, which is exactly what Detroit was able to accomplish in Week 9.
  • The Steelers, Chargers and Raiders are the only three teams in the NFL with a winning record, but a negative point differential.
  • Mike Tomlin is 5-2 against the Chargers.

When Pittsburgh Has the Ball

  • The Lions opponents are running the ball at the second highest percentage in the league. The only team being run on more is the Chargers at just under 50% of the snaps. Los Angeles has also faced the most rushing attempts in the NFL and their opponents average 4.8 yards per carry, which ranks last.
  • Najee Harris has been responsible for 78% of the Steelers rushing attempts and 76% of Pittsburgh's rushing yards despite having a long run of just 20 yards on his 176 carries. Harris' five games this year with 100+ yards from scrimmage leads all rookies and he has 125 or more total yards in four of his last five games. Since Week 5, Harris is averaging 27.8 touches per game.
  • The Chargers opponents are running the football 62.9% of the time in the red zone, which is the highest percentage in the league. But the Steelers have thrown the ball on 66.7% of their red zone snaps, which is also the highest in the league.
  • Los Angeles has given up 8.5 yards per pass attempt over their past two games. Over the past two weeks, Los Angeles has allowed a total of 259 receiving yards to Justin Jefferson and DeVonta Smith.
  • Even though he missed a game, Diontae Johnson has 26 more targets than any other Steelers receiver. Johnson has been targeted on 23.8% of all Pittsburgh's passes this year and averages 10.25 targets per game he's appeared in.
  • With Eric Ebron back from injury, Pat Freiermuth's percentage of routes run per passing play dropped to 61%. The two weeks before that, Freiermuth was at 73% and 68%. Still, Freiermuth has over a 20% target share in each of his last four games. Ebron ran a route on 32% of Pittsburgh's dropbacks against the Lions. The Chargers are allowing 9.4 yards per target (31st) as well as a league-high 11.1% touchdown rate to opposing tight ends.
  • Even with the injuries at wide receiver, the Steelers are still at 73% usage of 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE). League average is 59%. Last week without Claypool or JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh was still at 73%.
  • Derwin James was the only Chargers defender to play all 79 snaps last week. Kyzir White was right behind him with 77 snaps played. Los Angeles' defense has been on the field for 607 snaps in 2021. James leads their defense, having played 596 snaps. No one else has played more than 504 (Joey Bosa).
  • Three interior defensive linemen played 50 or more snaps last week: Jerry Tillery (61), Justin Jones (55), and Linval Joseph (50).

When Los Angeles Has the Ball

  • Justin Herbert has 6,881 passing yards in his young career. This game against Pittsburgh will be Herbert's 25th career start. If he can throw for 119 yards against the Steelers, Herbert will be the fourth passer in the history of the league to hit 7,000 yards in his first 25 starts.
  • It might shock many out there that Justin Herbert's average intended air yards per pass is only at 7.2 yards downfield. To put that into context, only Matt Ryan (7.1), Kirk Cousins (6.8), Ben Roethlisberger (6.8), Jared Goff (6.2), and Mike White (6.1) are lower. For more context, on the other end of the spectrum, Justin Fields (10.0) and Lamar Jackson (10.1) are the only two passers at 10 yards or more.
  • However, during the first five weeks of the year when Los Angeles had a 4-1 record, Herbert's average intended air yards sat at 8.4 yards downfield.
  • Just 8.8% of Herbert's throws have traveled over 20 yards in the air. That ranks 30th. He has only attempted five of these throws since Los Angeles' Week 7 bye. But, when Herbert does let it fly downfield at least 20 yards this year, he has a 134.0 quarterback rating, which is best in the league. Herbert didn't attempt a single pass 20 or more yards downfield last week.
  • Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was Detroit's offensive coordinator during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. During that stretch, Matthew Stafford's average depth of target was 7.8 yards downfield. Before Lombardi arrived, Stafford was at 9.0 and after Lombardi was gone, Stafford was at 9.3 from 2015-2020 with Detroit.
  • Last week in Pittsburgh, Jared Goff's average depth of target was 4.8 yards downfield. Goff's average completion was 1.9 yards past the line of scrimmage.
  • However, on passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield, Pittsburgh's defense is allowing a 47.9% completion rate. That is 25th in the NFL.
  • Herbert has thrown for over 223 yards just once in his last four games, which also was the only game Los Angeles won in that timeframe.
  • The Chargers rank 25th in use of shotgun on first and second downs. They prefer to run the ball from behind center on early downs rather than from the shotgun.
  • Austin Ekeler has caught just six passes over his past two games. In 2019, Ekeler had 92 catches in 16 games and last year, he caught 54 passes in 10 games played. Ekeler is only averaging 4.3 receptions and 37.8 receiving yards per game in 2021.
  • Ekeler went over 100 total yards in each of his first four games but has only eclipsed 82 yards from scrimmage once in the past four contests.
  • Ekeler has the most carries on the team by a wide margin. But Herbert, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelly all have between 10 and 34 rushing attempts.
  • Only four teams, the Texans, Dolphins, Buccaneers and Jets, are running the ball fewer times per game than the Chargers, who average just 22.8 rushes per game.
  • Keenan Allen's consistency and excellence over the past five years are rather remarkable. He has missed just two of a possible 71 games and over that time, Allen has caught 468 passes for 5,478 yards. That averages out to 6.8 receptions and 79.4 yards per game over a five-year period. Last week was Allen's third game in a row with over 75 receiving yards, something Allen has also accomplished in four of his last five games. Allen's target share over the past three games are 33%, 35%, and 35% last week. Those are huge percentages.
  • In his first five games, Mike Williams averaged 10.2 targets, 6.2 receptions, and 94.2 receiving yards. In his last four, he averages 5.25 targets, 2.5 receptions, and 34.3 receiving yards.
  • Third round rookie Josh Palmer is trending up. He and Jalen Guyton split time as Los Angeles' third receiver. But Palmer now has 20 or more receiving yards in three straight games after having just 20 receiving yards total in the four games before that. Palmer and Guyton both played 18 snaps last week and they ran a route on 13 and 15 plays respectively. For the season, Guyton has out-snapped Palmer 347 to 141.
  • The snap counts for Los Angeles' tight ends last week were as follows: Jared Cook (34), Donald Parham (27), and Tre McKitty (19). Those three combined to pass block just six times though against the Vikings. McKitty has only played 36 snaps on the season. But Cook's target share has been under 15% in six of his nine games as a Charger.
  • Los Angeles uses 12 Personnel (1 RB/2 TE) on 25% of their snaps. League average is 22%. In terms of different personnel usage, the Chargers are very close to league average with all their groupings. Their usage of 12 Personnel is the one most unusual, but still isn't much different than league average. However, Herbert has a 111.6 passer rating out of 12 Personnel.
  • Herbert, Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, and Corey Linsley have played 612 of a possible 613 Chargers offensive snaps. Storm Norton is next with 567.
  • Besides Ekeler, the Chargers haven't had another running back play more than 88 of a possible 613 snaps.
  • Only 51.5% of scoring plays against the Steelers have come from touchdowns. That is the lowest percentage in the league.

Special Terms

  • The Chargers punt returners average 13.4 yards per attempt. Los Angeles' opponents are gaining just 7.4 yards per punt return. However, the Chargers opponents average 3.6 more yards per kickoff return than Los Angeles.
  • No team has missed more extra points this year than Los Angeles.

The Advanced Scout Podcast

Check out Matt's podcast preview on the Chargers: Listen Here >>>

Matt's Most Memorable Moment: January 15, 1995: AFC Championship Game: Chargers 17, Steelers 13

This was one of the most difficult games in Steelers history. After winning the AFC Central division with a 12-4 record, Bill Cowher's team earned a bye week in the first round of the playoffs. In the divisional round, Pittsburgh dismantled the Browns 29-9. That set up this game in Pittsburgh and the Steelers were a huge favorite, especially for a game this late in the playoffs. Pittsburgh got up early on a John L Williams touchdown run to cap off the opening drive and took a 10-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. But the back breaker for Pittsburgh was two 43-yard touchdown passes from Stan Humphries to Alfred Pupunu and Tony Martin, the final two scores of this game. Neil O'Donnell threw the ball 54 times, racking up 349 yards, but the Steelers couldn't get much going with their ground game led by Barry Foster with Junior Seau making plays all over the field for the Chargers defense. San Diego went on to the Super Bowl, where they were crushed by Steve Young's 49ers. During the four seasons between the 1994 and 1997 season, the Steelers hosted the AFC Championship Game three times. This was the first of the three.

Facts from NFL Research

  • Najee Harris and Austin Ekeler are both Top 5 among running backs in receptions, receiving yards and scrimmage yards this season.
  • Keenan Allen (10.3) and Diontae Johnson (10.3) are 2 of only 6 players to average 10+ targets per game this season.
  • Najee Harris is the only player in the NFL with 40+ receptions and 150+ carries this season.
  • Herbert has had 7 games with multiple sacks taken and is 3-4 in those games.
  • The Steelers have averaged 3.6 sacks/game since Week 5 (most in NFL).

Key Matchups

  • Chargers LT Rashawn Slater vs. Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith-Highsmith has just 1.5 sacks this year and hasn't recorded one against any opponent besides Seattle in Week 5. He has been very strong in run support, particularly setting the edge. But more pass-rush is needed from Highsmith. Assuming he lines up on the right side as usual, Highsmith will do battle on most snaps with an extremely impressive rookie left tackle in Slater. Offensive linemen don't win Rookie of the Year honors, but Slater's case this year is as good as any other rookie in the league. Not only is he fantastic for a rookie, but Slater is quickly becoming one of the NFL's best left tackles.
  • Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth vs. Chargers SAF Derwin James-Freiermuth had a rough go of it last week, but we should expect him to rebound in Los Angeles on Sunday night. He brings a lot to the table and is well ahead of the curve for a rookie tight end. However, in this matchup Freiermuth is sure to see plenty of James. The only way to put it with James is to say that he is a very special player. He has rare size for the safety position and James can do it all from rushing the passer to playing deep in patrol and everything in between. Injuries have derailed James' career on two occasions already, but he is healthy now and playing at an extremely high level.