Sunday Night Football Week 11 Preview and Prediction: Los Angeles Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh heads to Los Angeles as 5.5-point dogs for a Sunday Night Football showdown with a Chargers team that hasn’t beaten anybody by more than that number since Week 4. The Steelers have, of course, had their own struggles and are coming off an embarrassing tie with the Lions at home in a game Ben Roethlisberger missed. It’s a matchup of two maybe-contenders in the AFC that haven’t always played like it.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Start Time, Where to Watch, and Odds
Date: Sunday, November 21, 2021
Game Time: 8:20 pm ET
Where to Watch: NBC
- Key Stat: The Chargers have faced the most rushing attempts per game of any team in the NFL and are allowing the highest yards per carry of any defense at 4.81
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview
There are a few reasons the Chargers have struggled of late, but one thing has been clear as they’ve lost three of their past four games, which is that teams are attacking them on the ground and finding success. Brandon Staley’s defense made waves early in the season when it held vertical passing attacks from the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Raiders to minimal output across Weeks 2-4, but in the time since teams have been more successful throwing the ball against the Chargers on a per-attempt basis, in part because they are doing it less.
Los Angeles ranks last in the NFL in success rate against the run, and they haven’t improved, also ranking last over an isolated period of the past five weeks. Teams have leaned into that, and Los Angeles has faced the most rush attempts per game in the NFL while also allowing the most rushing yards per carry of any defense. That may seem like an obvious correlation where a bad run defense faces more rush attempts as teams try to take advantage. Still, it’s worth emphasizing that it’s somewhat difficult for overall efficiency to stay high as teams start to run in all situations. More volume tends to flatten out efficiency, but not here.
That’s likely by design, though. Running is the less optimal offensive decision in most situations relative to passing, and Staley may not see a reason to break down his pass defense to prevent rushing success. This bend-but-don’t-break defense might work better if the Chargers weren’t allowing third-down conversions at the league’s second-highest rate and subsequently allowing opponents to score on the fifth-highest rate of drives against their defense.
That aligns well with what the Steelers want to do because they aren’t a threat to beat you deep. Roethlisberger will be back under center, and all season he’s shown an inability to throw the deep ball here in the later stages of his career. In addition, Pittsburgh is 31st in the NFL in explosive pass play rate, meaning the Chargers’ desire to sit back and take away explosive pass plays in any situation isn’t as necessary in this matchup. If they continue that philosophy, they will be playing right into the Steelers’ hands, as Pittsburgh needs to move the ball methodically down the field.
On the other side of the ball, Justin Herbert will face a Steelers defense without T.J. Watt, Joe Haden, or Minkah Fitzpatrick, all of whom have been ruled out. Herbert has struggled a bit over the past few weeks, and over the past two, he’s posted his two lowest average throw depths in any game this season. The passing game needs to bring back a deep element, and the Steelers missing two key defensive backs plus PFF’s third-highest graded edge rusher in the league in Watt will all be a huge boost to Herbert’s chances to do just that.
There is always an ebb and flow of NFL seasons, and defenses have punched back this year after a big 2020 season for the league’s offenses. I’ve been playing a lot of unders lately as a result. But in this matchup, I like the matchups for both offenses. I like the Chargers to win, but the spread is a tough number for a team that does allow points on defense and has played a ton of close games this year.
Pittsburgh will try to run the ball, which is never good for the over, but Los Angeles is the third-fastest offense by situation-neutral seconds per snap. If they do find success, they’ll likely speed up a Pittsburgh offense that tends to play fast in the second halves of games (the fourth-fastest time to snap in the second half). Over is the play here.