With a wild Week 11 coming to a close, it’s time to take a look at how the Los Angeles Chargers fared. The Chargers hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers on primetime, playing under the Sunday Night Lights. Though the Chargers got the dub, it was a harrowing experience for Chargers fans. Here is how it went and how the Chargers played. These are the Chargers-Steelers takeaways.
The game opened with the Steelers receiving the first kickoff. On the opening drive, the Steelers drove down the field to kick a 36-yard field goal. The Chargers responded with a mighty fist, driving down the field and scoring on a 6-yard Austin Ekeler run. Be ready to see Ekeler’s name a few more times, as he had a career night. Another thing to note is that the Chargers and Steelers were doing great jobs at burning the clock on their drives, as the Chargers scored this touchdown with only two minutes left in the first quarter. On their next drive, the Steelers again burned much of the clock, driving for another six and a half minutes. However, the Steelers were not able to do much more than that, turning the ball over on downs at the Chargers’ 2-yard line.
The Chargers, now stuck at their own 2-yard line, needed to create some space to avoid a safety. And who else to do that then…that’s right, Austin Ekeler! Ekeler ran the ball straight up the middle for an easy 10-yard gain, giving the Chargers the breathing room they needed. After that play, the Chargers were able to make easy work of the Steelers defense, who were missing three of their main stars: edge rusher T.J. Watt, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and cornerback Joe Haden. The Chargers completed their 98-yard drive in almost seven minutes, ending it on an easy 10-yard pass from Justin Herbert to (again) Austin Ekeler.
With the score now 14-3, the Steelers needed to find a way to get back in the game. And find it they did, after a quick 64-yard drive to score on a 10-yard Ben Roethlisberger pass to Diontae Johnson. With just over a minute left on the clock, the Chargers needed to find a way to extend their lead. They actually managed to do so, driving 63 yards down the field to score an easy 30-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. With only two seconds left on the clock, the half ended on the kickoff with the Chargers up 17-10.
The Chargers received the ball in the second half, which they quickly turned into a touchdown on a 17-yard Justin Herbert pass to Austin Ekeler (again!). What really made this drive, though, was a beautiful Herbert pass to Keenan Allen for a 30-yard gain. After a Steelers punt, the ball was back in Herbert’s red-hot hands. This time, though, the Chargers settled for a 41-yard field goal after a six-and-a-half-minute-long drive. After the Steelers drove back and kicked their own 36-yard field goal, it was back in the Chargers’ hands with 14:10 left in the fourth quarter.
This is when Chargers fans started to have their usual doubts. The Chargers could not get anything done on this drive, going 3-and-out and being forced to punt. However, the Steelers managed to block the punt, and the ball rolled out of bounds at the Chargers’ 3-yard-line. The Steelers converted the easy touchdown on a 1-yard run by Najee Harris. However, the Chargers almost managed to make the major stop with a Nasir Adderley interception, but Tevaughn Campbell caused a bad pass interference to overturn it.
With the Chargers now leading 27-20, it was up to Herbert and Co. to try and extend the lead. And extend they did after a quick 75-yard drive ended with a (surprise, surprise) 5-yard touchdown run by Austin Ekeler. The highlight of the drive was a fantastic 36-yard scramble by Herbert on a third down to extend the drive. The play ended with an…incident which is the reason it may have been the highlight of the game. After the Steelers’ Cam Heyward brought Herbert down to prevent a touchdown, Heyward appeared to punch Herbert in the stomach when he was getting up. The punch appeared deliberate to many, but both Herbert and Heyward said after the game that it was unintentional. Regardless, the punch awarded Heyward with a 6-yard roughing the passer penalty. This play-and-penalty was what set up the Ekeler touchdown.
The Steelers fired right back, scoring on a quick 5-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Eric Ebron. With less than five minutes on the clock, the game was getting quite intense. The Chargers led by only seven, so any mistakes could prove costly. Unfortunately, the Chargers didn’t get the memo, turning the ball over after only two plays by a Herbert interception deep in their own territory. On the Chargers’ 11-yard line, the Steelers were able to convert another easy touchdown, tying the game at 34. After the Chargers turned the ball over again, this time on downs, the Steelers got the ball back at the Chargers’ 34. This time, the Chargers held the Steelers to a 45-yard field goal, but the Steelers claimed the lead.
Not one to back away from a challenge, Herbert needed to be the hero again. Herbert delivered, hitting Mike Williams with a beautiful pass that ended in a 53-yard touchdown. The Chargers now had the lead at 41-37, but the game was not over. Roethlisberger had the ball with just over two minutes left. The Chargers’ defense were up for their own challenge, though. two sacks in a row brought the Steelers back from their 25-yard line all the way back to their own 6. Now third and 29, the Steelers needed a huge gain to save their chances, but they never found it. The Chargers finally stepped up when they needed to, forcing a turnover on downs. With the ball back, the Chargers just ran the clock out, securing a 41-37 victory!
What Went Well
Both Facets of Offense
Justin Herbert. Austin Ekeler. Keenan Allen. Mike Williams. All four of these guys played their hearts out on primetime. Herbert proved why he is a budding superstar, completing 30 of 41 passes (73%) for 382 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. He was also fantastic on the ground, running for 90 yards on nine carries (with that insane 36-yard run). Herbert’s legs proved invaluable against the Steelers, bailing them out of several tight spots.
Austin Ekeler had a fantastic performance as well. With 11 rushes for 50 yards (4.55 ypc) and two touchdowns on the ground, this would’ve been a great night for Ekeler based solely on these stats. However, Chargers fans know that Ekeler’s game is dynamic, up there with stars like the Saints’ Alvin Kamara and the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey. Ekeler added on six receptions for 65 yards (10.8 ypr) and another two touchdowns. With four total touchdowns, Ekeler was every Chargers fan’s best friend in the world on Sunday night.
Allen and Williams made their own marks on this game. Allen did not put up any touchdowns, but he was, as usual, crucial for keeping the drives alive. Allen finished with nine receptions on 13 targets for 112 yards (12.4 ypr). Williams did not contribute in the same way as Allen, but he did what only he can do: make big plays. Williams finished with five receptions on six targets for 97 yards and that beautiful 53-yard touchdown that iced the game. Without these two, the Chargers would not have even stood a chance.
This game is what Chargers fans can only hope is a turnaround for the Chargers’ run defense. After limiting Dalvin Cook in the Vikings game last week, the Chargers put up yet another impressive performance against the Steelers. The Chargers limited the Steelers to only 55 total yards on 18 carries (3.06 ypc). The Steelers’ starting running back, Najee Harris, finished with only 39 yards on 12 carries (3.25 ypc). If the Chargers’ run defense can keep this momentum, then the Chargers defense can finally be something to fear again.
What Went Poorly
The total amount of points that the Steelers scored against the Chargers in the fourth quarter alone was 27. The Chargers’ defense ended the game with a clutch stop, with two sacks to boot, but that doesn’t excuse the miserable collapse for the rest of the quarter. This could possibly have been a fluke, as the Chargers tend to play decently well in the fourth, but this was just embarrassing. The Chargers could have won this game by a few touchdowns, but this collapse made them almost lose the game.
The Chargers committed 12 penalties on Sunday night, racking up 75 yards lost on these penalties. That is an inexcusable amount of penalties to commit in a single game. What’s worse, two of the penalties invalidated big gain plays, while another invalidated a touchdown. Sure, the Chargers scored immediately after, but what if they hadn’t? What if they were forced to kick a field goal afterward? The Chargers have struggled immensely with penalties this season, which is something that must change soon.
It seems like the offense has finally gotten out of its slump. This Chargers offense looked nothing like it did for the last few weeks. Here’s to hoping that they keep up this level of play. The defense, aside from the fourth quarter, looked quite solid. As mentioned earlier, the run defense looked like a whole new beast out there. The pass defense, before the collapse in the fourth, was keeping Big Ben shut down as well. The Chargers allowed only 10 points through the first three quarters, so if they had kept that same level of play, then the game would’ve ended with a much more dominant scoreline. If the Chargers do not repeat this collapse in the future, the Chargers might be back! These were the Chargers-Steelers takeaways.