Chargers 3 Toughest Matchups in 2018
By Jason Gilder
Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 13
Although the contract dispute with running back Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers organization looms over the team, the 26-year-old will still be present in Week 10 as of right now. If he is in, the Chargers’ defense will have a long day trying to contain Bell and their explosive receiving core.
The former Michigan State running back comes into 2018 as one of the NFL’s most dynamic playmakers in the backfield. Bell racked up 1,291 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2017 to go along with 655 receiving yards. His 85 receptions were the most among NFL running backs.
Bell’s pass-catching prominence compliments well with a gifted wide receiver duo, which is spearheaded by Antonio Brown. The six-time Pro Bowler has recorded at least 100 catches and 1,250 receiving yards over the last four seasons. This includes a 2017 stat line of 101 receptions for 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns. His yardage total was the highest in the NFL.
The other pass catcher rounding out the dynamic duo is JuJu Smith-Schuster. His rookie season was an electric one, as he registered 917 yards off 58 catches for 7 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster’s breakout game came in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions when he rattled off seven receptions for 193 yards. His highlight-reel moment was a 97-yard touchdown catch.
Pittsburgh’s high-caliber offense is operated under center by two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 36-year old signal caller has been a model of consistency for the Steelers since 2004, as this group of playmakers surrounding him continues to be the best of his career.
Roethlisberger amassed 4,251 passing yards, 28 touchdown tosses and 14 picks in 2017. His touchdown pass total was tied for fifth in the league.
Although the defense will miss their finest player in Ryan Shazier in 2018, they will still have the pieces to be a respectable unit. The defensive line is led by defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who recorded 12 sacks and two forced fumbles last season. A lights out rookie season from linebacker T.J. Watt gives Pittsburgh another young linebacker to pair with 2015 first-round pick Bud Dupree.
Watt set the franchise rookie sack record last season with seven, while also recording 54 total tackles. Dupree showed signs of improvement in 2017 with six sacks in 15 games played.
The pass defense was fifth overall last season by allowing just 201.1 pass yards per game. However, they did face quarterbacks such as DeShone Kizer, Brett Hundley, Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton and Jacoby Brissett. When facing the likes of Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, wins went to the opposition.
If defensive backs such as Joe Haden and Morgan Burnett perfrom well against Los Angeles, then the Chargers could have a difficult battle on their hands.