Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

It won’t be a hard sell for Mike Tomlin to get his team to believe it can go to Los Angeles and win against the Chargers with the odds stacked against it.

After all, the Steelers just did it two years ago, heading to Los Angeles and beating the Chargers, 24-17, with Duck Hodges at quarterback.

Despite the youth of this team, there are still plenty of guys who were around for that game. Regardless of how you feel about Tomlin, he does have a tendency to do his best work when the chips are down.

That’s why, despite the tie against the Lions last Sunday and all of the issues facing his team, Tomlin seemed pretty loose Tuesday.

“As a competitor – and I’m a competitor, we’re competitors – we’re all always excited about having an opportunity to smile in the face of adversity,” Tomlin said. “The adversity that life in the game of football presents, whether it’s injuries or COVID or otherwise, that’s just something that always has my attention, something that we’re always ready to stand up against.

“I think about last time we went to L.A. to play these guys. We went out there with Duck Hodges and had a pretty good day. That was then, this is now. We’ve got a big week ahead of us in terms of the work, and obviously, not only are we different, but they’re different.”

That said, the Steelers are certainly up against it this weekend given the pieces they’ll be missing.

  • There has been a lot of criticism regarding the Steelers’ offensive game plan in the 16-16 tie against the Lions last Sunday, much of it certainly warranted.

One thing that doesn’t hold up, however, is simply stating the Steelers threw the ball 50 times and ran it 30, and they needed to run the ball more. That’s looking at things way too simplistically.

Twelve of those passing attempts came in overtime. And of those, 10 came with 3:30 or less remaining in overtime. They should have ran their way down the field in that amount of time while trying to win a game?

Najee Harris had two carries in overtime. But that was because the Steelers couldn’t stop turning the ball over and snapping the ball over the head of Mason Rudolph.

Harris finished this game with 30 touches – 26 carries and four receptions. The Steelers had 28 runs and 37 passes in regulation. Five of those pass attempts came with less than 6:30 remaining in the fourth quarter – again, when the Steelers were trying to get into position to win the game.

Now, if you want to argue that it wasn’t a great idea to have Rudolph throw three-straight passes on first-and-goal from the 5 in the second quarter, then I’m all ears.

But simply pointing at the 50 pass attempts in a vacuum and saying they threw the ball too much is not looking at things fairly. Time was an issue with at least 17 of those pass attempts.

  • The bigger issue is the lack of using anyone else in the running game. Benny Snell got one carry for four yards, and Kalen Ballage was targeted twice with passes, catching none. Anthony McFarland was not active for the game.

If the Steelers don’t trust the backs on their roster not named Najee Harris enough to give them some carries, they shouldn’t be on the roster.

This team should be scouring the waiver wire for someone – anyone not named Le’Veon Bell – who can spell Harris. And it should be doing so, well, about five weeks ago.

This week’s games

Steelers (plus 5½) at Chargers: The Chargers are dead last in the NFL in rushing defense, nearly 20 yards worse than the next closest team. They also give up 4.8 yards per carry. They’ve earned their position. Because of that, they can’t keep their explosive offense on the field. And it’s a big reason they’ve lost three of their past four. Add in the fact they have no home field advantage, and you see the problem. The Steelers are going to have to score some points to keep up. Can they? Take the Steelers to cover in a 24-20 loss

Bengals (minus 1) at Raiders: The bye came at the right time for the Bengals, who were taking on water on their offensive line. That, in turn, was leading to some costly interceptions from Joe Burrow. The Bengals are getting the Raiders at the right time. They’ve begun their yearly free fall. Take the Bengals, 26-20

Ravens (minus 5) at Bears: The Bears can rush the passer. And they can run the ball. And Justin Fields is starting to get it. Can Chicago replicate the game plan Miami used to beat the Ravens in their latest game? Perhaps. One thing for sure, there will be 300 or so combined rushing yards in this game. Take the Bears to cover in a 23-20 loss

Lions (plus 11) at Browns: If the Lions follow through with their script, this week will be one in which they lay an egg since they’ve played well every other week. The Browns are very banged up. But Jared Goff is banged up. And he was nothing to write home about before that. Same goes for Baker Mayfield, but Nick Chubb should be back this week. Take the Browns, 27-13

Cowboys (plus 2½) at Chiefs: The Chiefs have snuck past the Giants and Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and then thumped the struggling Raiders and suddenly their fixed? I’m not buying it. Plus, with the rate underdogs are winning this season, I’ll take the Cowboys and the points in what should be an absolute track meet – if the Chiefs can keep up. Take the Cowboys, 38-31

Last Week: 2-3 ATS, 2-3 Straight up; Overall: 17-32-1 ATS, 29-22 Straight up

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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