Los Angeles, CA (CBS LA)- Injuries have once again threatened to derail a Chargers season. This year, it has been the defense, with Derwin James, Nassir Adderley, Melvin Ingram, Casey Heyward and Denzel Perryman all dealing with maladies of varying severity.
Those injuries, combined with some inopportune turnovers, have the team sitting at 2-3 heading into Week 6 of the NFL season. However, there is some good news for Chargers fans. First, they are just one game out of second place and only two games out of first in the AFC West and they still have four games to play against the teams above them in Kansas City and Oakland. Second, the team they are playing this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had worse injury luck because injuries have knocked out starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his backup Mason Rudolph.
Big Ben is done for the year after elbow surgery, but Rudolph could still theoretically play this week. He was concussed on a scary hit in last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens but he has been able to practice in a limited capacity. Still, it would be surprising to see a player only one week removed from what looked to be a serious concussion return to the field.
that would leave the Steelers to start undrafted rookie out of Samford, Devlin Hodges. For that reason, CBS Miami’s Mike Cugno is rolling with the Chargers this week.
“I’m picking the Chargers to win this week. You have Melvin Gordon going here. Philip Rivers still looks good, by the way, especially if he gets guys like Keenan Allen involved early and often,” said Cugno. “The Steelers, they’re in such a tough spot right now. They are just a snake-bitten team at quarterback.”
There have been reports that Rudolph could possibly return for Sunday’s game, but it is tough to expect a player that had to be walked off the field with a concussion to return in just one week. Whether Rudolph is in the lineup or not, the Steelers offense is likely to experience some success as the Chargers defense ranks 28th in the league in overall defensive efficiency and 25th against the run and pass. Injuries to Derwin James, Nassir Adderley, Melvin Ingram, and Casey Heyward has devastated the pass defense.
With Juju Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, the Steelers have good options on the outside capable of finding the seams in the Chargers patchwork secondary. It just becomes a matter of who is throwing to them.
On the other side of the ball, as Cugno noted, the Steelers will have their hands full with the Chargers offense. Keenan Allen was shut down last week by the Broncos, but it was the first time all season that has happened. Melvin Gordon is working off the rust after missing training camp and the early part of the season with his hold out. But this will have been his second full week of practice and he should start rounding into form.
Pittsburgh has been no slouch on the defensive side however, ranking seventh in overall defensive efficiency, seventh against the pass and 15th against the run according to Football Outsiders. The area where the Steelers have an edge is the pass rush. Pittsburgh’s unit has racked up 19 sacks already this season and is second to only New England in adjusted sack rate.
The Chargers offensive line has been the weak point of their offense which has seemingly been the case for years. They rank middle of the pack in pass protection allowing 11 sacks this season. But they will be further weakened this week as it was announced this week that center Mike Pouncey is out for the year.
Still, the biggest problem Cugno sees in this game is the potential for starting a third-string quarterback, which is why he is rolling with L.A. For what it’s worth, oddsmakers agree, installing the Chargers as 6.5 point favorites entering Sunday night’s contest.
The Steelers and Chargers cap off the Sunday slate of football when the game kicks off at 8:20 p.m. Eastern Time.