It looked as though the Los Angeles Chargers were running away with it in the third quarter when they took a 27-10 lead, but an electric fourth quarter from the Pittsburgh Steelers led to a down-to-the-wire finish.
Los Angeles went from 93% win probability to 31% to 100% within the final five minutes in their 41-27 win over Pittsburgh.
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The folks looking for an aggressive Chargers passing attack were left disappointed on Sunday Night, as quarterback Justin Herbert turned in a 6.3-yard average depth of target for the game. Herbert now ranks bottom-five in that metric for the season.
Still, the conservative plan didn’t stop the Chargers from producing ultra-efficient results, as they picked up +0.43 expected points added (EPA) per pass play for the game.
Herbert was nearly perfect when he did decide to throw the ball downfield, though, completing 7-of-11 attempts for 162 yards and one touchdown on throws over 10 yards downfield. Three of those passes were charted as big-time throws, and two of them were dropped. Herbert also picked up four runs of 10-plus yards on the ground, more than any other runner in this game combined.
Austin Ekeler was most productive as a receiver in this one. The star back generated 1.86 yards per route run, broke two tackles and picked up two explosive receptions of 15-plus yards on his six catches.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were reliable pass-catchers for Herbert. They both hauled in all of their catchable targets (Allen with eight, Williams with five) and generated 2.3 yards per route run apiece.
Each starter along the offensive line lost at least two reps in pass protection, which is to be expected given the amount of passing plays tonight. Herbert was under pressure on 24% of his dropbacks and was sacked twice, with tackles Rashawn Slater and Storm Norton responsible. Norton led the line in losses with four.
Joey Bosa made a sizable impact in the pass rush as he made his way back to the field after landing on the COVID-19 list. The star edge defender won eight total reps on 42 rushes, five of which ended up with a QB pressure. Looking at only his true pass rushes (no RPO, screen or play-action), Bosa won over 24% of the time. Bosa was the lone Charger on the defensive line with multiple pressures in this outing.
Drue Tranquill turned in one of the highest PFF grades of any defender in this game on first review. He stands at a mark above 80.0 before the final grade lock, thanks to his impact against the pass. Tranquill forced an incompletion and recorded two pressures in the pass rush.
Asante Samuel Jr. forced two incompletions but also gave up four catches for 63 yards and one touchdown. Fellow cornerback Michael Davis played much the same way, with two passing stops and six receptions allowed for 68 yards and one touchdown.
Safety Derwin James played double-digit snaps in the box, slot and deep. He dropped an interception and allowed two first downs in coverage while rushing the passer just one time.
While the Steelers' comeback came in the second half, it didn’t have much to do with a significant improvement in the passing game. As a matter of fact, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a smidge worse in the second half:
Steelers' passing offense by half
|First Half||Second Half|
|+0.34||EPA Per Pass||+0.04|
|7.1||Yards Per Att||5.6|
|12.8||Avg Depth of Target||4.8|
|2:1||Big-Time Throws:Turnover-Worthy Plays||0:1|
When Roethlisberger had to hold onto the ball, issues started to rise. When his average time to throw eclipsed 2.5 seconds, the Steelers' successful pass play rate tanked to 38.5%. Under 2.5 seconds it stood at 60.5%.
There was no effective ground game for the Steelers in this one. Pittsburgh generated negative EPA per rush and turned in a 27% success rate running the ball. Najee Harris had just one explosive run of 10 or more yards and 27 yards after contact on 12 attempts.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Pittsburgh has had a drop issue for most of the 2021 season, but that didn’t show up on Sunday Night. Wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool were the top performers from the group and made some clutch plays downfield, with three 15-plus yard receptions apiece. Johnson caught two contested passes.
Right guard J.C. Hassenauer was performing admirably, with no losses on 14 pass-block snaps, before leaving the game. Joe Haeg came in and let up three pressures (two sacks) on his 35 pass-block snaps.
Interior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward made some high-level plays for the Steelers. He won five pass-rushes for the game and notched a batted pass that Cameron Sutton dove for and grabbed out of the air for an interception that changed the game late.
Pittsburgh gets the ball back! #HereWeGo
— NFL (@NFL) November 22, 2021
Edge defender Alex Highsmith also made a dent in the pass rush, with two sacks, a hit and two hurries. One of those sacks was a filthy spin move that put right tackle Storm Norton in a blender.
— Steelers Depot ???? (@Steelersdepot) November 22, 2021
Former first-round pick Devin Bush had a performance to forget. He was given a negative grade on over 40% of his plays against the run and gave up six receptions in coverage for 67 yards and one touchdown. If this grade holds, it’ll be the lowest-graded performance of his career.
Cameron Sutton’s big-time interception made up for his performance outside of that big play. He allowed six catches on seven targets for 121 yards and a touchdown. James Pierre wasn’t any better opposite him on the outside. Pierre made no plays on the ball and allowed six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.