Looking at the Steelers’ roster, there are several players who need to step up their play for the team to attain their 8th win of the season, and make yet another step towards winning the AFC North for the third year in a row.
Here are 5 players who need to step up in a big way for the black-and-gold:
1. James Conner
Not all of Conner’s issues are based on him running the football. After all, he needs holes to develop when getting his number called, and he needs his number to actually be called more than a handful of times in a game.
With that said, my reasoning for putting Conner on this list have to deal with his play in different areas the past few weeks. Mainly his pass catching and ball security.
There is nothing worse than having a player who has fans thinking, “Please hold onto the ball...” whenever they touch it, and Conner is entering that threshold. Compound that with some key drops in recent memory and there is no wonder the shine of James Conner has started to dull a bit. However, a big performance against a top-notch team like the Chargers could catapult Conner, and the Steelers, into the final quarter of the season.
2. Right Tackle...whoever that will be
The Chargers rank tied for 16th with 28 sacks on the season, but the majority of the year has been without their prolific pass rusher Joey Bosa. Bosa isn’t the only one who can rush the passer on this defense though. Melvin Ingram, Isaac Rochell, Derwin James all have 3.5 or more sacks on the season, but the Chargers are getting pressure from a variety of players...not just one or two.
The Steelers issues at right tackle are certainly something to keep an eye on. Chuks Okorafor started his first NFL game last week against the Broncos, and Matt Feiler filled in for injured Marcus Gilbert in the weeks prior.
The Steelers need to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright, and after a pristine stretch before and after their bye, they have been giving up more QB hits and sacks than usual. In the last two games, both on the road, the Steelers have surrendered 4 sacks and 12 QB hits combine, 2 sacks and 6 QB hits in both contest. Pass protection will have to be good in Week 13.
3. Jon Bostic
Coming out of the preseason, Bostic was a lightning rod for criticism from the Steelers faithful. Bostic looked vulnerable in pass coverage, and hesitant on the field.
What happened when the regular season arrived was the complete opposite. The coaching staff schemed Bostic away from coverage duties with sub packages, and Bostic was flying to the ball making plays. In fact, at one point Bostic was the team’s best, and most efficient, tackler on the roster.
Week 12 was certainly a bump in the road for Bostic as he was abused in pass coverage and was missing tackles. The Steelers will need to stop the run, even without Melvin Gordon available to the Chargers, and ensure Bostic is on the field to make the plays he is capable of making.
4. Joe Haden
Haden has been an absolute gem this season, but it doesn’t mean his play has been perfect the entire season. Haden isn’t as fast as he once was, and has admitted himself he prefers to play against bigger and stronger receivers compared to the smaller ‘burners’ some deploy out wide.
Emmanuel Sanders had his way with Haden on more than one occasion in Week 12, and with Philip Rivers and company coming to town the secondary will need Haden to be at his best to at least shut down his half of the field. This defense often goes as Haden goes, and the hope is Haden is at the top of his game on Sunday Night Football.
5. Chris Boswell
For all you superstitious readers, I did knock on wood before typing this paragraph. Chris Boswell has seemingly returned to form as of late, and this trend will have to continue after some serious early season struggles.
The Chargers are averaging 27.9 points per game, tied for 7th in the NFL, and if this game plays out as many think it will the Steelers will need every possible point which presents itself to them on Sunday night.
No missed extra points forcing two-point conversions. No missed field goals to give Los Angeles prime field position.
The Wizard of Boz needs to return, and having a perfect night in Week 13 will be a huge step in the right direction.
These are my 5 players who need to step up...what about you? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!