Steelers 24, Chargers 20

Oct. 12, 2015 at Qualcomm Stadium

An overtime loss to the Ravens dropped the Steelers to 2-2 before they went to San Diego for a Monday night game. Ben Roethlisberger was out but he was credited with designing the 72-yard Mike Vick touchdown bomb to Markus Wheaton late in the third quarter that tied the game, 17-17. A 54-yard Chargers field goal gave them a 3-point lead late in the game, but Vick took over at the Pittsburgh 20 with 2:38 remaining and converted three third downs on a 15-yard pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey on third-and-1, a 24-yard scramble on third-and-6, and a 16-yard pass to Heath Miller on third-and-10 that put the ball at the San Diego 1 with 5 seconds left. The Steelers had a timeout remaining, and Roethlisberger mouthed the words "no dancing" to Le'Veon Bell in case they needed to run another play, but Bell took the direct snap and just got the ball into the end zone for the game-winner as time ran out.


"This is the opportunity for the Steelers to finally get over the hump with their running game. This is their best opportunity to rush for over 100 yards. Joey Bosa is an excellent pass-rusher for the Chargers but you can run right at him. He has a tendency to run around blocks from time to time, and their linebackers aren't downhill bangers. None of them really get their downhill game going on. In fact, it takes them a little while to fill the gaps. They're not Vince Williams so you've got an opportunity to rip off a nice chunk of yardage whenever one of those seams appears. They don't fill; they're chase-and-run guys, so I think this is an opportunity for the Steelers to get their running game going." -- Steelers Radio analyst Craig Wolfley.


Can the Steelers cover Keenan Allen?

Last year, the Steelers allowed Allen, the Chargers slot receiver, to catch 14 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown in a 33-30 loss. On third-and-4 from the Pittsburgh 34 with 1:12 left, Allen caught a 12-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal. Allen was covered by ILB Jon Bostic, which set off a firestorm directed at DC Keith Butler. This week, the Steelers will be without coverage ILB Mark Barron as they'll try to cover Allen with a combination of slot cornerbacks and safeties.


Q: What's been the key to your success this year?

BD: "Just details. Butts (Butler) is doing a great job making sure I'm on my details. Also, just going out and having fun. It comes from knowing everything that's going on, knowing what the inside backers are doing, knowing exactly who and where our help is and how you can make plays in a certain defense."

Q: With Minkah Fitzpatrick and Steven Nelson joining the defense, it appears all the pieces are in place. You can't leave in free agency next spring, can you?

BD: (Laughs) "Yeah, Minkah did a great job filling in. He came in the first day and we could tell he was ready to play. He's a smart guy, football-wise. He started helping us right away."

Q: But are you going to test free agency?

BD: "At the end of the day agents want you to go on the free agency market, but I don't even know because they still have a franchise tag to play around with. So you never know with that stuff going on. We're putting everything together now. We just have to start winning games so people can start highlighting our defense."


What to look for from the Steelers on Sunday night in Carson, California.


Undrafted rookie QB Duck Hodges will make his first start, and OC Randy Fichtner said, "He likes to throw the ball and I don't think he's ever met a pass he doesn't like." But that just may be a ruse to set up the Chargers, who are 19th in rushing yards allowed per carry (4.6). The Steelers have a healthy James Conner running behind a healthy line that should have both tight ends, plus tackle Zach Banner available for the run game. Rookie Benny Snell will replace Jaylen Samuels as Conner's backup. Snell's also a better receiver than his college stats might indicate. At receiver, with James Washington out, look for Donte Moncrief to return with a cast on a dislocated left middle finger that's hindered him since training camp.


CB Steven Nelson won't play with a groin injury. That means the return of Artie Burns at right cornerback. The Steelers could also use either slot cornerback outside if Burns struggles. The Steelers will also be without Barron, their coverage linebacker, but Minkah Fitzpatrick can help ease the threat of Allen out of the slot. The Chargers will be without C Mike Pouncey, who joins LT Russell Okung on the injured list. The young Chargers' line looks to sixth-year veteran RG Michael Schofield as its most senior player.


In a basic handicap of a 5-game stat block, the Steelers — without much of a running game — hold a slight cumulative edge at the line of scrimmage (+0.2 per carry), and also have a better pass defense (yards-per-catch allowed). They've compiled those numbers against a much more difficult schedule (.680 to .413). The Steelers, at 1-4, are also desperate and seeking revenge for last year's tough loss. Hodges shouldn't hinder the offense any more than the other novice QB fill-in, Mason Rudolph. The Chargers also have injury problems on their offensive line against a fast-developing Steelers front, so here's the upset ... Steelers, 20-17.


3: Third-down conversions via the Steelers run game this season.

11: Sacks taken by 37-year-old Chargers QB Philip Rivers this season. The Chargers rank 12th protecting their QB.

31: Rushing yards this season by Chargers RB Melvin Gordon on 12 carries (2.6 avg.) The two-time Pro Bowler returned last week from a holdout.

39: Catches by Chargers RB Austin Ekeler to lead NFL running backs. He caught 15 for 86 yards last week against Denver.

45: Tackles by Steelers ILB Devin Bush to lead all NFL rookies.


— The Steelers have converted 28 percent of their third downs to rank 29th in the NFL. As noted previously, they've converted only three on the ground and two of those were on QB scrambles. On 11 failed third-down rushing attempts, the Steelers lost 33 yards. On their 14 total third-down rushing attempts, the Steelers have lost 8 yards.

— Chargers kicker Michael Badgley has missed every game this season and is doubtful tonight. His initial replacement, Ty Long, hurt his foot and has gone back to focus on punting. So last week the Chargers signed Chase McLaughlin, the reigning Big 10 Kicker of Year at Illinois under special teams coach Bob Ligashesky. McLaughlin made all eight kicks, including a 54-yarder, this preseason for the Bills but was released. In his first NFL game last Sunday, McLaughlin made kicks from 45 and 32 yards and missed from 48.

— Terrell Edmunds was replaced by a third ILB on occasion last Sunday, which halted his consecutive-snaps streak at 542. Edmunds isn't the only iron man in the Steelers secondary. Burns has practiced daily, through a spring that was supposed to be his last chance, through a training camp during which he was supposed to be a cap casualty, through the early part of the season in which he's practiced with the first team for a nicked Joe Haden, and through this week in place of Nelson. All of that practice has netted the fifth-year Burns only two snaps this season, but he'll make his 36th career start tonight.

— The Steelers promoted QB Paxton Lynch and RB Trey Edmunds from the practice squad. To make room they waived OLB Jayrone Elliott and OG Fred Johnson. They'll probably sign Johnson back Monday and return Lynch to the practice squad if Rudolph's ready. The 6-6 5/8 Lynch was drafted 26th in the 2016 draft by the Broncos and was cut in August of 2018. Lynch sat out the 2018 season, was cut by Seattle after the 2019 training camp, and signed with the Steelers practice squad when Roethlisberger went down. Lynch started four games with the Broncos (1-3), threw 4 touchdowns passes and 4 interceptions, and has a passer rating of 76.7.

— Starring as Chargers No. 13 Allen on the Steelers "look" team this week was Tevin Jones, who at 6-2 looked the part of the 6-2 Allen. "Each week I have to be a new person," Jones said. "I try to get inside my receiver's mind, watch film of him, take those things, put them out there, and be as close to him as I can be. Then I can add little things to my arsenal." Jones won't need much more in his arsenal to match or surprass at least one of the receivers currently on the Steelers roster. Is the defense ready for Allen this time? "Oh yes," Jones said. "I gave them the best look I possibly could."


"Ever since I threw my first touchdown pass when I was five years old, I've loved the game. I love playing QB. I love everything about the game, about the position. I love having the ball in my hands every snap. It is just a fun game for me and something I have enjoyed since I was five." -- Steelers rookie QB Duck Hodges.

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