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Chargers Game Preview: Steelers vs. Chargers, Week 6

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Broadcast Information

  • Sunday Oct. 13, at 5:20 p.m. PT
  • ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park
  • TV: NBC - Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (sideline)
  • Radio (English): KFI-AM 640 - Matt “Money” Smith (play-by-play), Daniel Jeremiah (analyst) and Shannon Farren (sideline)
  • Radio (Spanish): KFWB-AM 980 - Mario Solis (play-by-play) and Jorge Villanueva (analyst)
  • APP: Chargers Mobile (iOS), Yahoo Sports (Android)

For more information on how to watch the game including the mobile app and live streaming, click here.

All-Time Series

The Steelers lead the all-time regular season series with a 22-8 record, but the Chargers have won two of the past three meetings, including a 33-30 comeback victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football last season.

The Bolts are 6-8 against the Steelers at home and have gone 50-50 all-time in primetime games since 1970.

Steelers' Last Time Out

The Steelers fell to 1-4 last Sunday after a 46-yard field goal by Justin Tucker gave the Baltimore Ravens a 26-23 victory in overtime. Pittsburgh took a 23-20 lead with 2:37 remaining in the game, but a Tucker field goal tied the game with 10 seconds left. The Ravens kicker converted all four of his field-goal attempts on the day, while Steelers kicker Chris Boswell made all three of his field-goal attempts.

Pittsburgh shut down quarterback Lamar Jackson through the air, holding him to a season-low 161 yards passing, intercepting him three times and sacking the second-year signal caller five times. Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, who had been starting in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger, suffered a concussion in the game and was replaced by third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges. In the loss, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster led Pittsburgh with seven receptions and 75 yards receiving.

Injuries

For the Steelers' injury report, click here.

Storylines

Steelers Not a Typical 1-4 Team

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said that he doesn’t view the Steelers as a 1-4 team, because “they’ve lost three games by nine points and lead this league in takeaways and forced fumbles.”

Two of Pittsburgh’s losses have come at the hands of teams that remain undefeated, the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers, and another came against the now 4-1 Seattle Seahawks.

“It’s just a matter of time before that group gets it together,” Lynn said. “This is a dangerous football team.”

Veteran vs. Rookie at QB

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will move into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time completions list with his next completed pass, and the man he will pass, injured Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger, will have a front row seat for the action.

“(The offense) starts with Philip Rivers,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “(I) got a lot of respect for him on a lot of levels: his quality of play, his football intellect, how he organizes and runs the show from a pace standpoint, (and his) ability to get them into great plays.”

It has not yet been announced who will be under center for the Steelers, but Roethlisberger’s backup, Mason Rudolph, remains in the concussion protocol after exiting last Sunday’s game. While Rudolph practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday, third-stringer Devlin Hodges may be making the start against the Chargers.

“The young man that came in last week, I thought he was outstanding,” Lynn said of Hodges. “The first thing he did was take them down the field and score, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He was well-prepared. That was impressive. And then when you go back and look at his college stats, every time he was on a big stage, he showed up.”

Rivers, who will be making his 214th consecutive start, pointed out that he may be facing a quarterback making his first NFL start.

“When you realize that the guy leading the other squad is getting his first start,” Rivers said, “He grew up about an hour from where I did, (14) years younger, it’s pretty cool. It puts into perspective how thankful I should be that I’m still able to be out there.”

Protecting Pittsburgh’s quarterback will be a strong offensive line that returns three Pro Bowlers from 2018 and has surrendered a league-low five sacks this season.

Third-Down Efficiency

Sunday’s game may come down to which team is more efficient on its third-down opportunities. While the Steelers rank 29th this season in third-down percentage at a meager 28.3%, the Bolts rank 29th in opposing third-down percentage.

“We just haven’t had good enough plans (or) execution,” Tomlin said of his team’s third-down struggles. “We got to get better in the utilization of people and those people making plays.”

For the Chargers’ part, they are tied for seventh in third-down percentage. The Steelers have also struggled to defend on third-down plays, ranking 23rd in opposing third-down percentage.

Mike Tomlin vs. Anthony Lynn

Sunday night will feature a matchup between the NFL’s third-longest-tenured head coach in Mike Tomlin and Anthony Lynn, who stands at an impressive 23-14 since he became the Chargers head coach in 2017. Tomlin won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2008 and has shepherded them to the playoffs in eight of his twelve seasons at the helm.

Brotherly Battles

Chargers fullback Derek Watt and his brother Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt will face each other for the second time in their NFL careers Sunday. In Pittsburgh last season, T.J. recorded a tackle and one QB hit while Derek primarily played on special teams in the Chargers’ 33-30 win. When Derek and his other brother, Houston defensive end J.J. Watt met in Week 3, J.J.’s Texans emerged with the win.

“It’s good to see (T.J. Watt),” the Chargers fullback said. “During the season, it’s a grind and a long time we go without seeing each other, usually. This year, I’ve gotten the opportunity to have both of them come out to L.A. and spend time with them and my family. Any time you get to see family, it’s great.”

The other potential brotherly matchup in the contest will not take place, as Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will start while his identical twin brother, Mike, will miss the remainder of the season with a neck injury.

Lynn and Rivers each spoke Wednesday about how Mike Pouncey’s personality and leadership will be missed by the team as much as his play.

“We’re going to miss him, his leadership and on the field,” Lynn said. “We are tickled to death that he is okay with the injury that he had. He’s going to have neck surgery at some point.”

“(Pouncey)’s like one of them warriors, one of the guys that’s almost invincible,” Rivers said. "If he’s got something bothering him, it doesn’t matter. He’s going to be out there. You see him go down with something this severe and that he won’t be able to be back. It takes a little bit out of you. I think, again, as a group, we have to kind of rally and be thankful that he’s okay.”

Steelers Players and Matchups to Watch

JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Chargers secondary

After finishing fifth in the NFL in yards receiving and racking up eight 100-yard games last season, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is again leading the team in receptions and yards receiving and is tied for the lead in touchdowns. However, he is averaging 66.6 yards per game, way down from last season’s average of 89.1. With Antonio Brown no longer on the roster, Smith-Schuster is drawing much more attention from opposing secondaries.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin singled out safety Rayshawn Jenkins as someone who has captured his attention from the Chargers secondary.

“I’ve really been impressed by the young safety out of Miami, (Number) 23 (Rayshawn Jenkins),” Tomlin said. “Just his athleticism, his range and his ball skills.”

Jenkins and company will also have to defend Steelers rookie wideout Diontae Johnson, who ranks second on the team in yards receiving and has been targeted just five times fewer than Smith-Schuster this season. Smith-Schuster, Johnson and tight end Vance McDonald each have caught two touchdown passes in 2019.

Fumbles have been an issue with this unit, as Smith-Schuster lost a fumble last week and Johnson has already fumbled twice on the young season.

Devin Bush vs. Chargers Offense

Rookie linebacker Devin Bush has been a force for the Steelers ever since the first game of the season, in which he led the team with 11 total tackles against the Patriots. The University of Michigan product leads Pittsburgh in tackles and ranks eighth league-wide in the category. He also already has three fumble recoveries, which is tied for the NFL lead.

Last week against the Ravens, Bush recorded an impressive interception with his back turned to the quarterback.

“He’s made some plays, particularly for a young guy,” Tomlin said of Bush Wednesday. ”He’s proven that NFL stadiums aren’t too big for him, (and) he’s a good in-game communicator. More than anything, he’s been highly productive.”

Lynn also had kind words for Bush, focusing on his speed and athleticism.

“You can tell he’s young, (and) he’s raw,” Lynn said. “But his speed, man, it’s fast. He’s a run-hit guy.”

Bush will be tasked with stopping the Chargers’ dynamic running back duo of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler.

Gordon, who will be playing in his second game of the season Sunday, spoke about the reputation the entire Steelers defensive unit possesses.

“Pittsburgh is known for being physical and nasty,” Gordon said. “We just gotta match that intensity.”

Tomlin said Gordon’s backfield-mate Ekeler brings “big-time versatility,” referring to him as “a weapon in the backfield and outside.”

The Steelers head coach added that the Chargers have several dangerous offensive players his team needs to limit.

“I’ve obviously got a lot of respect for (Keenan) Allen, but they’ve got a lot of eligible (receivers) that you have to work to minimize,” Tomlin said. “(Mike) Williams as well, they’ve got a lot of weapons. Couple that with the return of Melvin Gordon. We’re gonna have our hands full trying to slow that (offense) down.”

Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt vs. Chargers offensive line

Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt lead a Steelers front that was tied for first in sacks in 2018 and is tied for third this season. Heyward has been named a Pro Bowler for each of the past two seasons, and Watts made the Pro Bowl in 2018 after tying for eighth in the NFL in sacks with 13.0.

“Their front seven is really good, but their front five is as good as we’ve seen,” Lynn said about the Steelers’ defensive front.

The Chargers offensive line Heyward and Watt will be battling will not only again be missing left tackle Russell Okung but now also four-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey.

Kickoff is on Sunday at 5:20 p.m. PT at ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park.

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