Countdown to kickoff: Steelers at Chargers

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) vs. San Diego Chargers (2-2)
Monday, Oct 12, 2015
Qualcomm Stadium
8:30 p.m.
ESPN

SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 21-7, regular season (Chargers lead, 2-1, postseason).

LAST MEETING: Chargers 34, Steelers 24, Dec. 9, 2015, Heinz Field: San Diego jumped to a 27-3 lead, thanks in part to a fumble recovery for a touchdown on a pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger to WR Antonio Brown that deflected off the helmet of TE David Paulson and was eventually pounced upon in the end zone by CB Quentin Jammer. SD QB Philip Rivers completed 21 of 41 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers outgained the Chargers, 340-294, but committed the game's only two turnovers (one lost fumble, one interception). Steelers WR Mike Wallace had 112 yards receiving and two TDs.

LAST WEEK: The Steelers let a 20-7 second-half lead slip away and lost to the Ravens, 23-20, in overtime at Heinz. The Chargers edged the Browns, 30-27, on a last-play field goal in San Diego.

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WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL:** San Diego's biggest challenge at times against the Browns was getting 11 healthy players on the field. The Chargers opened without LT King Dunlap (concussion), LG Orlando Franklin (ankle) and C Chris Watt (groin), then lost WR Malcom Floyd (concussion) and WR Stevie Johnson (hamstring). San Diego still managed 438 total net yards, so the Chargers are a resourceful bunch.

Rivers responded to a couple of early sacks and protection issues by getting rid of the ball quickly and with formations that spread the Browns out. When he saw one-on-one coverage he took shots deep, either down the sideline or down a seam. A steady diet of no-huddle offense, something San Diego has featured all season, also helped slow down the Browns' pass rush. Rivers likes shallow crossing routes when he's not throwing it deep and he likes to spread the ball around (the Chargers were the NFL's only team that had five players with at least 100 yards receiving through the season's first three weeks).

First-round RB Melvin Gordon is effective running inside, behind an outside-zone scheme or bouncing plays outside. He runs with power and explosiveness (4.1 yards per carry) but the rookie is still looking for his first NFL touchdown. Veteran RB Danny Woodhead is 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds but it's all play-maker. Woodhead had a 19-yard run and a 61-yard reception among his 12 touches against Cleveland.

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WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL:** The Chargers' apparent mission after getting just one sack over the first three games was to find a way to pressure the passer. They blitzed the Browns coming off the bus and finished with four sacks, one of which turned into a sack-strip-fumble-recovery.

San Diego's linebackers had issues covering running backs against Cleveland. Rookie RB Duke Johnson had nine catches for 85 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown, and veteran RB Isaiah Crowell turned a catch-and-run play into a 53-yard gain. The Chargers consistently missed tackles against the Browns. And the coverage was such that when he wasn't being sacked Josh McCown was completing passes (32-for-41, 356 yards, a 119.1 passer rating).

It didn't help that starting CB Jason Verrett and starting SS Jahleel Addae didn't play against Cleveland and that starting CB Brandon Flowers was knocked out in the third quarter (concussion). FS Eric Weddle leads San Diego with 27 solo tackles.

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The Steelers signed kicker Chris Boswell, a Fort Worth, Texas native who attend Rice University. Boswell spent some time on the Texans practice squad in 2014 and with the New York Giants during the 2015 preseason.

SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS:** Rookie K Josh Lambo made his first game-winning kick (34 yards) on the last play against Cleveland (he had missed from 39 but the Browns were offside). WR Keenan Allen's 5 punt return yards against Cleveland were the first 5 gained by San Diego this season. The Steelers will turn to rookie K Chris Boswell, who has replaced veteran K Josh Scobee (released). RB Dri Archer had a season-long 31-yard kickoff return and WR Antonio Brown had a season-long 29-yard punt return against Baltimore.

THE X-FACTOR: Chargers TE Antonio Gates is eligible to return from a four-game suspension. Assuming he's back on the field, how quickly will he be reintroduced into his team's offense? What kind of impact might Gates have?

THEY SAID IT: "For the most part I thought he did a great job of giving us a chance to win the game." _ Steelers OC Todd Haley on backup QB Mike Vick's performance off a short week of preparation prior to replacing Roethlisberger against Baltimore.

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