Chargers (2-3) vs. Pittsburgh (1-4)
When Chargers have the ball
The offense has turned the ball over four times in goal-to-go situations. And now comes a Pittsburgh defense that has recovered six fumbles, tied for the most in the NFL. The Chargers had two such turnovers last week in their 20-13 loss at home to Denver. The offense failed to reach the end zone against the Broncos and has gone 13 possessions without a touchdown dating to the fourth quarter of the Miami game in Week 4. Melvin Gordon will be making his second appearance after ending his nine-week holdout, and the Chargers are going to need more from him than the 38 total yards he picked up in 16 touches in his 2019 debut. The Steelers are 12th-best in the NFL against the run, one spot behind a Denver defense that limited the Chargers to 35 yards rushing. Wide receiver Keenan Allen also will be looking to bounce back after being essentially removed from the game a week ago by the Broncos’ sagging, big-play-preventing defensive scheme. Allen had only 18 yards on four catches and responded to social media criticism by posting of Denver cornerback Chris Harris “that boy can’t hold my jockstrap.” Maybe not, but Harris did contribute to holding Allen to his sixth-worst game in terms of yards receiving.
When Steelers have the ball
The Chargers won’t have to figure what to do with Antonio Brown, the longtime Pittsburgh receiver who, since these teams met in December, has been with Oakland and New England — just not for long. Brown, who had 10 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown in that December game against the Chargers, is now out of the NFL. They also don’t have to worry about Ben Roethlisberger, who will miss the rest of the season because of an elbow injury. Pittsburgh also will be without backup quarterback Mason Rudolph (concussion), meaning undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges will make his first NFL start. Hodges set a Football Championship Subdivision record for career passing yards while at Samford. He also is a champion duck caller, for whatever that’s worth. With James Conner last season and Le’Veon Bell before him, Pittsburgh has been known as a team capable of running the ball. That hasn’t been the case through five games in 2019. The Steelers are averaging 67 yards rushing, and only three teams in the league are worse. Conner, coming off a 973-yard season, is averaging 3.3 yards per carry. The Chargers could use a confidence-booster after giving up 114 yards in 15 carries last week to Denver’s Phillip Lindsay.
When they kick
The Chargers are on their third-string kicker, with Michael Badgley still out with a groin injury and Ty Long now exclusively punting after dealing with soreness in his plant foot. Chase McLaughlin made two field goals and an extra point in his NFL debut last week. He also had a field-goal attempt blocked. On the other hand — or, in this case, foot — Pittsburgh has had Chris Boswell kicking for the last five years. He is 10 for 10 on field goals and nine for nine on extra points this season.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
The Chargers are favored for the sixth consecutive week, which might sound odd for a team that is 2-3. They have covered the spread only once, against lowly Miami. They also are 1-3 in one-score games, an area in which they dominated last season. Now they face a relative unknown in quarterback Hodges, unknowns often providing surprises in the NFL.
CHARGERS 20, STEELERS 17