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PITTSBURGH (5-3-1) at LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-4)
Sunday, 8:20 p.m. EST, NBC
BETTING LINE: Chargers by 5 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Pittsburgh 3-6; Los Angeles 5-4.
SERIES RECORD: Steelers lead 24-10.
LAST MEETING: Steelers beat Chargers 24-17 on Oct. 13, 2019, in Carson, California.
LAST WEEK: Steelers tied Lions 16-16, OT; Chargers lost to Vikings 27-20.
STEELERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (24), RUSH (26), PASS (17), SCORING (26).
VIKINGS DEFENSE: OVERALL (T-12), RUSH (25), PASS (9), SCORING (8).
CHARGERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (10), RUSH (21), PASS (7), SCORING (15).
CHARGERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (17), RUSH (32), PASS (4), SCORING (T-24).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Steelers minus-3; Chargers plus-2.
STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Mason Rudolph. Rudolph was an unexpected starter against Detroit, going 30 of 50 passing for 242 yards, one touchdown and one interception after Ben Roethlisberger ended up on the COVID-19 list late last week. Getting a full slate of preparation should help if Rudolph is called on again, and he has four games of experience as a road starter. However, Pittsburgh averaged just 16.3 points in those contests.
CHARGERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Justin Herbert. It was another frustrating showing for Herbert against Minnesota, completing just two passes longer than 20 yards as he was 20 for 34 for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Steelers know how to rush the passer, getting home at the fourth-best rate in football (8.8%), so Herbert will have to be patient against a secondary that should be trying to take away the deep ball.
KEY MATCHUP: Steelers RB Najee Harris vs. Chargers DL Linval Joseph. Just when Los Angeles showed glimpses of improvement stopping the run, limiting Minnesota to 103 yards that came mostly from volume of attempts, it could face the rookie rusher from Alabama with interior lineman Jerry Tillery and edge presence Joey Bosa on the COVID-19 list. Joseph must be stout at the point of attack to limit Harris, who is coming off his second 100-yard game. No matter who starts at quarterback, Pittsburgh will want a heavy dose of Harris to dictate the pace of play.
KEY INJURIES: Roethlisberger could play provided he clears the COVID-19 protocols and is physically ready. … Coach Mike Tomlin was hopeful LB T.J. Watt (knee/hip) would be good to go after being forced out against the Lions, but that declaration came before the elite pass rusher missed Wednesday's practice. … S Minkah Fitzpatrick isn’t expected to play after being placed on the COVID-19 list. … The Steelers could be without starting guards Kevin Dotson and Trai Turner, both dealing with ankle injuries. Joe Haeg and B.J. Finney would likely start if they can't go. ... Chargers CB Michael Davis (hamstring) and S Nasir Adderley (ankle) are on track to return. Davis missed the past two games, while Adderley sat out last week. … There is a chance Bosa could play, as a series of negative tests would allow him return to practice Saturday.
SERIES NOTES: The Steelers and Chargers have split the past four meetings, with the road team winning in each instance. … After losing to the Chargers in the 1995 AFC championship game, Pittsburgh won eight of the next nine in the series between 1995 and 2009. … Pittsburgh's last two road wins against the Chargers have come with backup quarterbacks starting in place of Roethlisberger. Mike Vick won in San Diego in 2015 and rookie undrafted free agent Devlin “Duck” Hodges got the victory in Los Angeles in 2019 with Roethlisberger lost for the season with right elbow surgery. ... The Steelers are 9-6 on the road against the Chargers. … Los Angeles has won two of three playoff games against Pittsburgh. In addition to the memorable 17-13 win that sent the then-San Diego Chargers to their only Super Bowl, they won 31-28 in a 1983 AFC first-round game. The Steelers won the most recent postseason matchup, 35-24 in the divisional round in 2009.
STATS AND STUFF: Pittsburgh has the best defense inside the 10-yard line in the NFL, allowing touchdowns on 50% of opportunities. … Watt has a sack in four straight games and seven of eight this season. If he can’t go, the Steelers are thin behind him after trading Melvin Ingram to Kansas City. Watt has 62 career sacks. Alex Highsmith, Taco Charlton and Derrek Tuszka have combined for 14 1/2… Since getting a career-high 130 yards receiving against Denver, Steelers WR Chase Claypool has a total of 92 yards on nine catches in his past three games. Claypool did not play last week due to a toe injury and was limited in practice this week. … Pittsburgh’s 16 road wins on Sunday night are tied with Philadelphia for second most. Dallas has 17. … Cameron Heyward has the most tackles (184) and passes defended (15) by a defensive tackle in the past three seasons. … Pittsburgh's defense is struggling to generate turnovers. The Steelers are 28th in takeaways (8) this season after ranking second in 2020 (27) and first in 2019 (38) in that category. ... Herbert needs 119 yards passing for 7,000 in his career. He would become the third quarterback to reach the mark in 25 games, joining Patrick Mahomes (21 games) and Kurt Warner. … The Chargers did not have a run of 10-plus yards against the Vikings. … DT Justin Jones had six tackles versus Minnesota. His career high of eight came against the Steelers in 2019. … Los Angeles has not intercepted a pass in its past three games.
FANTASY TIP: Considering the Steelers allowed the Lions to pile up 229 yards on the ground on 5.8 yards per carry without any threat of a passing attack, Chargers RB Austin Ekeler should have his most productive outing since getting 117 yards rushing against Las Vegas in Week 4. If Ekeler, who hasn’t topped 66 yards in any other game, can’t get going as a runner, it will be time to write him off in formats that don’t reward his contributions as a receiver.
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The Associated Press