The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to rebound after suffering a disheartening loss to the division rival Baltimore Ravens, falling in overtime by a field goal after their own, now former, kicker missed two in the fourth quarter.
The team is out west to take on the San Diego Chargers, who have been playing well this year, and will be reinforced with the return of veteran tight end Antonio Gates. The Steelers were to have been similarly reinforced, but things just did not work out that way.
Gates was serving a four-game suspension, as was Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant; however, the second-year player reportedly tweaked his knee in practice on Monday and is expected to be out for the game, not yet activated from the 53-man roster.
Coming off the first in 35 games in which Antonio Brown did not gain at least 50 receiving yards, the Steelers will be looking for answers in the passing game. Markus Wheaton is recovering from an ankle injury as well.
The solution will have to come from under center, as quarterback Mike Vick simply needs to perform better on virtually every level. From pocket presence to accuracy to reading his progressions and resisting the urge to run over throwing the pass, the veteran struggled in his first start with the Steelers after a short week of practice.
It helps, at least potentially, that the Chargers may be undermanned in the secondary this week, as they have one cornerback listed as out and two more as questionable on the final practice report.
Much of the workload will inevitably fall upon the shoulders of running back Le’Veon Bell, who seems to be up to full-speed after rushing for 129 yards against the Ravens. His efforts should only be aided by the return of tight end Matt Spaeth.
Defensively, the Steelers remain without Ryan Shazier, but the Chargers have greater concerns, as they will be playing with a short-handed and wounded offensive line as Pittsburgh’s defensive front is revving up into full gear, which is a match that they will need to win in order to keep the pressure on Philip Rivers.
With one lineman out and two more listed as questionable, the Chargers could have difficulty moving the ball on offense, especially given that their wide receiving corps also figures to be limited with injuries.
The Steelers have been able to put pressure on the quarterbacks thus far this season, and they have done so in a variety of ways, including straight four-man rushes as well as blitzes from all levels of the defense. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler may well be inspired to blitz more with all of the uncertainty along the Chargers’ line.
Still, the ultimate test will be limiting Rivers, which will be all the more important in light of the Chargers’ solid red zone defense—and the fact that the Steelers are introducing a new kicker with no prior NFL experience. The 12th-year veteran is averaging over 300 yards per game to go along with two touchdowns, though he is also averaging a turnover and a half per game with four interceptions and two lost fumbles.