MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT
Steelers 24, Chargers 22
Oct. 10, 2005: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego.
Ten years ago in Week 4 of the season on a Monday night, the Steelers pulled out a game that allowed them to make the playoffs by a game and eventually win the Super Bowl. This was Bill Cowher vs. Marty Schottenheimer and Ben Roethlisberger vs. Drew Brees. James Harrison had the first-half highlight with an interception and hurdle to set up a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, Heath Miller -- who doubled his career production in this game with four catches for 36 yards -- caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to give the Steelers the lead, but the Chargers came back with a LaDainian Tomlinson two-yard touchdown run for a 22-21 lead with 4:42 left. The Steelers then drove to the San Diego 22, from where Jeff Reed kicked a 40-yard field goal to win the game with six seconds left. Roethlisberger was hit just below the knee by Luis Castillo on the final drive and would miss four of the next six games before he returned and led the Steelers to the title.
WHAT'S ON TAPE?
"The thing that jumps out is the Chargers almost always bring five guys. They've only got five sacks and four of those were against the Browns, so they've got a real issue with their pass rush. They really have a problem. I wouldn't be surprised to see them come out with five 'bigs,' or five defensive linemen, and everyone would have to go man. They also have a problem covering backs. Neither (ILBs) Manti Te'o nor Donald Butler can cover backs. Duke Johnson, a rookie, really exposed them last week. If Todd Haley can create those mismatches formation-wise, I think Le'Veon Bell lights them up." -- Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley.
Will Martavis Bryant play?
Mike Tomlin has ruled out his defensive chess piece, Ryan Shazier, but Tomlin hasn't provided any clue as to what he'll do with Bryant, his enormously talented wide receiver. Bryant returned from suspension to practice Monday but then missed practices Wednesday and Thursday. Some have reported he has a knee injury, but Bryant grabbed his hamstring when asked and said "Ill be good." Nothing official has been pronounced since he's not on the active roster yet, so the Steelers haven't been required to file an injury report. The guess here is Bryant will be active and run a few deep routes, but that Darrius Heyward-Bey will be the primary No. 3 receiver. But, again, that's just a guess.
THREE QUESTIONS: With ILB Sean Spence
Q: How did you sniff out that fake punt last week?
SS: "I think it was a mixture of me just doing my job and having a feel for it. Yeah, coming off the ball and feeling kind of light and soft and using my instincts to chase it down."
Q: Are you starting to feel like the glue in the middle that you were at the University of Miami?
SS: "I think so. I'm just getting comfortable, this being my actual second year playing. I'm seeing things a second time, getting a feel for the game even better, knowing what I'm doing better and knowing what other guys are doing better. That allows you to play faster and I feel I continue to build each day in practice and it carries over into the game."
Q: You'll be in for Shazier this week and will have to tackle Danny Woodhead. Is he really that good?
SS: "I remember watching him on Hard Knocks when he was with the Jets and trying to make the team. I was probably in high school. He was so tough, man, a versatile back. He was doing great on teams and it shows now. He's a great blocker on third down, a great pass receiver. You don't even expect it out of a guy so small to be able to run the ball and block, but he can do it all. It's going to be a challenge for us."
What to look for from the Steelers tonight against San Diego:
Most teams ease a new quarterback (or new-ish quarterback) into games by throwing short. And it would perhaps be wise for Michael Vick to open up throwing to Bell and to begin his passing relationship with Miller against those Chargers ILBs. But it would also be predictable. The Steelers just may come out gunning deep to Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Heyward-Bey (possibly Bryant) to not only take advantage of Vick's arm strength but to keep the Chargers' safeties back as Vick adds to his run-game package and then lets that short game take over.
The Chargers have a beat-up offensive line, but you do remember the 2012 game when they signed their tackles out of grocery stores to play the Steelers. Philip Rivers just took one-step drops and threw to big Malcom Floyd, who towered over CBs Josh Victorian and Curtis Brown. It didn't help that those cornerbacks were so raw and had to give big cushions as well. So perhaps the Steelers will go with more cover-2 this game. Attack that reconfigured Chargers OL but don't give Rivers the easy throws wide.
As with the Ravens, the Chargers represent a golden opportunity for the Steelers to win without Roethlisberger. The Steelers squandered that opportunity last week, so they should be at an emotional pitch to grab this one tonight. The 2-2 Chargers have awful statistics against less-than-.500 opposition: 4.9 yards-per-carry against the run, 11.7 yards-per-completion allowed, and have been outscored overall by 14 points. Their line is banged up and their pass-rush is below average. The Steelers meanwhile had 11 days rest and should have a better understanding of what Vick can and can't do, and vice-versa. Steelers, 23-16.
BY THE NUMBERS
99: Career touchdown catches by San Diego TE Antonio Gates, who's making his return from a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Gates leads all active NFL tight ends in that category and is tied for ninth in NFL history with Don Hutson.
33: Catches by San Diego WR Keenan Allen this year, tying him with Gates for the team record through the first four games. 138: Woodhead's total yards from scrimmage last week against Cleveland, a career high.
42: Steelers wins on Monday Night Football, third in the NFL (one behind Dallas and five behind San Francisco).
305: RT Marcus Gilbert's weight, which is down "10, 15 pounds from last year," said Gilbert. "I feel great where I'm at now. I think this is the perfect playing weight for me."
* Dri Archer returned a kickoff 31 yards to begin overtime last game. It was the 2014 third-round draft pick's career high, but it may not have been enough to save his job. Whispers from the Steelers are that Archer will be waived this afternoon to make room for Bryant. But, of course, Archer survived those whispers two weeks ago when Bell was activated.
* Wheaton twisted an ankle while blocking for Vick's touchdown run against the Ravens but he's back as the No. 2 wide receiver opposite Brown and would be the logical replacement for Archer as the kickoff return man. Wheaton replaced an ineffective Archer in the role last season and averaged 24.1 yards per return with a long of 41.
* Te'o made 16 tackles to lead the Chargers in their last game, just enough to vault the inside linebacker past free safety Eric Weddle for the team lead in tackles. Weddle with 36 tackles is two behind Te'o in his ninth season. The three-time Pro Bowler is the most decorated defender for the Chargers.
"I know him pretty well from past experience," said Haley, the Steelers' offensive coordinator. "He is a heck of a football player. Having been in Kansas City, I saw him a couple of times a year. He’s one of those guys you have to know where he is at all times."
* Vick took part in only two walk-throughs as the first-team QB before making his first start with the Steelers, so he's probably feeling over-prepared after completing this extended layoff to tonight's game.
"It was a tough deal for a guy who hadn’t had a lot of reps at all, period -- actual, meaningful, Pittsburgh Steelers reps that is," Haley said. "So, to be able to be out here and make calls in the huddle, from an operational standpoint for him, his comfort level of what the words mean and what they mean to him, all of those things are so, so important. Having an extra day(s) this week is huge."
* The story of Ross Cockrell continues to evolve. Cut in the first round of cuts this year by the Buffalo Bills, Cockrell jumped past Brandon Boykin and into the role of the third Steelers cornerback. He had an interception and fumble recovery against the Ravens.
"I didn’t see anything in him," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said of Cockrell's tape with the Bills. "Coach Tomlin had seen him on film and brought him in. What I saw when he got here, the thing I was most impressed with was that he would always jump up. When they were doing one-on-ones with receivers he would always try to jump up and take Antonio Brown. That showed me the kid had confidence. That’s a big thing when you are trying to play cornerback. You have to have a short memory and have a lot of confidence. He did pretty well against A.B. in practice, and he started refining his technique a little bit. But he got better and better every day."
* The Steelers prepared as if all of the Chargers receivers would be healthy. Slot WR Stevie Johnson has been ruled out (hamstring) but it appears that Floyd (concussion) will play, along with Allen and tight ends Gates and Ladarius Green.
"You get Antonio Gates the ball as much as you can," said Butler. "If he was playing for us, I would guarantee that."
* Chargers QB Rivers threw three touchdown passes in the teams' last meeting and needs two to pass Dave Krieg (262) for No. 13 all-time. Since 2006, Rivers ranks second to Brees in the NFL with 37,755 passing yards.
"Philip’s dad is a high school coach. He kind of grew up in football," Butler said. "He knows basic football very well. He studies the game. He knows what we are going to do or try to do. It’s going to be a challenge for us to try to reel him in on some stuff. It’s going to be tough to do with him because he is very sharp, plus he has the autonomy. He can do about whatever he wants to out there."
"I always love Le’Veon as a receiver. I think that’s what really makes him unique and above and beyond his ability to run the football. He’s just a natural guy who can run routes and catch the football. He’s always part of what we’re trying to do." -- Haley.