Six Points: Steelers vs. Chargers
The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) and San Diego Chargers (2-2) will both look to stay afloat in their division when they meet at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday Night.
A reunion of Class of 2004 quarterbacks wasn’t meant to be, though. Ben Roethlisberger (MCL, bone bruise) will give way to Michael Vick for a second straight week. He’ll look to feed the ball to both wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell all night.
Philip Rivers leads the league in passing at the NFL’s quarter pole. And on Monday night, Antonio Gates will return from suspension to reprise his role as Rivers’ top target. That should help alleviate some of the Bolts’ offensive line troubles.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Steelers and Chargers:
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1. Send Martavis Bryant deep early and often
Bryant should pick up right where he left off last season by going long to stretch the field. Michael Vick’s best pass is his deep throw, but even if he can’t connect with Bryant, Antonio Brown will have a lot more room to roam for his trademark intermediate routes underneath.
2. Feed Le’Veon Bell in the passing game too
Speedy Browns running back Duke Johnson exploited mismatches in coverage against San Diego last Sunday with nine catches for 85 yards. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley should give Bell the freedom to freelance so that Vick can get him the ball in space and attack the defense.
3. Bring the pain
Last week against Cleveland, San Diego was forced to start three backups on the offensive line and finished the game without its top two cornerbacks and just two healthy receivers. With the Chargers perilously thin at several key positions, Pittsburgh should block hard and tackle harder to crush their will by the fourth quarter.
1. Establish Gates early and often
The most prolific QB-TE duo in NFL history will be expected to pick up right where they left off. The Chargers’ receiving depth chart is in shambles; Gates grabbed 12 touchdowns last year and could easily replace some of that lost production.
2. Let Vick run — but account for Bell
The Michael Vick Experience wasn’t a very memorable one last Thursday night. Dazzling runs are no longer the 35-year-old quarterback’s specialty. He’ll leave that up to Bell, who gashed the Ravens last week and should be priority No. 1 for the Bolts.
3. Let Jason Verrett cover Brown, not Brandon Flowers
Brown is unrivaled when it comes to shaking tight coverage. The Bolts have an option to counter his quickness, and it isn’t Brandon Flowers. It’s small but speedy cover man Jason Verrett, who can run with Brown downfield if an old foot injury doesn’t flare up.