STEELERS GAME DAY
Week 5: at San Diego Chargers, Qualcomm Stadium (71,500)
Tonight, 8:30 p.m., (ESPN)
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WMBA-AM (1230), WBVP-AM (1460)
Line: Chargers by 4, over/under 46
Weather: 83 degrees, partly cloudy
Chargers 54, Steelers 44
Dec. 8, 1985
Jack Murphy Stadium
December 8, 1985 is a date that would live in Steelers infamy as they were embarrassed on a Sunday night prime-time game against Dan Fouts and San Diego's famed "Air Coryell." The AFC's top-ranked defense was shredded for 34 points in the first half, the most the Steelers had surrendered since 1968, the year before Chuck Noll's arrival, a span of 243 games. "It was a great defensive game," a sarcastic Noll told reporters. "If you believe that, you'll believe anything. The thing that's disheartening is that we had guys who played hurt and played their hearts out." Despite being picked off three times, Fouts threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns, while Wes Chandler and Charlie Joiner each had 100-plus yards in receiving. Losing quarterback David Woodley threw for 287 yards and two TDs and ran another one in himself as the Steelers fell to 6-8 en route to missing the playoffs for the first time since 1981. The 98 combined points remains a record for both the Steelers and Chargers. Until a 2013 loss at New England, in which the Steelers surrendered 55 points, it had been tied as the most points ever allowed by a Pittsburgh team.
Can Martavis Bryant make an immediate impact?
Absolutely, he can. The better question might be, "if Martavis Bryant plays tonight ..." Bryant, who has finished serving his four-game suspension due to multiple failed drug tests, practiced Monday but reported some soreness after sitting out practice Wednesday. Since the Steelers will have until 4 p.m. Monday to activate him on the 53-man roster, they haven't had to list him on the injury report this week. The Steelers have clearly missed Bryant, a receiver who can serve as a deep threat, capable of scoring on any play and he can free up Antonio Brown from double coverage. Veteran journeyman Darrius Hewyard-Bey has been serviceable in Bryant's absence, averaging 46.25 yards per game with two touchdowns, while Sammie Coates had his first career reception in last week's loss at Baltimore.
Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. Steelers’ defense
Gates is a tough player to cover no matter where the Chargers are on the field, and chances are he will be matched up against not only linebackers, but defensive backs. Stopping Gates will be a key for the Steelers especially in the red zone, where Gates uses his skills as a former basketball player to gain body position on defenders to his advantage. "Antonio Gates is a big-time tight end," said linebacker Vince Williams. "He still has a little bit of speed in the tank. He can get vertical on you, he's a great route runner from the tight end position. As a linebacker, I know we're probably going to be matched up against him a lot and have to minimize his impact on the game."
When the Steelers have the ball ...
RB Le’Veon Bell was the Steelers’ best offensive player in their 23-20 loss to the Ravens, rushing for 129 yards on 22 carries. If the Steelers are going to win Monday night, the Steelers will need get the ball into the hands of Bell as much as often, whether in the running game or in the passing game. "The (Chargers) have a good, aggressive, attacking defense," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "They have a number of guys I know pretty well from past experience, starting with No. 32. Eric Weddle. He is a heckuva 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." San Diego's defense ranks 15th overall but just 29th against the run. The Chargers are averaging just 225.0 yards against through the air and have three interceptions to go along with three fumbles.
When the Chargers have the ball ...
The Steelers aren't the only team getting an offensive playmaker back from a suspension, as TE Antonio Gates returns for his first game of the season. Gates is QB Phillip Rivers’ favorite target and a big one at that at 6-4 and 260. The Steelers will need to find a way to match up with him. RB Danny Woodhead is the dual threat on the Chargers’ offense, ranking second on the team in rushing and third in receptions with 16, so knowing where he lines up on each play will also be a key for the Steelers’ defense. "They are going to play, instead of three receivers, I don’t know if they will play three receivers and come out with (Gates) and play what we call 'Ace,' which is two tight ends and two wide receivers," said defensive coordinator Keith Butler. "That’s more likely to happen against us, but who knows what they will do. I don’t know what kind of health their wide receivers will be in. I would assume they would all be healthy, and that’s how we are preparing." The Steelers will also look to continue their trend of turnovers in recent weeks, as they have forced three in their last two games.
Q&A: With kicker CHRIS BOSWELL
As told to Times Steelers Writer Chris Bradford:
Q: What's the experience of the past 7-10 days been like?
A: "It's been good. Just really coming in here worrying about making kicks. Just trying to get used to the guys. Getting used to the snap, hold and kick, the whole operation.
Q: What had you been doing before that?
A: "I was just in Fort Worth (Texas) with my family. That's really just it, hanging out."
Q: Were you kicking or working out while you were waiting to get a call?
A: "Just go to whatever field I could get access to that day, depending on their school's program and stuff like that. It was kind of hit and miss."
Q: First game coming up, are you nervous? Excited?
A: "Just looking forward to kicking, getting out there, doing whatever I can do."
Q: What gives you confidence in yourself?
A: "Just the work through the week. Working with these guys a lot every day. Really no reason to be worried if I'm working every day."
Q: You had James Harrison in your face during practice (Friday) trying to rattle you before kicks. That has got to be pretty intimidating?
A: "He's just ... Don't really know if that's normal (punter Jordan Berry listening in nearby, interrupts with a laugh "Just being Deebo") ... I don't know."
- With 11 days between games and a full week of preparation, QB Mike Vick says he can be better than what he showed against Baltimore last week. If Vick can do what he did the last time he faced the Chargers, the Steelers should be all right. In Week 2 of 2013, Vick threw for a career-high 428 yards, ran for 34 yards and had three touchdowns against the Chargers. Of course, Vick's Eagles lost that game at Philadelphia and he has only thrown for 200 yards twice since then and none in his last six starts. In the Ravens loss, Vick was solid, completing 19 of 26 passes but the Steelers didn't try to do too much with a quarterback that didn't go through the off-season program, training camp and had only had one full practice with the first-team offense. "I'm just glad we have a couple extra days to prepare and get ready for this," said Vick. "Time to hone in on my work and detail it." Vick, the NFL's all-time leading rusher at his position (6,038 yards), ran nine times for 33 yards (3.7 yards per carry), a far cry from 2006 when he averaged 8.6 per attempt with Atlanta. "I took what was there," he said. "I don't just want to take off and run all the time. That's kind of discouraging to your teammates. I try to let it happen naturally and instinctively."
- CB William Gay's consecutive games played streak, which will reach 133 tonight, is really quite impressive. It's the longest current streak of any defensive back in the NFL but it's 137 short of the all-time record for a defensive player set by Minnesota defensive end great Jim Marshall from 1961-79. To reach that, the 30-year-old Gay would have to play every game for another 8.5 seasons. Not that Gay is keeping track. "You know I don't care about stats," he said. "The biggest thing that will keep you around as a team together is wins." Gay, a fifth-round pick in 2007, is in his second stint with the Steelers after spending 2012 with Arizona. "I'm just blessed to be in the league," he said. "That's all it comes from. It's nothing I can control."
- With LB Ryan Shazier being ruled out for a third straight game with a shoulder injury, the Steelers will use Sean Spence and Vince Williams at inside linebacker, both of whom have performed admirably in the last two games. Spence recorded his first sack of the season in last week’s game against the Ravens. “Spence has done a good job backing him (Shazier) up for us, and Vince Williams has come in on occasion.” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “Both of those guys have done a good job for us.”
- Among NFL receivers drafted in 2010, Antonio Brown has Dez Bryant beaten. The sixth-rounder from Central Michigan even has Nos. 1 and 2 overall picks Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh beaten ... in the all-important jersey sales category, according to Dick's Sporting Goods. Among the Class of 2010, Brown trails only Cleveland's Joe Haden (who has the NFL's top seller between the draft and Week 5) and New England's Rob Gronkowski, who comes in at No 5. Brown's No. 84 jersey comes in at No. 10 overall and is the top-seller among all Steelers, followed by Le'Veon Bell (15th), Ben Roetlhisberger (44), Heath Miller (55) and Ryan Shazier (92). Sales of Brown's jersey are split between men (44 percent), kids (43) and women (13).
Since the turn of the new century, the month of October has been far more treat than trick for the Steelers. Despite last week's loss to Baltimore (on the first day of the month), the Steelers still have the second-best winning percentage in the 10th month. Beginning tonight, the Steelers have three more October games after going 3-1 last year:
(4-0 on the season)
The Steelers have gone a decade without winning (0-5) on the West Coast and that doesn't figure to change tonight, particularly without the services of Ryan Shazier and possibly Martavis Bryant. Like Tom Brady before him, Philip Rivers is an elite quarterback who should be able to complete passes against a Steelers secondary that, while improving, isn't quite ready for prime-time. ... Chargers 27, Steelers 24
BY THE NUMBERS
1: 100-yard receiving games needed for Antonio Brown (19) to join Hines Ward (29) and John Stallworth (25) to have 20-plus in his career with Steelers.
4: Field goals made in four attempts for new Steelers kicker Chris Boswell this preseason with New York Giants.
37: Percent of NFL teams since 1990 to reach the postseason after 2-2 starts or worse, including the 2014 Steelers, who were 2-2 after four games.
99: Career touchdowns for San Diego's Antonio Gates. He could join Tony Gonzalez as the only other tight end in NFL history to reach the century mark (Shannon Sharpe is a distant third with 62).
"He’s an athlete, who happens to place kick. That’s attractive to us. We will see where we go with it."
Mike Tomlin, Steelers coach, on new kicker Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh's fourth since the preseason
"If Antonio Gates believes in his heart of hearts that I care whether or not he breaks the records that I once had, that Tony (Gonzalez) now has, (or) he ends his career with more catches, more yards, more touchdowns, more rings, if he honestly believes that, I feel bad for him. You see, I didn’t tarnish his name. I didn’t put the stain on his resume. He did that."
Shannon Sharpe, Hall of Fame TE, on Antonio Gates, who is returning from a four-game suspension due to PED use