Last updated: October 11th at 8:30am ET
Team Totals: Chargers 24, Steelers 17
Their quarterback situation up in the air, the Steelers’ best shot at staying competitive on Sunday night will be to ride James Conner in Los Angeles. Chargers DC Gus Bradley’s defense has been gashed for 110/538/3 (4.89 YPC) rushing by enemy backs, while Jaylen Samuels’ (knee) loss solidifies Conner’s workload with little-used rookie Benny Snell in reserve. Although Conner’s usage and results have disappointed, he does have 14-plus touches in 5-of-5 games, while Snell has carried the ball six times without a single catch this year. … The Steelers are apparently trying to rush back Mason Rudolph from last week’s terrifying neck/brain injury. If Rudolph can’t get cleared, they’ll go with UDFA rookie Delvin Hodges, who completed just 52.6% of his preseason passes at 5.0 yards per attempt and took three sacks on 41 August dropbacks. Nicknamed “Duck,” Hodges was a prolific D-2 quarterback who tested well athletically (85th-percentile SPARQ) yet wasn’t even a priority rookie free agent after the draft, accepting a paltry $1,000 signing bonus from the Steelers. Just one quarterback to face the Chargers has finished above QB14. Tee up the Bolts’ D/ST and think of Hodges as an extreme-desperation two-quarterback-league option if he does get the nod. … You’re on your own trying to throw darts at Steelers pass catchers on Sunday night. Vance McDonald seemed to aggravate his shoulder late in last week’s loss to Baltimore and is questionable to play. JuJu Smith-Schuster has shown at least a modicum of consistency with 75-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 4-of-5 games, although his outlook would be worrisome if Duck got the start. Diontae Johnson is just as likely as JuJu and Vance to command team-leading volume. James Washington’s shoulder injury may force Donte Moncrief back onto the field.
Already without LT Russell Okung (heart), the Chargers’ offensive line took another massive blow on C Mike Pouncey’s year-ending neck injury, especially concerning since Week 6 opponent Pittsburgh ranks No. 3 in sacks (19) and QB hits (37) and held its last three quarterbacks faced to fantasy results of QB17 (Lamar Jackson), QB28 (Andy Dalton), and QB27 (Jimmy Garoppolo). Although some of the Chargers’ pass-catcher matchups are favorable enough for Rivers to maintain high-end two-QB-league viability, I wouldn’t want him as my season-long starter in Week 6. Rivers has been a low-ceiling scorer to this point with a year-high finish of QB9. … The Chargers’ Week 5 offense was painful to watch as OC Ken Whisenhunt unsuccessfully forced the Melvin Gordon issue to the tune of 16 touches, which Gordon pathetically turned into 38 scoreless yards. Gordon looked slow and plodding with a long gain of seven yards, and Los Angeles’ up-front depletion bodes poorly for a rebound against a Steelers defense that leads the NFL in tackles for loss (40) and has held enemy backs to 3.95 yards per carry. An inferior fit to Austin Ekeler in the Chargers’ current offensive construct, Gordon is a low-floor flex option in Week 6. … Ekeler still out-touched (18) and out-snapped (66% to 46%) Gordon at Denver, setting a franchise record with 15 catches on 16 targets. The state of Los Angeles’ offensive line should dictate Ekeler continues to lead the backfield in usage as a superior receiver to Gordon on a team that will continue struggling to run the ball and must lean on short passes to move the chains. Still a locked-in RB2, Ekeler’s Sunday night matchup is favorable; the Steelers have yielded the NFL’s sixth-most running back catches (33).
Rivers’ 2019 target distribution: Keenan Allen 53; Ekeler 41; Mike Williams 28; Travis Benjamin 12; Justin Jackson 8; Gordon and Lance Kendricks 6; Hunter Henry 5; Virgil Green 4; Andre Patton 4. … Teams targeting the slot against Pittsburgh are 39-of-54 passing (72%) for 420 yards (7.8 YPA) and three touchdowns, boding well for Allen, who runs a team-high 52% of his routes inside. Allen blowtorched Steelers DC Keith Butler’s unit for 14/148/1 receiving last Week 13. It all adds up to a probable bounce-back week after consecutive sub-50-yard games. … Finally over his early-season injuries, Williams set Week 5 season highs in targets (13) and catches (6) in last week’s loss to Denver and is popping as Week 6’s No. 1 buy low in Josh Hermsmeyer’s Air Yards Model. Scoreless on the year and due for positive-touchdown regression, Williams is a strong WR3 play at Pittsburgh. … Benjamin operated as the Bolts’ No. 3 receiver against the Broncos but has 30 scoreless yards to show for his 12 targets this year. His fantasy appeal is limited to one-game DFS slates. … Hunter Henry (knee) still seems to be a week away, but he’s resumed practicing on a limited basis and should be added in leagues where he was dropped.
Score Prediction: Chargers 23, Steelers 17