Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers (-3, 45.5 O/U)
With backup quarterback Michael Vick at the helm, the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2, 1-1 Away) dropped a heartbreaker to the division rival Ravens last week, falling back to .500 (and two games back of AFC North leading Cincinnati) in the process. With Ben Roethlisberger still on the shelf, the Steelers will look to rebound when they travel west to face the San Diego Chargers (2-2, 2-0 Home) at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday Night Football (8:30 PM Eastern).
Vick was decent in his first start as a Steeler, completing 19 of 26 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown. But Vick’s accuracy went out the window in crunch time; with a chance to put the game on ice late in the fourth quarter, Vick missed a wide open receiver on fourth down, giving the Ravens another chance – one on which they’d obviously capitalize.
Coach Mike Tomlin utilized a very conservative game plan with Vick under center, and the Steelers’ explosive offense saw a clear decline, recording only 263 total yards. The good news for the offense that WR Martavis Bryant will be back from a four-game suspension (for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy). Of course, the return of the big-play receiver will matter little if Tomlin doesn’t implement some deep passing plays.
Bryant is confident he can find some rhythm with his new QB, though. As he told the team’s official website during the week, “We’re going to keep developing our chemistry and just make sure we are ready on Monday.”
Besides going into battle without their starting pivot, one of the biggest concerns for Pittsburgh will be the kicking game. The team booted Josh Scobee to the curb after he went just 6-10 on the season and missed two late field goals against Baltimore. They signed Chris Boswell to be his replacement, but the rookie has never attempted a kick in the NFL.
Luckily for Tomlin and company, the Steeler defense has been surprisingly stout this season. They are currently eighth in scoring (18.8 PPG) and fourth in sacks (14). Facing a decimated San Diego o-line, the Steelers will be hoping to put constant pressure on Charger QB Philip Rivers, who has already been sacked 12 times on the year.
Despite all the hits he’s taken, Rivers has been phenomenal this year, posting a league-high 1248 yards through four weeks, with eight touchdowns to just four interceptions. If the offensive line can give him at least a little time to throw, those stats could climb significantly this week as TE Antonio Gates will return to the offense from his own four-game suspension.
But protecting Rivers will be a tall order and one that San Diego hasn’t been able to fill all season. Look for Rivers to routinely be on his back come Monday night and for San Diego’s recent ATS struggles against Pittsburgh (4-10 ATS in the last 14, overall, and 1-4 ATS in the last five at home) to continue.
Pick: Steelers +3.
(Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)