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After West Coast win, Steelers ride depth, momentum into bye

Mon Oct 14 2:33pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

Players: Philip Rivers, Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, James Conner, Mason Rudolph, Jaylen Samuels, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Devlin Hodges, Benny Snell Jr.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges passes during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)


Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner, left, gets by Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Jatavis Brown as he runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)


Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush celebrates a touchdown after picking up a backward pass by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)


PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin declined to discuss whom he gave the game ball to after watching his undermanned club potentially resurrect its season with a 24-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

''I keep that business between us,'' Tomlin said.

Considering what his team did Sunday night against the Chargers, maybe Tomlin should have cut the ball into 53 equal pieces. Rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges was efficient, if not spectacular, while filling in for injured Mason Rudolph. Running back James Conner rolled up 119 total yards and two touchdowns. Rookie backup Benny Snell Jr. ran for 75 yards, most of them coming in the second half after Conner left with a quad injury. The defense forced three more turnovers, two of which ended up in the hands of linebacker Devin Bush.

''We live by the creed, `The Standard is the Standard,''' Tomlin said. ''But those are just words. The players, the guys, make that reality.''

A reality that has the Steelers (2-4) heading into a welcome bye week with something akin to momentum. Pittsburgh begins a three-game homestand against winless Miami (0-6) on Oct. 28 and considering the current state of the AFC North - only Baltimore (4-2) has a winning record - the Steelers are still somehow relevant.

''We just need to come back healthy for the next game and be prepared for the season ahead,'' wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. ''We are super excited with how we played tonight and how much we put on the board.''

That's thanks in large part to Bush, who is looking every bit worth the investment the Steelers made when they traded up in the draft to take him with the 10th overall pick. Bush pounced on a backward pass by Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers in the first quarter and returned it 9 yards for a touchdown. He picked off Rivers on the Chargers' next possession and Hodges led a 40-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard sprint to the end zone by Conner.

Bush already has two interceptions and four fumble recoveries six games into his NFL career while becoming a vital part of a defense that already has created 15 takeaways, matching Pittsburgh's total from all of last season.

''I think it has all come together for all of us as a unit,'' Bush said. ''A lot of new faces out there. I think week in and week out. We keep taking our step. We learn a lot about ourselves and how dominant we can be if we are all on the same page.''

WHAT'S WORKING

Even with the change at quarterback, the defense has found a way to keep the Steelers competitive. Bush's maturity, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick's versatility - the safety moved over to corner when Joe Haden exited in the second half with a groin issue - and a pass rush that is a factor on a weekly basis has kept Pittsburgh in it even as the offense has struggled to find consistency.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Six weeks in and the wide receivers remain underwhelming. Part of the issue is the QB situation. Smith-Schuster, for example, had never practiced with Hodges until last week. In Pittsburgh's two wins, the pivotal plays in the passing game largely have come on short flips to Conner or Jaylen Samuels. Smith-Schuster is on pace for 67 receptions and 906 yards receiving, well off the 111 grabs for 1,426 yards he put up with Antonio Brown in the lineup last season. The biggest issue isn't Smith-Schuster but the inability of any of the other receivers to become a problem for opponents. Pittsburgh's other five receivers have combined for 41 receptions for 416 yards.

STOCK UP

Hodges might not hold on to the starting gig for long. While Tomlin demurred on Sunday night when asked who will start against the Dolphins, Rudolph figures to get the job back as long as he's recovered from the frightening concussion he suffered against Baltimore on Oct. 6. Still, Hodges proved himself in his first extended action. He hardly appeared rattled, perhaps shortening the leash on Rudolph if Rudolph runs into trouble when he returns.

STOCK DOWN

A tough call when a team goes to the West Coast and wins for just the 20th time in 60 tries. Yet tight ends Vance McDonald and Nick Vannett - who figured to be featured prominently to help out Hodges - each had just one catch for 5 yards.

INJURED

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt is having his finest season, but a pectoral injury on Sunday night might put his season in jeopardy. The injury could be as serious as the one defensive tackle Cam Heyward suffered in 2016, when a torn pec sent him to injured reserve. Conner's quad issue is likely minor, but Haden's groin will have to be monitored during the bye.

KEY NUMBER

3 - That's the number of teams - Indianapolis, Baltimore and Buffalo - currently with a winning record left on Pittsburgh's schedule.

NEXT STEPS

Getting healthy. Tuitt's absence could be huge if he's out an extended period. Tyson Alualu played well after Tuitt left, but Alualu isn't nearly as effective in terms of pressuring the quarterback.

Player Notes
Jordan Howard Nov 17 11:10am ET

Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard (shoulder), who is questionable for Week 11 against the Patriots, is not expected to play, according to a source. Jay Ajayi, who was signed on Friday, is expected to make his season debut as a result. You'll need to remove Howard from your starting lineups as soon as possible. Rookie Miles Sanders should see most of the touches in the backfield this afternoon and will be on the RB3 radar in PPR leagues. Ajayi is worth picking up in deeper leagues or if you own Howard, but he's a desperation play in his first game action of the season against the Super Bowl champions.

From RotoBaller

Colin Kaepernick Nov 17 9:53am ET

The Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and an eighth unidentified team had scouts present at free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick's (49ers) workout Saturday, Nov. 16, after it was moved from its original location.

From TheHuddle

Jay Ajayi Nov 17 9:13am ET

Philadelphia Eagles RB Jay Ajayi is expected to make his season debut in Week 11's game against the New England Patriots, according to a source.

Fantasy Spin: Ajayi could see a handful of offensive snaps versus New England but does not possess much fantasy value this week because he is behind RBs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott on the depth chart.

From TheHuddle

Jordan Howard Nov 17 8:53am ET

Philadelphia Eagles RB Jordan Howard (shoulder) will not play in Week 11's game against the New England Patriots, according to a source.

Fantasy Spin: Howard had been listed as questionable on the injury report after being a limited practice participant throughout the week but he probably won't be sidelined for an extended period of time. RBs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott are likely to receive the bulk of the carries in his absence, with recently-resigned RB Jay Ajayi expected to see some offensive snaps as well.

From TheHuddle

Emmanuel Sanders Nov 17 8:43am ET

San Francisco 49ers WR Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) will play in Week 11's game against the Arizona Cardinals, according to a source.

Fantasy Spin: Sanders had been listed as questionable on the injury report after missing all three of the team's practice sessions during the week. He's worthy of consideration as a starting option in all fantasy formats.

From TheHuddle

Matt Breida Nov 17 8:43am ET

San Francisco 49ers RB Matt Breida (ankle) will not play in Week 11's game against the Arizona Cardinals, according to a source.

Fantasy Spin: Breida had been listed as doubtful on the injury report after missing all three of the team's practice sessions during the week. Tevin Coleman and Rasheem Mostert will split carries versus the Cardinals in his absence, with Coleman worthy of consideration as an RB2 and Mostert as a flex option in fantasy leagues.

From TheHuddle

Le'Veon Bell Nov 17 8:43am ET

New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell (illness, knee, ribs) is expected to play in Week 11's game against the Washington Redskins, according to a source.

Fantasy Spin: Bell had been listed as questionable on the injury report after participating in two of the team's three practice sessions during the week on a limited basis. He has a favorable matchup versus Washington and should be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.

From TheHuddle

George Kittle Nov 17 8:33am ET

San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (ankle, knee) will not play in Week 11's game against the Arizona Cardinals, according to a source.

Fantasy Spin: Kittle had been listed as doubtful on the injury report after missing all three practice sessions during the week and there is no timetable for his return. None of San Francisco's other tight ends are worthy of consideration for fantasy lineups.

From TheHuddle

Kareem Hunt Nov 16 10:13pm ET

Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt will 'absolutely' continue to play a big role in the passing game, according to Jake Trotter of ESPN.

Fantasy Spin: Hunt has 13 catches for 90 yards in two games for the Browns, and he has become a safety valve of sorts for quarterback Baker Mayfield. Throw in a handful of carries, and he is worth considering as a flex option in PPR formats.

From TheHuddle

Robby Anderson Nov 16 9:53pm ET

New York Jets WR Robby Anderson has 13 total receptions in five games since QB Sam Darnold returned from a bout with mono.

Fantasy Spin: He actually had a big performance in Darnold's first game back, but Anderson has just eight catches for 97 yards in the last four games combined. A Week 11 matchup with Washington looks good on paper, but he is a big-play dependent flex option, at best.

From TheHuddle

DeVante Parker Nov 16 9:23pm ET

Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker's 'upside' may be limited in Week 11 because of the coverage skills of Buffalo Bills CB Tre'Davious White, according to Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com.

Fantasy Spin: Parker had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting with the Buffalo, but with Preston Williams sidelined, White and the Bills can focus all their attention on Parker. He is a touchdown-dependent WR3.

From TheHuddle

Blaine Gabbert Nov 16 9:13pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Blaine Gabbert (shoulder) won't be activated from the Reserve/Injured list this season, head coach Bruce Arians said Saturday, Nov. 16.

From TheHuddle

Justin Evans Nov 16 9:13pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Justin Evans (foot) needs surgery on his foot and won't be activated from the Reserve/Injured list this season, head coach Bruce Arians said Saturday, Nov. 16.

From TheHuddle

Jerry Hughes Nov 16 5:53pm ET

Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes (groin) likely will be a game-time decision for the Week 11 game.

From TheHuddle

Obi Melifonwu Nov 16 5:53pm ET

New England Patriots S Obi Melifonwu (undisclosed) was placed on the practice squad Reserve/Injured list this week.

From TheHuddle

Allen Hurns Nov 16 5:23pm ET

Miami Dolphins WR Allen Hurns signed a two-year contract extension with the Dolphins Saturday, Nov. 16, worth $8 million, according to a source. The deal includes $3.27 million in guaranteed money.

From TheHuddle

Deon Cain Nov 16 5:23pm ET

Indianapolis Colts practice squad WR Deon Cain and Chicago Bears practice squad RB Kerrith Whyte were signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers 53-man roster Saturday, Nov. 16. Terms of the contracts were not disclosed. The Steelers also waived LB Jayrone Elliott and RB Tony Brooks-James.

From TheHuddle

Bo Scarbrough Nov 16 5:13pm ET

Detroit Lions practice squad RB Bo Scarbrough was signed to the 53-man roster Saturday, Nov. 16. Terms of the contract were not disclosed. The team also waived RB Paul Perkins.

From TheHuddle