Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers passes against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) scrambles for a first down in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Pittsburgh. The Ravens won 26-23 in overtime. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
CARSON, Calif. (AP) Philip Rivers will be making his 214th straight start when the Los Angeles Chargers host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
On the opposite sideline, Devlin Hodges will make his first.
By all appearances that matchup has all the appearances of a mismatch, but Chargers coach Anthony Lynn knows that looks can be deceiving, especially after his squad played one of the worst games of his three-year tenure last week in a 20-13 loss to previously winless Denver.
''I know you are what your record says you are, but I don't see the Steelers as a 1-4 team,'' he said. ''I thought Hodges was outstanding. The first thing he did was take them straight down the field and scored. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was well-prepared. This is not too big for him.''
Hodges completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards during last Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss to Baltimore after Mason Rudolph was knocked out by a concussion. Rudolph returned to practice on Wednesday but was limited.
Rudolph made his first NFL start in Week 3 after Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in a loss to Seattle on Sept. 15. It will be only the third time since the merger and first since Dallas in 1989 that a pair of quarterbacks have made their first NFL start for a team by Week 6 or earlier.
Hodges - who is the all-time leader in passing yards in Football Championship Subdivision history (14,584) - said he felt confident going into the game last week after not getting any reps with the first team, but that things are different this week.
''Having the chance to prepare with the ones and just be in the huddle, it is kind of just confidence,'' he said. ''To me, I am getting comfortable being in the huddle with a group of guys that potentially could be there Sunday.''
While Hodges is looking to get acclimated to becoming the starter, Rivers is seeking to bounce back from one of the worst games of his career. He was 32 of 48 for 211 yards and a pair of interceptions against the Broncos. Last week marked the first time in 56 games that Rivers did not direct a touchdown drive and only the eight time it has happened. The 4.4 yards per completion were the fourth fewest of his career.
The Chargers had two turnovers inside the Denver 5 last week and have five drives this season where they have come away with no points in the red zone.
''We've moved the ball and been efficient in a lot of ways. Last week, we weren't,'' Rivers said. ''We've done some really good things offensively, but the most important, which is to score points.''
Here are some other things to watch as the 1-4 Steelers go west for the second time this season to face the 2-3 Chargers:
READY TO RUN?
The Steelers began the season talking about the need to find offensive balance. They have yet to find it, even with the carousel at quarterback. Pittsburgh ranks 29th in yards rushing so far, continuing a trend that began during the team's second-half collapse in 2018. The Steelers have gone over 100 yards on the ground just once in their past 12 games. Pittsburgh is 4-8 during that span.
Getting back on track in Los Angeles might be difficult. Defenses loaded the line of scrimmage against Mason Rudolph, daring the second-year quarterback to beat them with his arm. That doesn't figure to change no matter who is at quarterback on Sunday, be it Rudolph or Hodges. Making matters worse for Pittsburgh? Jaylen Samuels is out at least a month after recovering from a sprained left knee, leaving rookie Benny Snell Jr. as the top option behind starter James Conner.
GETTING GORDON IN GEAR
Melvin Gordon played less than half the snaps last week in his first action of the season. The Chargers running back had only 38 scrimmage yards and averaged only 2.6 yards per carry, but he's hoping that the more practice snaps he got this week will have him better prepared for Sunday.
''We have to be physical, come out and be hungry. There are still a lot more reps I need to get. I just have to find that rhythm,'' he said.
Fellow running back Austin Ekeler leads the AFC in receptions with 39.
Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had six catches against the Chargers in last year's game, but only went for 49 yards. The 8.2 average yards per reception were the fifth-fewest he has had in a game in his three-year career.
''We have a lot of respect for him as a route-runner. They have a wide combination of what he is doing,'' Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said.
Pittsburgh spent the entire offseason talking about the need to become more aggressive on defense after managing just 15 takeaways in 2018. So far, so very good. The Steelers have already produced a dozen turnovers through five weeks, one of the main reasons they've been competitive despite the numerous issues on offense.
''It's just guys being in the right position, guys knowing what they're supposed to do and being more ball aware,'' cornerback Mike Hilton said. ''Last year, we were in position a lot of the time, but we just weren't making the plays. And now it seems like we're making them when we need them.''
The next step: turning those turnovers into touchdowns. Pittsburgh has reached the end zone just three times after generating a takeaway.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Chargers center Dan Feeney, who takes over after Mike Pouncey was placed on injured reserve because of a neck injury. Four of the five starters on the offensive line have three years or less of experience.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald caught three passes for 33 yards on Thursday during the loss to the Cleveland Browns. McDonald led the team with seven targets on the night after James Conner (shoulder), Diontae Johnson (concussion), and JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) all suffered injuries. McDonald, who has been targeted 21 times over the last three games, could be more involved against the Bengals in Week 12 if any one of those three mentioned aren't able to go. Keep on an eye on things heading into next Sunday's matchup with Cincy.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington finished with a team-high 49 yards during the loss to the Browns on Thursday. With JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion), James Conner (shoulder), and Diontae Johnson (concussion) all getting banged up in this one, Washington received five targets while managing to catch just three of them. The 23-year-old could see his fantasy stock rise before the Week 12 showdown with the Bengals if any of those guys aren't able to suit up, especially for those playing in deeper formats.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Trey Edmunds finished with just three carries for 11 yards during the loss to the Browns. Edmunds yielded carries to Jaylen Samuels, who finished with five attempts for 26 yards, and while both men didn't fully capitalize on the ground after the premature departure of James Conner (shoulder), they were involved on the receiving end to some degree. If Conner is unable to suit up against the Bengals in Week 12, Edmunds has some value, but only as a desperation play in deeper leagues as Samuels will likely be more involved against Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels finished with five attempts for 26 yards in addition to five receptions for 19 yards and a touchdown against the Browns in Week 11. Samuels stepped up after James Conner was ruled out on Thursday night after re-injuring the same shoulder that kept him out over the last few weeks. Look for 23-year-old to once again be a popular waiver wire target, especially in PPR formats, heading into Week 12 against the Bengals if Conner is forced to miss another one.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph struggled in Week 11 in the loss to the Browns, finishing with 221 yards on 23-for-44 passing to go along with four interceptions. While the 24-year-old did throw a touchdown, the four picks he threw offset any chance for an adequate fantasy performance. He hasn't played well over the last three weeks, however, compiling only 654 yards and three scores, while throwing five interceptions. There is light at the end of the tunnel for Rudolph, nonetheless, as the Steelers will look to get back on track against the Bengals in Week 12, with his stock increasing if either JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) or James Conner (shoulder) are able to play after suffering in-game injuries on Thursday night.
Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri has been one of the NFL's worst kickers this year, but head coach Frank Reich remains confident in him. However, in Week 11 with the fantasy playoffs looming, you can't trust him in your lineups. He's missed five field goals and six extra points this season. He's below 80 percent accuracy in both categories, and this figures to be a low-scoring game. You just can't trot him out this week, as there are likely several options available that are better than him.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack has only cleared 100 scrimmage yards in a game twice this season. One of those was all the way back in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers. In Week 11, he has a good matchup that could see that number grow to three. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Indy's Week 11 opponent, have been decent against the pass, but they're allowing over 120 yards per game on the ground. Mack is still in the RB2 conversation every week because he gets good volume, and this week he has a fair bit of upside.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (knee) is expected to start after missing last week's loss to the Miami Dolphins. After being a consistent QB2 for much of the season, he can't be trusted this week. He'll be without three of his top four wide receivers due to injuries, and he's playing against a defense that still has a fair bit of talent to make life difficult for him. With only four teams on a bye, there should be better streaming options available for this week than Brissett. Expect the Colts to lean heavily on the running game even with Brissett back in the fold.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal was quiet last week, and he'll see an uptick in his stock this week with quarterback Jacoby Brissett (knee) expected to start. However, he still can't be relied on for anything consistent. He's been boom-or-bust wideout nearly every week since he showed up on the scene in Week 3. He'll also have to deal with cornerback A.J. Bouye a fair bit in this game, which further downgrades him. Unless you have no other options, look elsewhere at wide receiver in shallow leagues. The Colts should lean more on the run this week once again.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron wanted more opportunities, and he got them last week. He saw 12 targets, but he only came down with five of them. Regardless, he remains a TE2 in Week 11. The Colts are without three of their top four wide receivers due to injury, which puts Ebron in a position to make plays every week. He has three touchdowns on the year, and with three good tight ends on byes this week, there's a short list of players that can be in front of him. If you have a better option, you can start him, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have been average against tight ends this year. Especially if T.Y. Hilton (calf) misses another game, you could do much worse than Ebron.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry caught 4-of-7 targets for 43 yards and a touchdown in a 21-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. Landry got wide open on the left side of the end zone for a one-yard score in the second quarter, giving him a touchdown in three straight games. The veteran wide receiver has been trending up in recent weeks and draws a cake matchup against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12. He will be a no-brainer fantasy option for that contest.
The Cleveland Browns Defense put on a dominant showing in a 21-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. Cleveland intercepted Mason Rudolph four times and sacked him another four times in the win. It isn't all good news, however, as star pass rusher Myles Garrett is probably looking at a lengthy suspension for his role in a brawl at the end of the game. Garrett ripped off Rudolph's helmet and hit him with it after a sack late in the contest. Cleveland's defense will be a top option in Week 12 against the Miami Dolphins regardless of whether Garrett is available or not.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield got the job done in a 21-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. Mayfield completed 17-of-32 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He also added a one-yard rushing touchdown on the evening. The rushing score was a gift as Odell Beckham Jr. appeared to have a touchdown reception which was overturned after the scoring play was reviewed, putting the ball at the Pittsburgh one-yard line. After a rough start to the season, Mayfield is starting to trend upwards. He draws a beautiful Week 12 matchup against the tanking Miami Dolphins.
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb carried the ball 27 times for 92 yards in a 21-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. Chubb was mostly bottled up by a tough Pittsburgh run defense but the 27 carries go down as a season-high as he became the first NFL player to rush for 1,000 yards in the 2019 season. He did check out near the end of the game with what appeared to be a groin issue. On the negative side, Chubb only drew one target as newly reinstated Kareem Hunt continues to cut into his passing game work. Either way, Chubb will be a lock-button play in Week 12 against a weak Miami Dolphins Defense.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt carried the ball six times for 12 yards and added six receptions for 46 yards in a 21-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. Hunt continues to be deployed as Cleveland's passing-down back, out-targeting Nick Chubb eight to one in the contest. Chubb also appeared to tweak his groin toward the end of the game, which could lead to more work for Hunt against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12 if Chubb is unable to play or is limited. Hunt's work in the passing game has him on the radar as a flex option in PPR leagues going forward.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caught 4-of-10 targets for 60 yards in a 21-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Beckham had a touchdown wiped off the board at the end of the first drive when official review revealed that his knee was down inside the one-yard line, right before the ball crossed the goal line. Beckham wound up settling for a 42-yard reception. He was mostly quiet for the rest of the game as he and Baker Mayfield continue to struggle to get on the same page. Despite the slow season, Beckham could very well erupt in Week 12 as the Browns take on the tanking Miami Dolphins.
Free-agent RB Jay Ajayi (Eagles) will visit the Philadelphia Eagles Friday, Nov. 15, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Ajayi played well for the Eagles in 2017, but knee injuries took a toll on his production. If he does return to the Eagles, he won't have any fantasy appeal in a crowded backfield.
Updating a previous report, Cleveland Browns FS Morgan Burnett (Achilles) has been ruled out for the remainder of the Week 11 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with an Achilles injury.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner (shoulder) has been ruled out for the remainder of the Week 11 game against the Cleveland Browns after suffering a shoulder injury.
Fantasy Spin: After his shoulder injury flared up, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Conner miss additional time going forward. Jaylen Samuels would be the back to own in Conner's absence.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) won't return to the Week 11 game against the Cleveland Browns after being diagnosed with a concussion.
Fantasy Spin: Diontae Johnson is currently second on the team in receptions and could be worth a flier as a desperation flex play if Smith-Schuster misses additional games.