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.
Houston Texans RB Duke Johnson played 59 percent of the offensive snaps against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Nov. 17. RB Carlos Hyde played just 34 percent of the snaps.
Fantasy Spin: It was the first time since Week 7 that Johnson led the timeshare. Week 7 was also the last time the Texans lost. Johnson is used more in the passing game and should be expected to see more work in the Texans' tougher matchups, while Hyde will continue to be used to run out the clock in victories.
New Orleans Saints RB Latavius Murray played 41 percent of the offensive snaps Sunday, Nov. 17, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. RB Alvin Karmara played 61 percent.
Fantasy Spin: Murray also carried the ball 10 times but for just 27 yards in the victory. This was expected to be the case for the entire season with Murray getting a heavy workload in favorable game scripts for the Saints before QB Drew Brees and Kamara each missed time. Expect him to finish the season with a significant role behind Kamara, and he'll warrant flex consideration in the most appealing matchups.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Dare Ogunbowale played 43 percent of the offensive snaps in the Week 11 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Nov. 17. Ronald Jones played 31 percent and Peyton Barber made up just 18 percent.
Fantasy Spin: Ogunbowale rushed just twice for no yards and caught three of four targets for only 10 yards. The poor performance from QB Jameis Winston threw things in a blender for the Bucs' offensive plans, but Jones should be expected to be the most productive of an inconsistent trio.
Arizona Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake played 88 percent of the offensive snaps against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Nov. 17. RB David Johnson played just nine total snaps, with all coming on offense.
Fantasy Spin: Drake has totaled 283 yards from scrimmage with a rushing touchdown in three games with the Cardinals. Arizona is on a bye this week which may allow David Johnson to get fully back up to speed and could even see Chase Edmonds return to the mix, but Drake heads into the break as the most appealing option all of a sudden.
Cleveland Browns S Morgan Burnett (Achilles) underwent surgery Tuesday, Nov. 19, and is expected to make a full recovery.
Carolina Panthers WR D.J. Moore has received at least nine targets in each of his last five games.
Fantasy Spin: He has totaled 55 targets in that time and caught 36 of them for 427 yards but has failed to reach the end zone. Moore and the Panthers will have another nice passing matchup against the New Orleans Saints in Week 12 before facing the Washington Redskins and a rematch against the Atlanta Falcons. He's a quality buy-low option at the fantasy trade deadline with some positive touchdown regression ahead.
Indianapolis Colts RB Jordan Wilkins was upgraded to a limited participant on the team's estimated injury report for Tuesday, Nov. 19. The Colts didn't hold a practice.
Fantasy Spin: Wilkins missed Week 11 and he hasn't had a noteworthy day since Week 2 when gaining a total of 82 yards on five carries. That said, he's expected to split time with Nyheim Hines if able to suit up for Week 12 with starter Marlon Mack sidelined. Wilkins could be used as a desperation flex option if cleared, but he'll have a very low floor.
Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (calf) was listed as a non-participant on the team's estimated injury report for Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Fantasy Spin: Hilton remains a longshot to return for Week 12 with the Colts playing Thursday, Nov. 21, against the Houston Texans. He'll need to be started if active, but fantasy managers shouldn't be expecting him to be at 100 percent.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette needs to be more involved later in games, according to head coach Doug Marrone Tuesday, Nov. 19, after Fournette didn't receive a carry once the Jaguars fell down 24-7 against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11. 'That was my mistake. That was a big mistake by me,' said Marrone. '... I thought we needed to score points in a quicker fashion. That's what led to the increased pass attempts. That's on me as a head coach. We need to be more balanced moving forward.'
Fantasy Spin: It's common for running backs to see the ball less often when their teams are trailing, especially by multiple scores, but Fournette is one of the Jaguars' best pieces on offense. Fantasy managers would sure love to see him remain involved later in games rather than having his production capped at around three quarters of work.
Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson (ankle) stayed on the practice report Tuesday, Nov. 19, as a full participant. The report was an estimation.
Fantasy Spin: There shouldn't be any concern over Watson's status heading into an important Week 12 game against the rival Indianapolis Colts. He's coming off his worst performance of the season but remains a high-tier QB1.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (hamstring) remained listed as limited on the team's practice report for Tuesday, Nov. 19. The report is an estimation as the team didn't practice Tuesday but will hold a walkthrough at night.
Fantasy Spin: In what has become an all-too-common theme for his career, Fuller's absence continues to be pushed back. He last played briefly in Week 7, catching his lone target for a six-yard gain. He can be dangled as trade bait.
Free-agent RB Alex Collins (Ravens) had his suspension lifted by commissioner Roger Goodell Tuesday, Nov. 19, and is eligible to sign with any team. Collins is also recovered from a broken leg and able to work out for teams.
Fantasy Spin: Collins rushed for 411 yards and seven touchdowns over 10 games with the Ravens last season. He has little to offer in the passing game but could serve a goal-line role. He'll be worth keeping an eye on in case he lands in the right situation.
Houston Texans S Mike Adams (concussion), CB Lonnie Johnson (ankle) and S Justin Reid (concussion, shoulder) did not participate in practice Tuesday, Nov. 19. LB Dylan Cole (knee), WR Will Fuller (hamstring), S Tashaun Gipson (back), OL Tytus Howard (knee) and CB Bradley Roby (hamstring) were limited. QB Deshaun Watson (ankle) practiced in full. The Texans will only hold a walkthrough Tuesday night, so the injury report is an estimation.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone thinks the team relied on the pass too much in quarterback Nick Foles' return in Week 11 against the Colts. Jacksonville set a franchise record for the fewest rushing attempts in a game with nine -- six of them coming during the first half. Running back Leonard Fournette had five first-half carries and only rushed the ball three times in the second half. "That was my mistake. That was a big mistake by me. . . . I thought we needed to score points in a quicker fashion," Marrone said, via the teams website. "Thats what led to the increased pass attempts. Thats on me as a head coach. We need to be more balanced moving forward." Thankfully Fournette was heavily involved in the passing game as well, but that's two straight disappointments on the ground for him. He should be able to bounce back as a solid RB1 in Week 12 against the Titans.
The New England Patriots officially activated left tackle Isaiah Wynn (toe) from the Injured Reserve on Tuesday, according to a source. Wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (ankle, hamstring) was placed on Injured Reserve in a corresponding move. Wynn is set to return for Week 12 against the Cowboys, which will be a big boost for New England's struggling offensive line. While Wynn won't be a guaranteed upgrade on Marshall Newhouse, it's a good sign after the Patriots afforded Tom Brady little time to throw in the Week 11 win over the Eagles. Dallas' defensive front will be another tough test, so hopefully Wynn will give Brady better protection on his blind side.
Indianapolis Colts TE Eric Ebron (ankle) did not participate in practice Tuesday, Nov. 19. The Colts did not hold a practice Tuesday, so this is an estimation.
Fantasy Spin: Indianapolis did not practice Monday either and won't be going too hard Wednesday with a game at the Houston Texans on Thursday. Nevertheless, owners probably shouldn't expect much from Ebron in Week 12. Consider him a middling TE2 if he plays. If he doesn't, Jack Doyle could be a low-end streamer.
Washington Redskins DE Noah Spence was released Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Wilkins (ankle) and rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell (hand) were both listed as limited participants in Tuesday's estimation of their walkthrough practice. Wilkins was inactive in Week 11 but looks to be on track to play in Week 12 on Thursday against the Texans. It's notable with Marlon Mack (hand) out up to a month, but Jonathan Williams remains the more likely candidate for early down work on Thursday with Mack sidelined. Nyheim Hines should maintain his role as a third-down pass-catcher. Williams is the running back to target off waivers if you're in need, although both Williams and Wilkins could wind up sharing touches. Campbell is making progress but isn't expected to return until next month. He's a fine dynasty stash, but we wouldn't expect much fantasy production from him in redraft leagues the rest of the way.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) and tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) both remained sidelined for Tuesday's estimation of their practice report. The Colts aren't ruling Hilton out for a return on Thursday night against the Texans, but fantasy owners would like to see him at least get in a limited session on Wednesday. While he's been out since Week 8, Hilton would have high-end WR2 upside against a weak Texans secondary if he were to return this week. He's been notorious for having huge games against Houston in the past. Ebron looks to be in danger of sitting out on the short week. If that were to happen, Jack Doyle would have low-end TE1 appeal after throwing up a donut in Week 11. Zach Pascal has been the team's primary receiver in Hilton's absence, but he's a low-upside flex in this run-first offense.