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What to watch for in Steelers-Chargers on 'MNF'

Eleven days removed from their prime-time collapse against the Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) are angling to get back on track against the San Diego Chargers (2-2).

Here's what we'll be watching for on Monday night:

  1. The Steelers won't have star passer Ben Roethlisberger -- he's out with a knee injury -- but Pittsburgh still houses two of the AFC's top weapons in running back Le'Veon Bell and wideout Antonio Brown.

Brown has never caught an NFL touchdown pass from a quarterback other than Big Ben and saw his 35-game record streak of five-plus receptions and 50-plus receiving yards snapped against the Ravens. That came with Mike Vick under center, but we expect their connection to improve as play-caller Todd Haley expands on what he called an "extreme" reduction of the playbook against Baltimore.

"I feel so much better just having more time to practice, more time to build chemistry and learn the offense," said Vick, who enters Monday just 3-13 in his last 16 starts.

  1. Still, Pittsburgh's offense begins and ends with Bell, perhaps the NFL's finest back. With 130-plus scrimmage yards in both of his appearances this season -- and 100-plus yards in 15 of his last 18 games -- Bell is a threat to go off against a Chargers defense susceptible to big runs. The Bolts have allowed five gallops of 20-plus yards this season, second most in the NFL, while ranking 31st in yards allowed per attempt.

Bell is an on-screen fascination. His ability to make tacklers miss is a weekly plus, while the third-year wonder has also emerged as one of the game's premier pass-catching backs. Said NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah, a former pro scout: "He is so different than the player I studied at Michigan State. As a Spartan, Bell was a really good player, really versatile, but he was a heavier back. Now he's leaner, with more agility."

"Lot of size and strength at the position," said Chargers president of football operations John Spanos. "Still a very big running back and what you see with him is really excellent patience, vision, balance and feet."

  1. Is there a more underappreciated quarterback than Philip Rivers?

"He knew a lot of things that we were doing," said veteran Browns cornerback Tramon Williams after the Chargers signal-caller dissected and minced up Cleveland's secondary in Week 4.

NFL defenders have long cited Rivers as diagnosing them during games, leaving Chargers play-caller Frank Reich to acknowledge: "I knew he was an elite passer, but I didn't realize this was one of the smartest football guys in the NFL, bar none."

  1. With playmaking tight end Antonio Gates returning from suspension, Rivers has plenty of weapons to attack the Steelers' defense with. Wideout Keenan Allen's 33 receptions ties a team record through four games. Fellow receiver Stevie Johnson has been a strong fit in San Diego, while pass-catching Danny Woodhead continues to operate as one of the league's most productive backfield jitterbugs. Quick passes from Rivers make sense against Pittsburgh's active pass rush, especially with San Diego leading the NFL in yards after the catch (771) and average yards after the catch (7.8).
  1. San Diego is also relying on a positive night from rookie runner Melvin Gordon. The first-rounder is second among all rookies with 228 rushing yards and has proven to be elusive. Gordon has averaged 2.79 yards after contact over 56 attempts, fourth-best in the NFL. His 12 missed tackles ranked seventh heading in Week 5. We'll be watching to see if Gordon can steal more red-zone touches away from Woodhead in this Monday night tiff. 
  1. If your only reason to watch is Martavis Bryant, you're out of luck. Pittsburgh's second-year receiver won't suit up after tweaking his knee in last Monday's practice.
  1. Keep an eye on Steelers pass rusher Stephon Tuitt, the big-bodied end who already has four sacks, three quarterback hits and four hurries on the year. Unfortunately for fans, we won't get to see super-speedy Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier, who remains sidelined with a shoulder injury.
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