Chargers vs. Steelers score: Defense, James Conner lead Pittsburgh to win in Devlin Hodges' first start

Hodges didn't need to do much as his teammates gave him plenty of help

Let's start here: This game was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers jumped out to an early lead against the Los Angeles Chargers, staking themselves to a two-touchdown cushion just 10 minutes into the first quarter. They maintained a lead of at least two scores until there were less than two minutes left in the game, and it never really felt like the Chargers were in it anyway.

Working with the third quarterback on their depth chart under center, the Steelers were nonetheless able to employ a game plan typically used by heavy favorites trying to ice the clock late in the game. Pittsburgh called for a pass only when absolutely necessary for much of the night, preferring instead to let James Conner and Benny Snell move the chains. 

When they did throw, the Steelers mostly asked Devlin Hodges to get the ball into a playmaker's hands as quickly as possible and let them do all the work. It ended up being a winning strategy, thanks largely to a stifling performance from the Devin Bush-led Steelers defense. 

With that in mind, here are a few more things to know about Pittsburgh's 24-17 victory. 

Why the Steelers won

They got dominant play up front on both sides of the ball. 

The offensive line cleared the way for a monster game from James Conner, as well as efficient running from Benny Snell, who was filling in for Jaylen Samuels. Conner totaled just 41 yards on his 16 carries, but one of them found the end zone, and the majority of the 78 yards (and another touchdown) he gained on his seven catches came after the grab, with the big boys clearing the way. 

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh defensive line ended the game with only one sack, but that dramatically undersells their impact. These guys were in Philip Rivers' face for essentially the entire game. The box score credits them with five hits on Rivers, and that feels like it has to be low. Their ability to generate pressure without having to resort to the blitz allowed the Steelers to keep their safeties back in coverage, which forced Rivers to repeatedly check down all night long. A solid job of tackling limited the Chargers mostly to short gains. Additionally, the Steelers held Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to a combined 32 yards on 13 carries. 

Why the Chargers lost

Where should we start? The eight penalties for 74 yards? The lopsided time-of-possession battle? The insistence on Establishing The Run early in the game? The turnovers? The defensive touchdown they allowed? The complete inability to account for Conner in coverage? The strange lack of usage for Keenan Allen? It's extremely difficult to pick just one of these factors. 

Turning point

Considering it never felt like the Chargers were even remotely in the game after this, we have to zero in on the Devin Bush scoop-and-score touchdown in a bizarre backwards pass Philip Rivers threw to Melvin Gordon, which went way over the running back's head and ended up idling on the ground. 

This touchdown gave the Steelers an early lead, taking pressure off Hodges and allowing them to play this game exactly as they wanted: a ton of runs; short, quick passes; and soft zone coverage that forced the Chargers to keep completing short passes over and over in order to move the ball down the field. With the pressure they were generating, the Chargers were largely unable to do so. The reason the Steelers were able to enact this plan was because they took the early lead, and that came right here.

Highlight play

Let's get some James Conner action here, shall we? 

OK so that's just a nice run through a monster hole, created by a terrific combo block from Alejandro Villanueva and Vance McDonald. But what about Conner's second touchdown, which doubled as the first TD toss of Devlin Hodges' career?

Conner sneaks out of the backfield on a swing route here, and he's aided by a couple of picks from the receivers who aligned on the right side of the formation. But he makes Jatavis Brown miss all on his own, and then waltzes right into the end zone. And he wasn't done. 

Conner ended the evening with 119 total yards on his 20 touches, plus the two scores showcased above. Not bad for a night's work. 

What's next?

The Steelers push their record to 2-4, and they'll take their bye next week. They return from the break with a game against the decrepit Miami Dolphins in Week 8. They may or may not have Mason Rudolph (concussion) back in the fold by the time, and he may or may not get the job back after Hodges looked mostly fine filling in on Sunday night. The loss gives the Chargers a matching 2-4 record, and they'll take a visit to Tennessee to play the Titans next week. The injuries are piling up for LA, and they very badly need to get healthy. Hopefully some reinforcements are on the way at some point. 

Live updates
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@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:21 AM
@Chargers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:16 AM

The Chargers will lose to Devlin Hodges. They gave the Steelers 14 points in the early going via turnovers, and that was that. Chargers blow a huge opportunity to gain ground on the Chiefs in the AFC West. And the Steelers aren't dead? They're 2-4. But the AFC North hasn't been great. Both the Chargers and Steelers are two games back of the division lead.

That's going to do it for our live updates. Stay tuned for takeaways, which should be up shortly. Thanks for joining us!

@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:15 AM
@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:14 AM
@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:13 AM

Horrible throw. No chance to be completed

This time he is picked by Sutton

Rivers put up a floater and should've been picked. That was a prayer

@Chargers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:11 AM
@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:11 AM

Rivers will have to go 98-99 yards in 1:03 with no timeouts

They actually punt! And down it inside the 2!

Steelers line up to punt ....

I'd go for it. Get a yard and win.

Would be a 54-yarder. Or they can go for it. Or punt.

Hodges keeps it. He's short of the first down

Third-and-8. No way Steelers throw right?

@Chargers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:09 AM

Steelers recover. Get stuffed twice. 1:16 left. Comes down to third down

I would kick it deep. The new rules have made it impossible to recover onside kicks

Also, game on? 89 seconds left. Chargers have all their timeouts.

@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:05 AM
@Chargers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:04 AM
@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 3:01 AM

Rivers to Davis for a first down at the 2-minute warning. Chargers still have all three timeouts. So if they keep all of them and score, they'll have a chance.

Why is Gordon in the game over Ekeler? Ekeler is a better pass-catching back

Rivers --> Moore. If Rivers had more time, would've been a TD.

@steelers via Twitter
October 14, 2019, 2:57 AM
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