This Sunday, the San Diego Chargers invade Heinz Field to take on our Pittsburgh Steelers. San Diego has never won a regular season game in Pittsburgh. If the Steelers are to keep that streak alive, these are the key match-ups that they must control.
Steelers center Justin Hartwig vs. Chargers’ nose tackle Jamal Williams
Williams is a huge 6’3″, 348 lbs. nose tackle. According to Hartwig, Williams is one of the most most difficult tackles he has ever faced. If the Steelers running game is to succeed, Hartwig will have to keep Williams from collapsing the pocket. This may prove to be a difficult challenge. However, facing huge nose tackles is exactly the reason why Justin Hartwig was brought in to replace last year’s center Sean Mahan. Advantage: Chargers.
Steelers linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley versus Chargers QB Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers is the top-rated QB in the NFL. He leads the league in touchdown passes. In order to prevent him from picking the Steelers apart, the defense is going to have to put constant pressure on him. Fortunately, the Steelers have two of the NFL’s sack leaders to apply that pressure. Harrison and Woodley will need to keep Rivers on the run, or it could be a long day for the Steelers’ secondary. Advantage: Steelers.
Steelers cornerback William Gay vs. Chargers wide receiver Chris Chambers
Ike Taylor will probably be called upon to guard 6’5″ Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson. That leaves Chris Chambers for William Gay. Gay is making his first NFL start. While Gay has done well for the Steelers as a nickel back, he has never been called upon to stop an opposing receiver for the entire game. With Philip Rivers delivering the passes, this is going to be a tough debut for Gay. Advantage: Chargers.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu vs. Chargers receiver Antonio Gates
Gates is Philip Rivers’ favorite target. He is one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL, and he is sure to challenge Polamalu. But Troy Polamalu is a Pro Bowl caliber safety, and he should more than hold his own against Gates. Advantage: Neither.
Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon vs. Chargers LB Shaun Phillips
Shaun Phillips is the Chargers’ best defensive lineman. He is one of their leading tacklers, and he leads the team in sacks. Phillips will challenge Colon, but Colon should be up to the task. It is not very often that I get to say that, so let me enjoy this moment for a second. Advantage: Neither.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Chargers secondary
Big Ben has not been having a good time lately. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns over the past 4 games, and his QB rating is far below his usual standard. However, this week Roethlisberger will be facing the NFL’s worst passing defense. This may be just what the doctor ordered to help Big Ben get out of the funk that he’s been in lately. Advantage: Steelers.
Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Steelers’ run defense
LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the best running backs in the NFL. However, this year has not proven to be a very good one for Tomlinson. Tomlinson’s average of 69.9 yards per game is the lowest of his career. Things shouldn’t get any better for him this week as he faces the Steelers top-rated defense. Advantage: Steelers.
Overall, I believe the Steelers have the advantage in this game. The Chargers are playing below expectations, and they don’t tend to play particularly well on the road. They’ve never won in Pittsburgh, and they’ll be facing the toughest defense they’ll probably meet all year. That is a formula for failure. I predict a 24-13 Steelers win.
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