January 9, 2009
By Donald Starver
Before reading this article, please read our Steelers-Charger Playoff Preview found here.
This Sunday, the San Diego Chargers come to Heinz Field for a second time this season to take on our Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have aspirations of going all the way to the Super Bowl this year. If that is to happen, first they have to get past the Chargers. If the Steeler hope to beat the Chargers, 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 ended the regular season as the top-rated QB in the NFL. He threw for 34 touchdowns while only giving up 11 interceptions. That’s pretty efficient. 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 the best sack tandem in the NFL to apply that pressure. Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley will need to keep Rivers on the run, or it could be a long day for the Steelers’ secondary. Advantage: Steelers.
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. Gates comes into the game battling injuries. However, he was questionable for last week’s playoff game against the Colts and still torched them for 87 yards receiving. Gates will be matched up against the Steelers’ Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. Ordinarily, these two would cancel one another out. But if Gates is hurt, Polamalu will have a clear advantage. Advantage: Steelers.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Chargers’ secondary
Big Ben has struggled with inconsistency all year long. He’s battled a series of injuries, and is coming off a concussion in his last game. Fortunately, Roethlisberger gets to face the Chargers’ secondary. The Chargers secondary was ranked 31st (next to last) in the NFL. That will certainly help to get Big Ben back on track. Chargers’ cornerback Antonio Cromartie gets burned more often than microwave popcorn. If Roethlisberger is smart, he’ll go after Cromartie early and often. Advantage: Steelers.
Chargers running back Darren Sproles vs. Steelers’ run defense
Despite being LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup, Darren Sproles can’t be taken for granted. He accounted for 328 all-purpose yards in last week’s Chargers-Colts game. I think the Colts will tell you that the kid is dangerous. Sproles is only 5’6″ tall, which presents a unique challenge, since he is hard to see behind his much bigger offensive linemen. The Steelers defense will have to be disciplined and maintain their assignments in order to contain Sproles. Fortunately, the Steelers have the second best run defense in the NFL. I’ll be surprised if Sproles exceeds 65 yards rushing. Advantage: Steelers.
Chargers Punter Mike Scifres vs. Steelers special teams
That’s right, I just said that a punter could be a key to the game. But this is not just any punter. This is Mike Scifres, the second coming of Ray Guy. Scifres was selected the Chargers’ MVP in last week’s playoff game against the Colts. The last time the Steelers played the Chargers, Scifres pinned them inside the 20 yard line on every one of his punts. Advantage: Chargers.
Overall, I believe the Steelers have the advantage in this game. The Chargers are hot right now, but the Steelers defense should prove to be too much for them. The Chargers don’t tend to play very well when they have to travel to the East Coast, and the weather definitely won’t be in their favor.
Oddly, the Chargers are 2-0 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the playoffs, despite having never won in Pittsburgh in the regular season. Never. Not once. Try explaining that one.
I predict a 24-10 Steelers victory.
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