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It’s Steelers vs. Chargers game day!!!

January 11, 2009 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

It’s Sunday morning, and I can’t wait until game time. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to arrive.

The weather forecast for Pittsburgh calls for temperatures in the 20′s, but later in the game, the wind chill should make it feel like 18 degrees. That’s perfect Steelers weather. The team has been practicing outdoors this week to acclimate themselves to the conditions. Everybody is healthy, and the Black and Gold is ready to kick some Charger butt.

On the other hand, the Chargers come limping into Heinz Field. LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t going to play. Antonio Gates is hurt (although he is going to play). And Darren Sproles is about to find out that running against the Steelers is a lot more difficult than running against the Colts.

That leaves Philip Rivers as the Chargers’ best hope for victory. Rivers is the NFL’s highest rated quarterback. However, he had his worst game against the Steelers.

Rivers, who was born in Alabama, played all of his childhood football through high school in the warm climate of Alabama. He went to college at North Carolina State, where he played in warm southern temperatures. After college, he went directly to the Chargers and their tropical southern California environment. So basically, we have a kid who has never had to shovel a driveway, has probably never built a snowman, and probably doesn’t own a good pair of winter boots, being called upon to lead the Chargers to victory in chilly winter conditions. That’s like asking an African lion to join a pack of polar bears on a walrus hunt. He’s going to be completely out of his element, and probably won’t excel.

Kickoff is at 4:45PM ET. It’s going to be a good one.

Here we go Steelers, here we go!!!!

In other news, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Tennessee Titans yesterday 13-10. I predicted that was going to happen here (scroll all the way down to the end of the article).  I never root for the Ravens.  Never.  In fact, few things make me happier than seeing the Ravens lose.  But on this occasion, I wanted the Ravens to win.  The Steelers had a tough time against the Titans.  Contrarily, we’ve beaten the Ravens twice this season.  Given the choice, I’d rather play the Ravens.

I know that some Steelers fans will say that we shouldn’t avoid tough challenges.  Others will say that we should want to play the Titans so we can get revenge for their little towel stomping episode.  To all of that, I say “phooey”.  This is not the time to be proud.  This is the time to be pragmatic. 

I don’t care about revenge.  At least not right now.  Yes, the Titans did stomp on a Terrible Towel.  And they’re going to pay for that.  But not now.  Now is not the time for that.  The only thing that matters right now is winning another Lombardi Trophy.  And in my opinion, playing the Ravens is a more favorable path to that goal. 

If we played the Titans, we would have to play in their house.  But now that the Titans are eliminated, any opponent that we play leading up to the Super Bowl will have to come to our house.  If we can take care of business today, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Heinz Field.  That’s huge.

So bring on the Chargers.  And if things go the way that they should, bring on the Ravens.  In our house.  Beating the Ravens 3 times in the same season will be sweet.  Real sweet.

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Playoffs: Steelers vs. Chargers Key Match-ups

January 09, 2009 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

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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Steelers vs. Chargers Playoff Preview

January 09, 2009 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

January 9, 2009
By Donald Starver

This Sunday, the San Diego Chargers will make their second trip of the season to Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In the first game, the Steelers defeated the Chargers 11-10 in one of the strangest games in recent memory.

Several things made that game strange, first of which was the score.  It was the first time in NFL history that a game had ever ended with a score of 11-10.  The second oddity was the discrepancy between the on-field statistics and the final score.  The Steelers dominated the time of possession with 36:31 versus only 23:29 for San Diego.  They dominated total yardage 410-218.  They had 24 first downs versus only 16 for the Chargers.  Big Ben passed for 308 yards and had a 96.4 passer rating, while Philip Rivers was held to only 164 yards passing, and a 44.4 passer rating.  Willie Parker rushed for 115 yards, while LaDainian Tomlinson was held to only 57 yards.  Hines Ward had 124 receiving yards, while the Chargers leading wide receiver had only 29 receiving yards.  Yet, despite Pittsburgh’s clear dominance, the Chargers were leading with 30 seconds left in the game.  It took a field goal by Steelers’ kicker Jeff Reed with 15 seconds remaining in the game to salvage a Steelers’ victory.  Huh?  (Cue Twilight Zone music).

One of the key reasons for the discrepancy between the statistical results and the final score was the officiating.  Despite playing at Heinz Field, the Steelers didn’t get any home cooking from the referees.  In fact, the refs called 13 penalties on the Steelers for 115 yards.  Contrarily, the Chargers were penalized only 2 times for 5 yards.  Yeah, that will ruin an otherwise dominant performance.

Coming into this game, neither team has reason to feel overconfident.  The Chargers must remember how they got absolutely manhandled by the Steelers.  The Chargers’ defense couldn’t stop the Steelers from running the ball or throwing the ball.  The Chargers’ offense was equally impotent.  Philip Rivers was sacked twice and threw two interceptions on his way to a whopping 164 yards passing.  LaDainian Tomlinson was held to only 57 yards rushing on 18 carries.  Ouch!  That’s got to be fresh in their minds.

Despite dominating statistically, the Steelers can’t feel particularly positive about that game either.  The Chargers’ defense kept the Steelers’ offense out of the endzone for the entire game.  The Steelers’ offensive futility could be summarized by one play.  The Steelers had a fourth and goal from inside the Chargers’ 1 yard line.  Rather than kick the field goal, the Steelers chose to go for it.  The Chargers stopped Mewelde Moore cold and took over on downs.  Though they weren’t able to contain the Steelers’ offense, the Chargers “D” got stops when they absolutely needed them.

Additionally, the Steelers have to remember all of the mental mistakes that they made during that game.  The referees weren’t bribed by the Chargers.  The Steelers made mental errors that cost them 115 yards in penalties.  It’s hard to win in the NFL with that many penalties, regardless of how dominantly a team may be playing.

The Steelers left that game with a win, but it didn’t feel particularly good.  It probably felt the same as kissing your sister.  It was a win, but it was certainly nothing to be proud of.

So now, the two teams will meet again.  Both will want to make amends for their earlier performance.  The Chargers know that history is not in their favor.  They have played the Steelers in Pittsburgh 13 times in their teams’ regular season history.  They have left Pittsburgh with a loss all 13 times.  Strangely though, the Chargers have faced the Steelers in Pittsburgh twice in the playoffs, and they’ve won both games.  Go figure.

The weather will not be on San Diego’s side.  The forecast calls for temperatures in the 20′s, with a chance of snow.  Not ideal conditions for a team from southern California.

To make matters worse, the Chargers are likely to be without LaDainian Tomlinson.  Tomlinson is reported to have a groin tear.  While he has not officially be scratched from the game, it is highly unlikely that he will play.  Additionally, tight end Antonio Gates is also battling injuries.  He was questionable for the Chargers’ game last week against the Colts, but ended up playing.  The same is likely to hold true this week.  Gates will play, but he won’t be at his best.  That’s good news for the Steelers, but terrible news for the Chargers.

All is not lost though for the San Diego Chargers.  They still have Philip Rivers at quarterback.  Rivers ended the season as the NFL’s highest rated quarterback.  Rivers threw for twice as many touchdown passes as Ben Roethlisberger while also throwing fewer interceptions.  The kid’s pretty good.

Despite being without LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers can call upon capable backup Darren Sproles.  Sproles had 328 all-purpose yards in last week’s win over the Colts.  Sproles is short (5’6″) and quick, and presents a totally different challenge than LaDainian Tomlinson.  Don’t be fooled by his small stature.  Sproles plays much bigger than he actually is.  Additionally, he’s got a low center of gravity, and he can change directions much faster than his bigger defenders.

The Chargers enter the game as one of the hottest teams in the NFL.  They’ve won 5 straight games, and are averaging 34.4 points during that stretch.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers are a team on the rise.  They ended the season as the 25th ranked defense in the NFL.  Not overly impressive.  However, since Ron Rivera took over as defensive coordinator in the middle of the season, the Chargers’ defense has become much more aggressive.  Remember, this defense denied the Steelers a single touchdown last time they met.

Just as the Chargers would like to avenge their last game against the Steelers, the Steelers also want to make amends.  Last time they faced the Chargers, they got inside the Chargers’ 20 yard line 3 times, and failed to score a touchdown each time.  They know that they have to score touchdowns in order to win this time.

“We moved the ball, but we sputtered in the red zone”, said Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  “We can’t afford to do that.  We can’t turn the ball over.  The big thing is we can drive up and down the field, but we have to be able to put the ball in when we get down there”.

That game was not the only game in which the Steelers’ offense has sputtered.  In seven games against teams that made the playoffs this year, the Steelers managed only 8 touchdowns.    That is not good enough for a team with hopes of winning a Super Bowl.

“There’s no hocus-pocus or secret formula for getting the ball in the end zone,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.  “We’ve got to execute better.  We’ve got to put our guys in a better position to capitalize on field position”.

The Steelers’ offensive woes come from three sources.  Firstly, the offensive line has been suspect all year long.  Many felt that the Steelers’ offensive line needed a complete overhaul after last season when they allowed Big Ben to be sacked 290 times (okay, maybe not THAT many times, but it was still too many).  Many Steelers fans were disappointed when the offensive line wasn’t addressed more aggressively during the draft and free agency.

The second problem has been Willie Parker.  Fast Willie has battled a series of injuries this season, and hasn’t resembled the back who led the NFL in rushing last year before breaking his leg.

The third, and definitely most important problem has been Big Ben.  Roethlisberger’s performance this year can best be described as “inconsistent”.  Roethlisberger threw for 17 TDs and 15 INTs, and ended up with a passer rating of 80.1.  That’s just not good enough for a $100 million dollar franchise quarterback.  Moreover, Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times.  That’s second worst in the NFL.  Some of that was attributable to the aforementioned offensive line, but some of it was also attributable to Ben.  Ben has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long in an effort to make the big play.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes……….

Roethlisberger is coming off a concussion suffered in the Steelers’ season finale against the Cleveland Browns.  The Steelers medical staff has cleared Ben to play on Sunday, but I’m sure all of Steeler Nation will be watching Ben for any sign of lingering effects from the concussion.

So the Steelers will send their 22nd ranked offense against the Chargers’ 25th ranked defense.  That’s a pretty even battle.  Pathetic, but even.  Fortunately, the Steelers have an ace in the hole.

Whenever the Steelers offense has struggled, their #1 ranked defense has been able to pull out a win.  While the Steelers offense may be evenly matched against the Chargers’ defense, the Chargers’ offense should be no match for the Steelers’ defense.  This is especially true with Tomlinson out, and Gates at less than 100%.

NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and the rest of the Steelers defense should be able to contain the Chargers offense, and give Mike Tomlin his first playoff victory as a head coach.

Next up, the Baltimore Ravens (yes, I am predicting a Ravens victory over the Titans).

For more information on the Steelers-Chargers playoff game, please read our Steelers-Chargers Playoff Key Match-ups, which can be found here.

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Steelers to face Chargers

January 04, 2009 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

Peyton Manning may have won the NFL MVP award, but he couldn’t lead his team past the first round of the playoffs.  One day after accepting his MVP trophy, Manning and the Indianapolis Colts got booted out of the playoffs by the San Diego Chargers.

The two teams found themselves tied 17-17 at the end of regulation.   The Chargers won the coin toss and got the first possession in overtime.  That would be all that they’d need.  Before the Colts could even touch the ball in overtime, Chargers’ running back Darren Sproles sprinted into the endzone to end the Colts’ season.

Sproles, who is actually a Smurf (okay, maybe not, but how do you explain his 5’6″ height?), torched the Colts defense for 328 total yards.  He had 105 yards rushing, 45 yards receiving, 106 yards on 4 kickoff returns, and 72 yards on three punt returns.  Pretty good for a munchkin.

Sproles only found himself playing when starter LaDainian Tomlinson had to leave the game due to a groin injury.  This is the second year in a row that Tomlinson has punked out……..errrr, “been unable to play due to injury”, during the playoffs.

It’s too early to say, but the initial indication is that Tomlinson won’t be able to play next week against the Steelers.  Perhaps his injury is serious, but it sounds like a thinly veiled excuse to avoid playing against the bruising Pittsburgh defense.

The Steelers faced the Chargers during week 11 of the regular season.  The Steelers won that game 11-10.  That game came down to the wire when Jeff Reed hit a 32 yard field goal with 15 second left in the game to seal the victory.

The Steelers actually dominated the Chargers in just about every category during that game.  Unfortunately, one of those categories was penalty yards.  The Steelers had 13 penalties for 115 yards, while the Chargers only had 2 penalties for 5 yards.  It’s hard for a team to overcome 115 yards in penalties, regardless of how well they play.

Despite all of the penalties, the Steelers held the Chargers to less than 70 yards rushing, and held Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers to only 164 yards passing.  That’s some pretty stingy defense.

Not only did the defense dominate, the Steelers’ offense also dominated.  They gained 410 yards, compared to only 218 yards of offense for San Diego.  Ben Roethlisberger passed for 308 yards, Willie Parker had 115 yards rushing, and Hines Ward had 124 receiving yards.  As they’d say in London, the Steelers kicked their bloody arses.

Given what happened the first time the two teams played, I don’t think Steelers fans should be overly concerned about Sunday’s game.  Sure, they Chargers could win.  But I don’t think they will.  Not only did the Steelers beat the Chargers before, but this time the Chargers will be without LaDainian Tomlinson.  Sunday’s game is also being played in Pittsburgh, a very difficult places for opposing teams to win.  Moreover, the forecast is calling for temperatures in the low 20′s next weekend in Pittsburgh.  Not ideal conditions for a team from sunny San Diego.

Elsewhere in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens (boo!!!!!) defeated the Miami Dolphins 27-9.  The Ravens will now travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

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Troy Polamalu touchdown called back.

November 17, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players

Anyone who watched the Steelers-Chargers game saw Troy Polamalu make a last second touchdown that would have made the final Score 18-10, and would have allowed the Steelers to cover the spread. Unfortunately, the referees didn’t quite understand the rules (or they were trying to manipulate the spread), because they called the play back. This made the final score 11-10, and prevented the Steelers from covering the spread.

The referees later said that they made a mistake, and that the touchdown should have counted. Here is the play for those of you who missed it.

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