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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 vs. Jaguars: Key Match-ups

October 04, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

This week the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars. The 8:15pm game will be a nationally televised on NBC.

Before reading this week’s key match-ups, please read my Steelers-Jaguars Preview here.

Ordinarily, I would focus on the key individual match-ups that are likely to determine the outcome of the game. However, there are extenuating circumstances that need to be considered before looking at individual match-ups.

Following their Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers limp into Jacksonville with a depleted line-up. Offensively, the Steelers will be without running backs Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Carey Davis. Their running game was left so short-handed after the Ravens game that the Steelers had to sign two new players (Najeh Davenport and Gary Davis) in order to field more than the lone running back (Mewelde Moore) that remained healthy.

While the Steelers will still attempt to run the ball like they usually do, they can’t be expected to have the same measure of success as usual when fielding their 4th string running back and two JV players.

On defense, the Steelers will be missing 2/3 of their defensive front line. Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Brett Kiesel are both out. This will have an effect (though not a devastating one) on the Steelers’ defense.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Jaguars running attack has been ineffectual. The Jags have failed to hold onto a 4th quarter lead in 3 consecutive games. David Garrard’s arm, and not Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew’s legs, have carried the Jaguars.

Because of those uncontrollable circumstances, these dynamics will probably control the game:

Steelers running backs vs. Jaguars defense

Mewelde Moore was once a starting running back for the Vikings. He is an experienced veteran in the NFL. However, he is no Willie Parker. For that matter, he’s no Carey Davis (which isn’t saying a lot). Admit it Steelers fans, you were surprised when he made that one long run against the Ravens. I was too.

If the Steelers have to rely on Najeh Davenport or Gary Russell for significant carries, it is going to be a very long day. Both players watched the Steelers’ game against the Ravens with a beer in one hand and a remote control in the other. While the Jaguars defense is not as intimidating as they once were, they should be able to handle the Steelers’ 4th string running back and two couch potatoes. Advantage: Jaguars.

Jaguars running backs vs. Steelers Defense

Despite having a difficult year so far, Fred Taylor is still a Steelers killer. He always comes to play against the black n gold. And unfortunately, they can never seem to stop him. They cannot stop him on the ground. They cannot stop him with a hound. They cannot stop his forward run. They cannot stop it with a gun. They cannot stop him here or there. They cannot stop him anywhere.

Maurice Jones-Drew has rushed for less than 35 yards in three of the Jaguars 4 games this season. Can you say “scrub”, boys and girls?

The Steelers D is ranked #2 in the NFL. James Harrison is playing at a Pro Bowl level once again, and LaMarr Woodley is a budding superstar. Troy Polamalu is healthy again, and despite being a safety, he often lines up like a linebacker in Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme. Even the loss of Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel has not slowed the Steelers D. Chris Hoke is an underrated backup, and the Steelers seldom miss a beat when he comes in for Casey Hampton. Despite my earlier Dr. Seuss rhyme, Advantage: Steelers.

Steelers Offensive Line vs. Jaguars rush

The Steelers offensive line hasn’t been able to stop anybody lately. Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 729 times in the last 4 games. In fact, I think the Philadelphia Eagles are STILL sending blitzers after Big Ben. If I were Roethlisberger, I’d be doing everything in my power to try to undo whatever it is that he did that has made his offensive line hate him. Perhaps he can fly them all to Hawaii with him when he goes to the Pro Bowl. Oh wait, he already tried that. Nevermind.

34th sack this quarter!

34th sack this quarter!

Fortunately for Roethlisberger, the Jaguars defense seems to be allergic to sacks. Last week against the mighty Texans (yes, that’s sarcasm you hear in my voice), Jacksonville had a whopping zero sacks. For once, I don’t fear for Big Ben’s life going into a game. Advantage: Neither.

Steelers Receivers vs. Jaguars Secondary

The Jaguars secondary is almost as banged up as the Steelers running backs. CB Rashean Mathis has 5 interceptions in his last 4 games against the Steelers. However, his is battling a shin injury suffered against the Texans, and he hasn’t practiced this week. Safety Reggie Nelson didn’t play last week after injuring his knee the previous week. His status is questionable. Scott Starks is out for the year with an ACL injury. Chad Nkang is on the PUP list. The Jaguars have been reduced to signing high school players to fill their defensive backfield (okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. But not much). With Jacksonvilles DB’s in such bad shape, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes should be able to get 9 touchdown apiece in this game (but we’ll settle for one apiece). Advantage: Steelers.

Now let’s take a look at a few individual match-ups that may have an impact on the game.

Ike Taylor vs. Matt Jones

Jones has emerged David Garrard’s favorite target. He’s big, he’s fast, and he’s finally learned how to catch the ball. Fortunately, Ike Taylor is also big and fast. Despite having hands of stone, Taylor usually does a good job of stopping some of the best receivers in the league. Advantage: Steelers.

James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley vs. David Garrard

Since the Jaguars haven’t been able to run the ball this year, they’ve been forced to rely on David Garrard’s arm to win games. Despite being slow as molasses, Garard also manages to make plays with his legs. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are going to have to keep pressure on Garrard to keep him from picking the Steelers’ defense apart. Advantage: Steelers.

Chris Kemoeatu vs. John Henderson

Kemo has shown that he basically sucks in pass protection. Fortunately, he is big (6’3″, 344 lbs.). He is going to need every bit of his size to battle man-mountain John Henderson. “Big John” is 6’7″, and weighs 335 lbs. Hopefully, Kemo and Henderson will be magnetically drawn together by their respective gravitational fields and essentially rendered motionless. If this doesn’t happen, Kemo is toast. Advantage: Jaguars.

The real X-factor in this game will probably prove to be the Jacksonville fans. The game is being played in Jacksonville, where their fans get up for the Steelers more than they do for any other opponent. It is going to be tough for the Steelers to go in there and get a win. It is definitely going to be a loud, hostile environment for the Black and gold.

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Steelers vs. Ravens: Key Match-ups

September 28, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

As the Steelers prepare to play the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football (MNF), it is obvious that both teams are preparing for a defensive struggle. These are two of the most defensive minded teams in the NFL. Both subscribe to the philosophy of “run the ball, and stop the run”.

Beyond the overall Steelers Offense vs. Baltimore Defense, and Baltimore Offense vs. Steelers Defense match-up, here are a few of the specific match-ups that will determine the outcome of the game:

Rashard Mendenhall vs. Ravens Defense

What more need be said about this one? Nobody can run against the Ravens’ defense. A rookie running back making his first NFL start is not going to change that. Advantage: Ravens.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ravens Secondary

Everyone knows that Baltimore is going to blitz. They watched last week’s game just like the rest of us did. They know that the blitz is an effective tool against the Steelers offense, and Ben Roethlisberger in particular. Big Ben is going to have to get rid of the ball quickly. Last week that was difficult for him to do, because even though the Eagles were sending up to 8 men to rush the passer, their secondary was still able to keep the Steelers receivers from getting open (how that happened is anybody’s guess).

The Ravens’ secondary is even better than the Eagles’. Ed Reed, Chris McAllister, and Samari Rolle make up one of the most feared defensive backfields in the NFL. In order for the Steelers to win, Roethlisberger must win this battle. Advantage: Ravens.

Dick LeBeau vs. Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco is a rookie quarterback starting in his first away game. He only has two NFL regular season games under his belt. Those games were against the unimpressive Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defenses. Flacco has never seen anything like what LeBeau is about to throw at him.

LeBeau has socks that have been in more NFL games than Flacco has. Clearly, he has forgotten more about football then Flacco will ever know. It is his job to use his vastly superior knowledge and experience to completely baffle Flacco. If I were betting on this match-up, I’d put my money on LeBeau. Advantage: Steelers.

Coach Dick LeBeau

Haloti Ngata vs. Chris Kemoeatu
Besides being a battle of two of the more difficult names to pronounce in the NFL, this is a battle of two enormous human beings. “Kemo” is 6’3″, 344 lbs. Ngata is 6’4″, 340 lbs. That’s a lot of beef banging into one another.

Kemoeatu is in his first year as a starter, replacing the departed Alan Faneca. He got off to a good start against the Texans and Browns, but was totally overmatched against the blitzing Eagles. Ngata is surprisingly quick for his size, and he would be a challenge for Kemoeatu by himself. But Kemoeatu will have to battle Ngata while also preventing Baltimore’s linebackers from slipping between the gaps. Advantage: Draw.

Troy Polamalu vs. Todd Heap

Todd Heap has not been an integral part of Baltimore’s offense as of late. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he is a very capable weapon. Particularly in the red zone. If the Steelers are effective at stopping th Ravens’ rushing attack, Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron will probably instruct Flacco to go to Todd Heap as his second option. While the Steelers often drop linebackers into coverage, safety Troy Polamalu will probably get most of responsibility for stopping Heap. Advantage: Steelers.

Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu

James Harrison vs. Adam Terry

Last year, James Harrison had such a dominant performance against the Ravens on MNF, that some argue that that single game was responsible for making Harrison a Pro Bowler. Terry’s job will be to prevent Harrison from having a repeat performance. Uhhh yeah, good luck with that. Advantage: Steelers.

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Steelers vs. Browns - Key Match-ups

September 14, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses, We hate the Browns!

The Steelers play their arch-rival, the Cleveland Browns, tomorrow in Cleveland. The game is a nationally televised contest that many thought would be the first step in the Browns’ inevitable unseating of the Steelers from the AFC North throne. However, injuries have changed the complexion of the game. Moreover, the Steelers aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight.

Following last week’s Steelers win, and the Browns’ dismantling at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, many may have changed their opinion of just how ready the Browns are to take down the reigning champs. The Browns looked weak in all aspects of the game, but don’t let last week fool you. The Browns get pumped up when it’s time to play the Steelers. Moreover, the Browns have tons of injuries right now. This game is probably not going to be reflective of what the Browns can truly do. I am looking forward to the two team’s second battle later this year. Perhaps both teams will be healthy during that game.

Here are what I consider to be the key match-ups of the game:

Steelers receivers vs. Browns secondary

The Browns secondary is really banged up right now. They were torched last week by Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys for 70,000 yards. Okay, maybe not that many, but it certainly seemed like it.

The Browns will be playing without starting safety Sean Jones who is out 3-5 weeks with a knee injury. Cornerback Dave Holley has a torn ACL and is out for the entire season. Safety Brodney Pool is suffering from a concussion, but he is expected to play. The Browns two healthy cornerbacks, second year players Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald, are going to have their hands full.

Steelers receiver Hines Ward is a former Pro Bowler, and Santonio Holmes led all NFL receivers last year in yards per catch. Both players, along with “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, must have been salivating when they watched film of the Browns’ secondary this week. Advantage Steelers.

Steelers receiver Hines Ward

Justin Hartwig vs Shaun Rogers

Last year’s Steelers center Sean Mahan was sent packing, partially because he couldn’t handle the monster nose tackles in the AFC North. Cleveland Browns nose tackle Shaun Rogers may be the most monstrous. at 6′ 4″ and 350 lbs., Rogers is a human anvil. Hartwig is going to have to bring his “A” game in order to win this match-up. Of course, practicing everyday against Steelers’ nose tackle Casey Hampton has probably prepared Hartwig. Advantage Browns.

James Harrison vs. Joe Thomas

Last year, James Harrison went from back-up to Pro Bowl linebacker. In his first game as a starter he totally dominated Browns rookie LT Joe Thomas. After that game, Thomas also developed into a Pro Bowler. This may be the most interesting battle of the game. Draw.

LaMarr Woodley vs. Kevin Shaffer

Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was drafted in the 2nd round in the 2007 NFL draft. After sitting and learning during his rookie year, Woodley has emerged as the Steelers starter this year. During training camp, Woodley looked practically unstoppable. Last week against the Texans, Woodley had a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Shaffer is an experienced veteran, but he will have his hands full with Woodley. Advantage Steelers.

Braylon Edwards vs. Steelers secondary

Braylon Edwards is one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL. He made his first Pro Bowl last year, and is a tough match-up for any cornerback. Edwards is tall, fast, and he has good hands. To make matters worse, Steelers starting cornerback Deshea Townsend is out with an injury (heel contusion), and backup Bryant McFadden will be getting the start. Advantage Browns.

Browns receiver Braylon Edwards

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