Saturday, January 10, 2009

Steelers-Chargers Preview


The playoffs officially kick off for our beloved Steelers tomorrow at 4:45 at Heinz Field against the late-charging San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are among the hottest teams in football these days, and though I didn't believe in the Chargers for much of the season, I officially became worried about them last week when they knocked off the Colts. What follows is a breakdown of the key matchups in the rematch of the first 11-10 game in NFL history (even though it wasn't really 11-10):The Chargers Offensive Line vs. Dick LeBeau's blitz schemes
The Chargers offensive line put together a nice season this year against blitzing defenses, giving up just 25 sacks all year while guarding the mostly stationary Phillip Rivers. To his credit, Rivers has become quite good at quickly getting rid of the ball while under pressure and not doing the Ben Roethlisberger thing where he puts himself in more danger. In the game earlier this game, the Chargers gave up just 2 sacks to the Steelers line, but Rivers was under consistent pressure. Also, one of those sacks went for a safety for the Steelers. Expect Dick LeBeau to turn up the heat very early on with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley coming consistently from the outside, and using speed demons like Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons to try to bring pressure from different angles. If the Steelers are able to get after Rivers, it will go a long way toward knocking the Chargers QB out of a rhythm.
Phillip Rivers vs. Troy Polamalu
Expect Troy to be in all his shifting, pre-snap movement glory in this one, doing his best to confuse and confound Phil Rivers and the Chargers offense. Few players in the NFL can wreak as much havoc or getting in someone's head as much as Polamalu. To Rivers' credit, though, he was very, very good this season, and became a better QB than I ever thought he could really be. How Rivers makes adjustments to Polamalu and how he runs the Chargers offense with Troy quarterbacking the D will be of the utmost importance to this game.

Darren Sproles vs. The Steelers Tacklers
Expect Sproles to get the ball in a variety of ways, returning kicks, catching passes in the flat, screen passes, shovel passes, and of course just good old fashioned handoffs. How the Steelers contain this guy will be worth watching. He is your typical scat back type player, and no matter what kind of defense you are, these guys can hurt you at any time. I expect Sproles to be held mostly in check, especially when he's running the ball, but I'm also worried about the possibility of him springing 1 or 2 big plays that could end up sinking the Steelers. The Steelers typically do a spectacular job of containing dangerous players like Sproles, but after watching him last week against the Colts, I think he might be one of the most dangerous players the Steelers have faced all season, and given LT's struggles against the Steelers, his groin injury may be the best thing to ever happen to the Chargers.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. His Concussion
There's no question that one of the ultimate X factors in this game is the status of Ben Roethlisberger after suffering a concussion in Week 17. The history of QB's coming back from concussions after just a couple weeks is...well let's just say it's none too encouraging. Especially when this is the third concussion of their career, as it is with Large Benjamin. Keep a close eye on Roethlisberger's play early on to get an idea of how he is responding to the after effects of the concussion.Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers O-Line vs. The Chargers pass rush
Ben is legendary for his insistence on not throwing the pass away and keeping plays alive. Unfortunately, this often leads to too many sacks, some nasty hits on Ben, and the occassional interception. For the Steelers to win this game, we can't have any big mistakes by Roethlisberger, and given the severity of his concussion, let's hope he's also quick to throw the ball away if he is under pressure to avoid any unnecessary hits. As for the O-Line, they have come under serious fire this season, and will need to really step it up in this game and in any other playoff games the Steelers are in this year if this team is going to have any chance to make a Super Bowl run. The team's best offensive lineman this year has been far and away Max Starks, which speaks for just how weird and disappointing a season it has been considering Starks wasn't even a starter at the season's beginining.

Willie Parker vs. The Chargers Front 7
In their game earlier this season, Parker had one of his best games of the season. With Ben likely to not be operating at 100%, the Steelers would be much better off if Parker can put together another productive day.

The Kickers vs. Heinz Field
The toughest place to kick in the entire NFL figures to be at the height of its power Sunday afternoon in the frigid January weather with the howling Ohio River wind. Jeff Reed has been solid this season, and has just about mastered the ability to kick in these sorts of nasty conditions. This could be a tremendous advantage for Pittsburgh as Reed, with Adam Vinatieri now kicking indoors most weeks, has become probably the best cold-weather kicker in the NFL. San Diego has a very good kicker of their own in Nate Kaeding, but he did miss a field goal at Heinz earlier this season.

Mike Scifres vs. Mitch Berger
Probably the matchup that terrifies me the most. After one of the greatest days you will ever see a punter have last week against Indy, Scifres gives the Chargers defense a tremendous weapon that could just about level the playing field between the two defensive squads. Let's hope the Heinz Field wind somehow neutralizes Scifres and that Berger can at least be competent for the Steelers.The Pick: I can't imagine this one being a high-scoring affair. Both defenses figure to keep the opposing offenses in check for much of the game. And this is only helped by game-time conditions that are expected to be at 25 degrees with winds of 10+ MPH. I think the two squads keep it close for much of the game, and in a season full of them already, I think Ben Roethlisberger, concussion and all, leads the Steelers on a late drive for the win. Steelers 17-14.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Kudos on the Ron Burgundy picture. I agree about Roethlisberger. I'm real worried about him. There were reports earlier in the week about him having trouble even practicing with his helmet on. How on earth are we supposed to win a game with our QB struggling to remember his name? Thank god for our defense. This one may resemble a Pirates-Padres game, 2-0 or something like that.