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01-08-2009, 12:04 PM
Chargers-Steelers playoff preview
USA TODAY breaks down Sunday's AFC divisional playoff:

AFC divisional playoff

San Diego Chargers

4:45 p.m. ET Sunday (CBS)

Pittsburgh Steelers
9-8, AFC West champs

at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

12-4, AFC North champions
Results | Roster


When the Chargers pass
Edge Steelers

The Steelers boast the No. 1 pass defense (156.9 yards a game) and two premier pass rushers in Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison (16 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (11½ sacks). Conversely, Chargers QB Philip Rivers tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes (34) and led in passer rating (105.5). He has excellent receivers in TE Antonio Gates and WRs Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers. RB Darren Sproles is also a dangerous threat on checkdowns. But the Chargers could become predictable here if their run game falters.

When the Steelers pass
Edge Steelers
The Chargers had the second-to-worst pass defense in the AFC (247.4 yards a game) and gave up 310 yards to Peyton Manning last week. Ben Roethlisberger will exploit that unless San Diego can generate a pass rush.

When the Chargers run
Edge Steelers
With LaDainian Tomlinson limited at best, Darren Sproles and RB Michael Bennett will be hard-pressed to gash the AFC's best run defense.

When the Steelers run
Edge Even
The Steelers uncharacteristically were 23rd in rushing in 2008 (105.6 yards a game). But Willie Parker is healthier. Still, San Diego's front seven is formidable.

Special teams
Edge Chargers
Chargers P Mike Scifres showed what a weapon he is last week. Sproles is a game-breaking returner, and the Steelers are suspect in coverage.

Edge Steelers
Mike Tomlin seeks his first playoff win. With Dick LeBeau's defense behind him, he has a good chance of achieving that even though Norv Turner's bunch is hot again late in the season.

The X factor
Edge Steelers
The Chargers were able to sneak past the Indianapolis Colts without a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson. But the Pittsburgh defense is too physical for San Diego not to have a strong ground presence, so the Chargers will be hard-pressed to craft an upset if they are forced to use a one-dimensional passing approach on offense. As long as QB Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and avoids turnovers, this will be an easier Steelers win than most predict.

Prediction: STEELERS 27, CHARGERS 19

•TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

•Keys to the game: All eyes will be on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who hasn't played since being carted off the field with a concussion in the regular-season finale. And he had been playing sporadically before that.

The Chargers managed one sack against the Indianapolis Colts, but the Steelers have a far more vulnerable offensive line. It will be very important for Pittsburgh to get RB Willie Parker on track early to help ease Roethlisberger into the flow of the game and protect him from taking big hits. When the Steelers go to the air, look for Roethlisberger to target CB Antonio Cromartie, who has been picked on for much of the season.

Pittsburgh does need to find a way to sustain drives because even its top-ranked defense will be hard-pressed to hold San Diego in check for four quarters. The Chargers got a big game from TE Antonio Gates on Saturday and have an underrated receiving corps. The Steelers will counter with a heavy dose of blitzes and attempt to get to QB Philip Rivers before he has a chance to go through his reads.

•Matchup to watch — Chargers' running game vs. Steelers' run defense: Pittsburgh didn't allow a 100-yard rusher during the regular season and has allowed two in the last three years. That trend is likely to continue Sunday.

Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson's availability will probably be determined just before game time because of a significant groin injury, and there's a good chance he'll see only spot duty if he suits up. Although 5-6 backup Darren Sproles had 328 combined yards Saturday, he will have a difficult time penetrating a Pittsburgh run defense that allowed 80.2 yards a game during the regular season.

But San Diego can't afford to abandon the running game. The Steelers' pass rush is too good to face without some sort of ground threat. A key to watch is Steelers NT Casey Hampton battling in the middle and trying to consume double-teams against Chargers C Nick Hardwick and OGs Kris Dielman and Mike Goff.

•Fast facts: Roethlisberger has five turnovers in his last six quarters. … The Chargers have won both postseason meetings, both in Pittsburgh: 31-28 in the first round of the 1982 playoffs and 17-13 in the 1994 AFC Championship Game.

01-08-2009, 12:19 PM
Sproles is a game-breaking returner, and the Steelers are suspect in coverage

steelers #1 against kick returns - 19.1 yds

steelers #4 against punt returns - 6.2 yds

01-08-2009, 12:21 PM
thats a good article talking bout some key match-ups

01-08-2009, 12:23 PM
steelers #1 against kick returns - 19.1 yds

steelers #4 against punt returns - 6.2 yds

ya i was going to say that we have the BEST coverage in the league :thumbsup:

01-08-2009, 12:24 PM
Here's the problem I have with an article like this. It almost discounts anything the chargers have done the last 5 weeks.

While I know the Steelers can win, you can't discount the turn around the chargers have had or the fact that the defense has imroved to the point that their pass rush has become lethal. I think their offense is still the way it was back in week 11, but they have the potential for an upset and the guy who wrote this article seems to sweep all that under the rug.

01-08-2009, 12:32 PM
Unfortunately, no Steelers win has been an easy win. I don't think that will change this weekend.

01-08-2009, 01:12 PM
this will be an easier Steelers win than most predict.

I'm curious to see if Tomlin holds Ben back a little early on. I actually believe we'll see alot of passing out of running formations.

23-13 STEELERS!!