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Old 10-08-2006, 05:38 AM   #1
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Default The key matchup: Chargers offensive line vs. Steelers front 7

By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, October 8, 2006

Chargers' offensive line: It's no secret San Diego wants to run the ball under head coach Marty Schottenheimer, particularly with the incomparable LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield and a first-year starter at quarterback in Philip Rivers. Occasionally, the Chargers will even announce where they intend to do so -- or so it seems -- by employing an unbalanced offensive line. They'll shift right offensive tackle Shane Olivea to the left side next to rookie left tackle Marcus McNeill, leaving only right guard Mike Goff and tight end Antonio Gates to the right of center Nick Hardwick. The idea is to force the defense to shift or exploit the mismatch if the defense doesn't budge. Tomlinson and his counterpart at running back, Michael Turner, averaged a combined 4.2 yards an attempt on 34 carries against the Ravens' normally stingy run defense. Somehow, San Diego still lost.

The Steelers' front seven: The Steelers dominated defensively, particularly up front, in a 28-20 loss to the Bengals on Sept. 24. The Steelers held running back Rudi Johnson to 47 yards on 19 carries (a 2.5 average) and sacked quarterback Carson Palmer a career-high six times, forcing three fumbles, one of which the Steelers recovered. They haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Edgerrin James of Indianapolis gashed them for 124 last Nov. 28, a span of 12 games, including the playoffs. And when the Steelers can take away the run, they become a very difficult defense with which to contend.

The matchup: When the Chargers shift to the unbalanced line, they want to either run behind a pair of tackles rather than a tackle and a tight end against a defense that hasn't shifted to counter, or make it easier for Gates to get off the line of scrimmage on the other side against a defense that has shifted to the strength of the San Diego formation. Although Gates is San Diego's best weapon in the passing game and a security blanket for Rivers, the Steelers must stop Tomlinson first and foremost. If they can't accomplish that, little else will matter. They held him to 62 yards on 18 attempts (a 3.4 average) in a 24-22 win in San Diego last season, although Tomlinson also caught seven passes for 68 yards. They can also try to contain Gates and chase Tomlinson down from the backside if they opt not to shift to the unbalanced side, but that's a more high-risk solution to a critical issue. EDGE: STEELERS (barely).
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