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Old 01-11-2009, 10:01 PM   #1
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Default Offensive line, Roethlisberger step up for Steelers

Offensive line, Roethlisberger step up for Steelers
January 11, 2009
Albert Breer

PITTSBURGH -- Five things we learned from Pittsburgh's complete effort in a 35-24 win against San Diego in frosty Western Pennsylvania.

1. Crossing the line

The Steelers' offensive linemen have groused about a lack of respect from the general public, but while they've been good in spots, they've hardly exhibited the consistency of the old Russ Grimm units during the Cowher years. Sunday's performance was another up in an up-and-down year. The Steelers' group shined against a San Diego front that has improved under new coordinator Ron Rivera.

Ben Roethlisberger's 41-yard strike to Hines Ward at the end of the first half was a game-changer, and it was possible because the protection held up long enough for Ward to clear a safety and find the dead spot in the zone. It wasn't the only time Big Ben had all day to throw the ball.

And there was the brutalizing drive to start the second half: 13 plays, seven of them runs, going for 77 yards and taking 7:56 off the clock. Now, the challenge for the Steelers' offensive line will be achieving the consistency that eluded it earlier in the season.

2. Big Ben always timely

It hasn't been pretty all the time this season, but more often than not, Roethlisberger's play has been a thing of beauty when it counts. Like down the stretch against Dallas. Or against Baltimore in December.

Or on Sunday, running that crucial two-minute drive at first half's end, or converting third down after third down on the Steelers' long second-half marches. It'd be tough for the Steelers to get into a shootout. Because of their defense, they usually don't have to worry about it.

3. Losing their cool

Maybe it'll be overlooked, but as the Chargers came out like gangbusters, one mistake proved costly.

After striking for a 41-yard touchdown catch to the post, receiver Vincent Jackson drew a celebration penalty. The Chargers kicked off from their 15, the Steelers got possession at the 42, picked up two first downs, and then Roethlisberger pooch-punted to the Chargers 9. After a three-and-out, Mike Scifres' punt was returned 67 yards -- a short field for a return -- by Santonio Holmes.

That penalty and the resulting field position it yielded stemmed the early momentum, and in a hostile environment, that counts for something.

4. Pay attention

Two players who don't get enough credit for their contributions to the Steelers: LaMarr Woodley and Holmes.

Holmes not only had the long kick return, but he also churned out yardage on a couple end-arounds. He may have had only two catches, but Roethlisberger also missed him on a couple deep balls after he gained separation.

As for Woodley, while James Harrison gets a lot of the attention, what the second-year man from Michigan is doing playing on the strong side -- often over a tight end -- is worth watching. He rung up two more sacks in big spots on Sunday, one to kill a promising San Diego drive in the first quarter, and another to bury the Chargers at their 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, which effectively finished off the visitors.

5. Re-charged

It speaks to the roster-building that most of the Chargers' best players are still in their 20s. I'll bet that some people, with LaDainian Tomlinson's injury problems and declining production, will want to start tossing dirt on San Diego's future.

But they'll look silly if they do. A.J. Smith has proven that most players on the roster can be replaced through deft drafting. Remember, this is a team that lost a Pro Bowl quarterback and went 14-2 the next year.

San Diego should continue to compete at the highest level particularly because they have an elite quarterback, Philip Rivers, who is only 26.

Staff writer Albert Breer covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at abreer@sportingnews.com.
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