Week 11 Preview: Steelers vs. Chargers

California Here I Come!

Told you their cheerleaders were really hot.

Unfortunately, the enduring image for the San Diego Chargers won’t be sexy California blondes but rather hobbled quarterback Phillip Rivers gallantly gutting out a torn MCL while trying to drive his team down the field during the waning moments of the AFC Championship game against the undefeated New England Patriots.

The enduring image of the San Diego Chargers for any diehard member of Steeler Nation will always be slow-footed cornerback Tim McKyer getting beat like a drum on a 4th quarter touchdown bomb which would propel SD to their one and only Super Bowl appearance.

The years following that appearance weren’t kind to Charger fans. The team finished with a combined 23-57 record before the arrival of Marty Schottenheimer. In fact, the organization was such a joke that consensus first overall pick Eli Manning decided that he’d rather play in cold, tumultuous New York over sunny San Diego.

Schotteheimer turned around the organization, going 47-33 in his five years with the team. But his own personal Waterloo, his inability to win in the playoffs, did him in. The Chargers wound up firing Schottenheimer despite coming off a 14-2 season. They wound up hiring Norv Turner who took them to the aforementioned Championship game.

This season has been a run of bad luck for the Chargers. They lost star DE Shawne Merriman before the season even started. Steroids are bad for you, mmmkay? Then they began the year 0-2 but should’ve won both games except for a miracle final play TD against the Panthers and a blown call against the Broncos. The team rebounded slightly before playing a couple real stinkers and rolling into Pittsburgh riding a two game losing streak. They’re coming off a bye week, though, so we’ll see if they’re gearing up for a stretch run or it’s just a continuation of what looks to be a lost season.


Norv Turner was the Offensive Coordinator for Jimmy Johnson on the great Dallas team of the 90’s. He runs a similar offense here. It’s a long pass pattern offense that loves to use superstar TE Antonio Gates on deep jump balls. WR Vincent Jackson has the Michael Irvin role while Chris Chambers takes the Alvin Harper spot. This is the type of personnel that Turner excels with as he has a great TE, one big possession receiver (Jackson), and a burner that goes deep (Chambers).

People expected a break out year for Rivers after the legendary tough guy performance last year against the Patriots. That being said, he had an 81 QB rating in his last 26 starts going into this season. That’s not horrible but it doesn’t exactly denote elite QB status. Rivers’ problems occur with his footwork, particularly if he’s forced to move a little and throw the ball at the same time. But when he has a clean pocket he has as strong and accurate of an arm as there is in the league.

The cavalry is on its way in the form of one Mister LaMarr Woodley, who will return after his one week sabbatical. That should help the Steelers generate a bit more pressure. The Steelers actually did a good job against Manning last week but he was smart enough to adjust by calling quick-hitting routes and getting rid of the ball quickly on 3 step drops. Rivers is young and prone to mistakes so a lot of this game will ride on how he reacts to the enormous pressure Blitzburgh can enact on a QB.

The story of the team, though, is as Ladainian Thomlinson goes, so go the Chargers. After setting the TD record two seasons back, he had a tough year last year. Through week 12, he had only had two games of 90+ yards rushing. He turned it on for the stretch run, as weeks 13-16 saw him break out for 546 rushing yards on 6.6 yards a carry. Like many heavy duty featured RBs, he gets nicked up a lot and injuries have limited him this year. The team misses Michael Turner, who provided great relief and a nice change of pace. They do have Darren Sproules, a lightning bolt who has had some good games for them this year. Still, no team runs on the Steeler D and I don’t see this week being any different.

Of course, throwing the ball will be a viable option. Two thirds of the Three Amigos will be riding pine nursing various injuries. With both Bryant McFadden (broken arm) and Deshea Townshend (hammy) out, the unfortunately named William Gay will get his first start opposite Cement Hands Ike Taylor. Anthony Madison will likely be the nickel corner although it’s possible newly signed Fernando Bryant could see action. You know times are tough when we’re reduced to playing table scraps from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rivers has thrown the ball effectively this season and if he can’t complete passes against this patchwork secondary, he really does deserve to be called Marmalade.


San Diego runs a 3-4 but they use a 1 gap scheme instead of the standard 2 gap schemes that most 3-4 teams use. Ted Cottrell was their D-Coordinator, a career 4-3 Cover 2 guy, he proved a poor fit as the once mighty SD Defense struggled out of the gate. He’s been replaced by Ron Rivera, who is less tentative than Cottrell and more eager to blitz and stunt than simply drop their athletic LBs back in pass coverage.

If Luis Castillo can stay healthy, he’s a potential All Pro defensive end. He has a tenacious motor and great strength. Igor Olshansky is a pure power guy that stops the run, but doesn’t do a whole lot in rushing the passer. Jamaal Williams is still good, but noticeably lost a step last season. He’s about 350 pounds and is usually a factor rushing the passer which is unique for a guy his size.

I just wrote a lengthy article dissecting the Steelers offensive woes so I’m not going to belabor the subject. The P-G alleges that Pothole Willie Parker is FINALLY going to grace us with his presence this Sunday. I have to say, he picked a great team to return against. If his shoulder or knee is still gimpy, the Charger D will definitely give him a few love taps to test it. There probably won’t be many long gainers but I still hope we return to the grinding running attack that’s been our hallmark utilizing a two-headed monster of FWP and M Squared (Mewelde Moore).

QB Ben Roethlisberger finally lowered himself to practice like some Arena Football scab so we’ll see if actually taking reps and working with your wideouts enables one to play better. The Charger defense will be coming after him so if any of his numerous injuries aren’t bugging him now, chances are they will by halftime. The bad news is he’s facing a pretty good pass rush, the good news is SD has been vulnerable to the pass all season. They’ve had several major lapses in coverage so chances are plays will be there to be made. The only questions are can Ben make these plays and if he doesn’t, what will be his latest excuse for not doing so? Promises to play better and taking all the heat for losing a game are both admirable but there’s an old saying about talk and the fact it’s relatively cheap even in these poor economic times. Time to step up, big guy.

San Diego has been one of the great mysteries of the 2008 season. Going into the year, they were one of the odds on favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They stumbled out of the blocks and have yet to gain their stride. Then again, last year they were 5-5 at the mid-way point and had crowds chanting “Marty” before they turned everything around. Of course, this required an easy schedule and an incredibly weak division to do it.

On the flip side, the Steelers are 1-2 in their past three games and after playing twice over the next 5 days they begin a stretch where they play four games against teams with a combined record of 38-10. If this team is truly a playoff team, never mind a championship contender, we’re all about to find out very very soon.

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