Divisional Playoff Preview: Steelers vs. Chargers

Too bad they can’t bring their cheerleaders.

The San Diego Chargers return to the sloppy tundra of Heinz Field in a rematch of a week 11 contest which ended by the improbable score of 11-10.  It actually should have been 17-10 but one of the refs got a call from his bookie wrong thus negating Troy Polamalu‘s last minute TD return of a fumbled lateral.  Let’s hope the NFL assigns a competent crew to the Divisional Playoff game this Sunday.  Last thing we need is a replay of last year’s playoff debacle against Jacksonville where the officials mysteriously missed three blatant holding penalties on the QB scramble which set up the game winning FG.

Regardless of the final score, anybody who thinks the Pittsburgh Steelers have a decided advantage because of their performance in their first meeting didn’t watch the game.  On paper, it looks like a one-sided slaughter.  QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 308 yards, WR Hines Ward caught 11 balls for 124 yards (plus 6 for 55 by TE Matt Spaeth), and Fast Willie Parker had a rare 100 yard day.  The defense held San Diego to 218 total yards while picking off Philip Rivers twice.

However, the Steelers did not score an offensive touchdown the entire game.  How you may ask?  Penalties killed them.  They were flagged 13 times for an atrocious 115 yards. Several of these negated big plays, particularly the one which cost them a TD bomb to Nate Washington.  They also struggled badly on key short yardage conversions, getting stifled on third and shorts while also failing to punch it in on a big 4th and goal play.

Most importantly, the story of the game was the inclimate weather that day.  Playing in steady flurries on a frozen field, the San Diego defenders played well off the recievers.  They didn’t want to chance slipping and allowing them to run by for a big gain.  If the weathermen can be believed, and I don’t believe anyone not named Kudzma, the weather should be markedly better this weekend.

Without the climate advantage, this game could easily go very differently.  The Chargers showed good coverage against the pass happy Indianapolis Colts so thinking the game will follow the same script is unrealistic.  The Steelers better not fool themselves into thinking the running game will not be a huge factor.  Ignore the mantra of a good ground game always wins in the playoffs at your own peril, Bruce Arians.

Since I’ve already done a highly detailed breakdown of the two teams, I won’t bother to repeat it.  The key changes since then are both Chargers RB Ladainian Thomlinson and the Steelers’ Roethlisberger coming off injuries.   Thomlinson has his groin muscle separated from his pelvis (raise your hand if you just crossed your legs and grimaced) and probably won’t play (he may not even dress).   He’ll be replaced by a midget named Darren Sproles, a burner who Indy had no answer for.  Ben was concussed in the season finale against the hapless Browns.  He was apparently given a green light, although anybody who has been knocked loopy will tell you that the affects can last weeks or months.  If this concussion affects his decision making skills one iota, head coach Mike Tomlin’s season ending gambit will go down as one of the biggest blunders in Pittsburgh sports history.

The Chargers.  The Steelers.  Heinz Field.  The 2008 NFL Playoffs.  One team takes a step forward toward glory while the other has their season end in a hail of frustration and tears.  As the Joker said in the best movie of the year, “And…here…we…go…”

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Tags: 2008 Nfl Playoffs 2008 Super Bowl Afc North Champions Ben Roethlisberger Blitzburgh Bob Kudzma Charger Girls Chargers Defensive Playor Of The Year Fast Willie Parker Fwp Groin Injury Heinz Field Hines Ward Jacksonville Jaguars Jaguars Lt. Ladainian Thomlinson Matt Spaeth Mike Tomlin Nfl Divisional Playoffs Norv Turner Philip Rivers San Diego San Diego Chargers Super Bowl XLIII Troy Polamalu