Chargers-Steelers: The Deciding Factor
We already know this is going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight between two of the most physical teams in the NFL.
They battled Nov. 16 and the defenses were so stingy that Tomlinson scored the only touchdown and the Chargers still lost. The score ended up a paltry 11-10, the first time that score had ever been recorded in the NFL.
According to weather.com, the temperature in Pittsburgh will vary from a low of 20 degrees to a high of 23, with a 30 percent chance of snow. The last game was a chilly, snowy night, and this one looks to be no different.
This part of the season, teams need to have a steady running game to stay competitive, but after RB Darren Sproles took a beating against the Colts over the weekend, it looks like the Bolts' running game will be in the hands of ex-Viking, Chief, and Buccaneer Michael Bennett. There is a possibility Sproles will be able to play extensively, but nowhere near his thirty-plus touches of the last game.
LT isn't even in the equation for the Chargers, because if they plan on getting past the Steelers, they'll need to rest him up in order to heal whatever is wrong—his groin, whether it's a tear or pull.
The Steelers have a bevy of healthy, well-rested runningbacks ready to play, but have a busted quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. He is expected to play despite suffering a concussion in the final game of the season against the Browns. The two offenses are completely opposite, though both teams have strong defenses that never give up.
The way I see it, the matchup of the day goes as follows:
Philip Rivers vs. Troy Polamalu
Rivers. Pro Bowl snub.
Threw for a franchise record 34 touchdowns, leading the NFL in touchdown's and quarterback rating, 105.5. In the Chargers last game in Pittsburgh, Rivers threw for two interceptions, but that was before the team got hot and won five in a row.
Rivers most likely won't have a running game to keep the offense honest, so he'll have to sling it more than usual. But there is the possibility Sproles will be available for screens—though highly ineffective against the quick Steeler defense.
In order for Rivers to be efficient, the offensive line has to deal with the likes of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, a two-time Pro Bowler. These two linebackers combined for 27.5 sacks this season, and don't miss tackles often.
With the Steelers defense applying pressure, their maverick can fly all over the field making plays, whether it's the run or the pass: Troy Polamalu, No. 43, the one with the hair.
Polamalu ended the regular season with seven interceptions, a career best and has been voted to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He is often the eighth man in the box, pulling back into coverage during pass plays and generally disrupting any offense that takes the field.
He is the key cog in the defense when it comes to stopping Philip Rivers on Sunday, as he can be deceiving when positioning himself before a play starts. The Steelers' defensive scheme uses Polamalu a lot in blitzes and stunts, made simply to confound quarterbacks and give the linebackers time to get to said QB.
If Rivers can connect with one of his tallest receivers (either Vincent Jackson or Legedu Naanee) consistenly underneath Polamalu's coverage, he may have a chance to hit a wide open Chris Chambers on the sideline or TE Antonio Gates down the seam (who will most likely never get open against this defense).
I really don't see there being a running game for the Chargers, so I have to give Polamalu the upper hand going into Sunday's game. I really don't believe an ailing Big Ben or even backup Byron Leftwich will hurt the Steelers' offensive chances, so I say-with a heavy heart—that I see the Steelers winning 23-20, with Rivers bringing the Bolts back in the fourth quarter, but not quite enough.
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