Chargers-Steelers: The Forgotten Edge Goes to the Chargers

Ian PhilipAnalyst IIIJanuary 10, 2009

NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci insists that the Pittsburgh Steelers dominated both sides of the ball in their first game against the San Diego Chargers because of the fact that the Steelers out-gained the Chargers 410 yards to 218 yards.  

Now we know why the man is no longer a head coach in the NFL.

I am on record as saying that the Pittsburgh Steelers deserve to be favored, but last time I checked football has the facets: offense, defense, and special teams.

The score of the last game was 11-10, even if that touchdown by Troy Polamalu had counted, the game was still played that close. The Steelers had to roll up big yardage to stay in the game. The reason? San Diego's vastly superior special teams.

There may be no better special teams unit in the NFL than that of the San Diego Chargers. It makes no sense that teams don't put more stock in that unit.  

The 1999 Oakland Raiders went a frustrating 8-8 when Michael Husted botched 11 field goals with Joe Nedney missing another two. Leo Aroguz didn't help when he had a horrendous net punting average of 33.8 yards. Kick and punt return average?  Terrible.

In the offseason, they drafted Punter Shane Lechler in the fifth round and Kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the first round. Both were outstanding and Oakland went 12-4 in 2000 on there way to three straight division titles.

The Chargers followed the same model with drafting kicker Nate Kaeding a year after drafting punter Mike Scifres (who learned behind the great Darren Bennett for one season). Both players debuted in 2004 and the Chargers have won four out of the last five AFC West Division titles.

Forgetting about the hidden yardage that San Diego's special teams gives them is something that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will not do. Tomlin also won't forget about all those penalties his team accumulated either.

In the last game, Pittsburgh's average starting position was their own 24-yard line. San Diego's starting position was their own 31-yard line. Things were worse than that looks.

The Chargers had drives start at Pittsburgh's 49 yard line and their own 41, 46, and 40 yard lines. The Chargers only scored seven points on those drives with two of the resulting punts pinned Pittsburgh inside the 20 yard line.

Pittsburgh had two drives start at their own 40 yard line or better, resulting in three points.

The Edge

Pittsburgh's defense should have a solid day against the Chargers, but they will not likely hold San Diego to 10 points again.

San Diego's special teams should force Pittsburgh to travel long distance to get to the end zone on most drives.

Unknown: Will Pittsburgh's offense consistently move the ball on the Chargers defense like they did in the last game? The Chargers' defense has vastly improved their play since midseason.

Several teams were able to march up and down the field with little (or no) resistance from the Bolts earlier in the season and the Steelers were one of them.

During the Chargers five game winning streak, the defense snuffed out all game winning and game changing drives against the Broncos, Buccaneers, Raiders, Chiefs, and Colts.

Four of those five teams had great success moving the ball on the Chargers in an earlier game in the season when every quarterback was having success against the Chargers porous pass defense.

Bottom Line

The Chargers defense was more to blame for losing the game than they were for keeping the game close.  Big Ben Roethlisberger had to drive his team 73 yards for the winning field goal attempt.

If San Diego's defense goes out reverts back to mid-season form, they will probably lose at the last second again.

If San Diego's defense plays with the same ferociousness that they've played with for the last five weeks-excluding the first half of the Chiefs game-they should be able to pull this one out on the road.

This game will be a tough one for the Chargers to win on the road, but if the defense can get some stops on third down and the Chargers don't beat themselves with turnovers, they may just pull it out.