Steel Super? Pittsburgh Steelers Survive San Diego Chargers 38-28

Chris StaafCorrespondent IOctober 5, 2009

The Pittsburgh Steelers endured a fourth quarter rally against the San Diego Chargers tonight and won 38-28. Several questions still remain but some issues did get answered. Steeler Nation can breathe easy after this win but still has to remain nervous, especially in the fourth quarter. Here is the breakdown:

The Offense: Running back Rashard Mendenhall, who Coach Mike Tomlin benched on offense last week in Cincinnati, showed the country why the Steelers took him in the first round in 2008.

He flashed the power and acceleration that made him a star at Illinois. Mendenhall went for 166 yards and scored the first two touchdowns of his NFL career. 

But more than that, Mendenhall answered the question on short yardage and goal line situations. He powered through the Charger defense and outside of two runs, he fell forward for positive yards. Suddenly third and short is not an improbability for the Steelers anymore, at least it wasn't tonight.

What more can be said about Ben Roethlisberger? He played with great poise and found seven different receivers to extend drives. Yes, he took three unnecessary sacks but the Steelers (and us in the Steeler Nation) came to grips with this a long time ago.

Speaking of sacks, the Steelers offensive line did a very good job tonight. Chris Kemoeatu played like the runaway freight train that he is, pulling and leading the way for Mendenhall all night.

Willie Colon was not beat off the snap by edge rushers and was stout in the running game. Justin Hartwig also played well, as did Trai Essex against the run. For me, the offensive line deserves the game ball along with Mendenhall and the entire offense.

For at least one week, the much criticized offensive line earned some respect. We can only hope that it continues as the season progresses.

Hines Ward had another 100 yard game and Heath Miller continues his great play as the overlooked tight end that no one outside of Steeler Nation talks about. Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes also made solid contributions.

At least for one week, I cannot harshly criticize much beleaguered offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. He kept his foot on the pedal all night and his play calling tonight was very good.

The new four receiver on one side formation was brilliant as was the halfback pass by Mewelde Moore. For the first time in a long time, Arians showed creativity and imagination.

The best thing tonight from Arians? Having backup guard Doug Legursky lined up as a fullback in goal line situation. That brought a smile to my face. We can all hope it continues for the rest of the season.

The Defense: At least for the first three quarters of the game, the Steeler defense actually played like the stereotypical Steeler defense; tough, aggressive, and hard hitting.

However, in the fourth quarter, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates lit up the Steelers like a Christmas tree. Rivers threw for three touchdowns and Gates went over 100 yards and two scores.

While San Diego's offense is very talented, the game should have never gotten close as it did. Where was the Steeler defense in the fourth quarter? For the third straight week, the game got way too interesting only this time the Steelers held on and won.

The Chargers did not even try to run the ball, only nine attempts for 16 yards. However, the air attack against the secondary in the fourth quarter was just horrible. Rivers led two scoring drives that went under two minutes each.

Here is the obligatory "do the Steelers miss Troy Polamalu" part of the article. Yes, they miss him but his replacement, Tyrone Carter, did not allow all the scores by himself.

The defense struggled to put pressure on Rivers for the most of the night and any QB with Rivers's talent would carve up any secondary that has to hold their coverage longer than four seconds. But I am happy to hear that Polamalu will probably come back next week.

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison got two sacks tonight, including the final one that forced the game ending fumble recovered by James Farrior. So Steeler Nation can breathe easy on the lack of sacks from Harrison. That fumble was the first takeaway the Steelers got since opening day.

LaMarr Woodley is still without a sack but he played pretty well tonight as did most of the defense. However, the defense needs to maintain their intensity for all four quarters, not just the first three.

Special Teams: First allow me to say this: I really liked the Stefan Logan story. I think it is pretty cool that someone so small can make an NFL active roster. However, I did not love his story enough to strongly advocate him making the team out of training camp.

Why? Because Logan made his great plays against a bunch of guys in preseason, bunch of guys who had little chance of making an NFL roster. Logan fumbled again tonight, now the second one in three weeks.

But while the fumble led to a Jacob Hester touchdown, I had more issue with Logan fielding that punt or not calling fair catch. Logan had no room to maneuver and the Steelers offense would have been set up with good field position, around the 35-40 yard line.

Logan has not impressed me much at all and his fumbling I believe will be an issue, not an anomaly. I still believe that Mewelde Moore should be used on all punt returns with Santonio Holmes getting some chances and speed burner Mike Wallace being used as the kick returner.

Logan's roster spot could be used for a player who does more than just return kicks. It could be used for a defensive lineman for more depth (now needed given Nick Eason's release) or someone who can contribute more to the team than Logan has. Right now, I see no real difference in the return game last season and this season, save for the fumbles by Logan.

However, on a great note, Jeff Reed answered a lot of questions tonight with his 46 yard field goal that iced the game. Reed is allowed to have bad days too and how many times is Reed going to kick in Soldier Field? Not often at all.

Conclusion: While I am ecstatic about the win tonight against the Chargers, the fourth quarter meltdown has to worry the Steelers and Steeler Nation. This now makes it the third week in a row in which the fourth quarter defense was non-existent.

I still believe some changes need to be made. One good thing that occurred this week was Frank Summers being put on injured reserve and Carey Davis being signed. I have never been a huge fan of Davis but he is light years better than Summers.

Enjoy the win but I hope the Steelers don't take next week's opponent, the  Detroit Lions, lightly. The way the Steelers have played in the fourth quarter thus far this season, nothing should be taken for granted.

Until next time...

Next game: Away against the Detroit Lions, 1 pm Eastern.