The last time Pittsburgh and San Diego got together in the regular season, Troy Polamalu pulled off one of the best interceptions you'll ever see before ending the game with a fumble return for a touchdown that wasn't counted, even though it should have.
The last time the Steelers and Chargers played in the playoffs, Tony Martin beat Tim McKyer for a 43-yard touchdown that will forever be burned into Steelers' fans heads. San Diego then held on on fourth and goal from the three in the final seconds to earn their first Super Bowl appearance.
When San Diego and Pittsburgh get together, good games usually end up happening.
Three Key Questions
1) Can the Steelers protect Ben Roethlisberger?
2) Will Darren Sproles find running room?
3) Who wins the turnover battle?
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Player In The Spotlight: The Steelers offensive line. They've been maligned because of their poor play, their poor talent and their knack for endangering Ben Roethlisberger's life.
As mentioned in a previous post, if the Steelers keep Roethlisberger upright they have a very good chance of scoring. But that hasn't happened all that often this season. The offensive line will also be the key for the Steelers' attempts to rediscover their running game. Pittsburgh actually ran the ball pretty well in their regular season game against the Chargers. In that game, center Justin Hartwig handled nose tackle Jamaal Williams one-on-one, which freed up guards Darnell Stapleton and Chris Kemoeatu to block the Chargers linebackers.
Williams has to have a better game for the Chargers, because if he gets consistent penetration into the backfield, it will force the Steelers to completely switch up its blocking approach.
Pittsburgh's Path To Victory: Even though the final score was 11-10, the Steelers dominated their regular season meeting with the Chargers--13 penalties, four sacks and a failed fourth and goal conversion kept the game close. If Pittsburgh doesn't make mistakes, it should win.
We'll also find out this week if the Steelers' newfound running game is just a mirage or not. Willie Parker looks faster than he has at any points since very early in the season. He may not grind out consistent yardage, but a big play or two would do wonders for Pittsburgh.
Defensively, Pittsburgh just needs to keep doing what it's been doing. Pittsburgh heads into the playoffs as one of the best defenses statistically in years. Pittsburgh has had a little more trouble stopping the run than the pass in recent weeks, but the Steelers linebackers are outstanding, and Dick LeBeau should have a new blitz or two waiting for Rivers.
San Diego's Path To Victory: LaDainian Tomlinson's injury may not be as bad for the Chargers as you might think. Not only did Darren Sproles have an outstanding game filling in for LT last week, but his style of running could give Pittsburgh problems, especially when he catches the pass out of the backfield on dump offs or screens.
A week after the Colts built their defense around eliminating Vincent Jackson, it's likely he'll see less rolled coverages. But that doesn't mean he'll have a much easier time as the Steelers secondary has become a team strength.
Defensively, San Diego has to pressure Roethlisberger. In the regular season, Roethlisberger threw for over 300 yards against the Chargers, but when team's have gotten in Roethlisberger's face early and often, he's struggled this year. And if the Chargers' pressure can force Roethlisberger into a fumble or an interception, they can head home happy.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 17, San Diego 10.