Before the season began, this was meant to be a matchup of two projected offensive powerhouses – Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown and Wheaton taking on Rivers, Gates, Allen and promising rookie Melvin Gordon.
Unfortunately, especially for the Chargers, this season has been one where injuries to high profile players have had a real impact. San Diego has 13 players listed on their injury report, including offensive linemen King Dunlap and Orlando Franklin, as well as Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett. Whilst the Steelers’ injury woes are less in number, in impact there is one of huge significance – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who went down with a knee injury against the Rams, is still out. Pittsburgh come into San Diego at 2 – 2, having lost a game they should have won last week against the Ravens. That loss cost kicker Josh Scobee his job, and shows that the Steelers’ weakness at moving the ball without their talismanic QB. With the exception of that one game, Pittsburgh has performed as expected, beating the teams they should beat, and losing in the season opener against the Patriots. The Chargers have so far won both games at home, and lost both on the road. Philip Rivers was the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week in Week 4, putting up 358 yards and 3 touchdowns, in spite of playing with 2 receivers and a bare bones O Line for much of the game.
It’s hard to say exactly where the Chargers are right now, as they are among a bunch in the middle of the pack who seem unable to separate themselves.
Keys to the Game
With significant injuries on San Diego’s offensive line still biting, whether or not they can keep Philip Rivers upright long enough to perform his magic is going to make a huge difference. Pittsburgh’s secondary has only two interceptions so far on the year, and so if Rivers has time to throw, they could be made to pay. The pass rush, however, ranks 8th in the league so far, with 14 sacks. If the likes of Stephon Tuitt and James Harrison can get to the quarterback, this could prove to be a very long night for Chargers fans.
The depth in the Chargers’ secondary is another key area to watch. Should Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers not make the game, then look to Patrick Robinson to step up against Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Antonio Brown. The Steelers’ receiving corps is dangerous, and Mike Vick has the experience and the talent to make a lot of plays through the air, and still has the legs to punish any gaps that may be left in the defense.
The Steelers have had a torrid time so far on special teams, with their two losses attributable to the kicking of Josh Scobee. Chris Boswell comes in as something of an unknown quantity, having bounced around practice squads to provide competition. Avoiding coming up empty after any more long drives would be a boon to the Steelers, allowing them the security that they don’t have to put 6 points on the board every single time they have the ball within the 35 yard line.
Antonio Gates vs. the Steelers’ ILBs – Gates is returning from a four game suspension and will be looking to exploit the lack of Ryan Shazier in the Steelers’ linebacking corps. Gates is the man who is Rivers’ security blanket and San Diego will be looking to get him the ball quickly and allow him to put up big yards after the catch.
This one is hard to call, as Mike Vick is certainly not Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers are certainly the healthier overall outfit. Gates coming back and Rivers’ quality, coupled with home advantage swing this towards the Chargers. Pittsburgh 27 – 31 San Diego.
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