Thursday, January 8, 2009

What to Watch For: Chargers @ Steelers

Here's the second game of our playoff preview (here's the first):
Chargers @ Steelers

The Chargers scratched and clawed their way into the playoffs and squeaked into the playoffs at 8-8, on top of the AFC West. I think it's embarrasing that a .500 team made the playoffs, but they more than proved their worth by taking down mighty Peyton Manning and the Colts in the Wild Card Round. It took overtime for them to get the win, but if it wasn't for a sneaky touchdown by the Colts in the hurry-up, they would've taken it outright in regulation. Darren Sproles was the gambreaker that the Chargers needed without Tomlinson and made a big splash on the playoff scene last week.

The Steelers faced one of the toughest schedules in league and still came out as the #2 seed in the AFC. James Harrison took home the Defensive Player of the Year award and Troy Polamalu was exceptional all season. The defense in general was best in the league and carried them to where they are now. They have a huge home-field advantage because of the backyard swamp conditions of their field that only helps them play the game more to their style. Slow it down, grind it out.

Here's what I'll be watching for this playoff Sunday:

  • How big of an impact will L.T. have on the game? Personally, I think the more he plays, the worse off the team is. L.T. is very hurt and with such a capable back-up in Sproles, there is no reason for Tomlinson to be wasting carries at 2 YPC. This Steelers D is not one that I would want to be playing hurt against. This is most likely going to be a dogfight and the Chargers can't afford to waste possessions with L.T. on the field.

  • Antonio Gates needs to be effective for the Chargers to get down the field. If he's hobbled and useless, it'll give Polamalu free-reign to hawk all over the field and wreak havoc on Phillip Rivers and Sproles.

  • Ben Roethlisberger is recovering from a "light" concussion and will that affect Big Ben this weekend? Concussions are very serious injuries that the NFL seems to be largely ignoring. The Chargers defense isn't exactly suffocating, but their are an accomplished, veteran defense that will capitalize if Roethlisberger falters and makes mistakes.

  • For the Chargers to win, Sproles needs to carry the rock atleast 20 times and he needs to do it well, which is highly unlikely. The Steelers allow less than 80 YPG on the ground and I don't know if Sproles is big enough to handle the beating he is going to take. James Harrison might break Sproles in two if he catches the wrong way. But Sproles proved last week (and all season) that he is a gamebreaker and you know the Steelers do not want him in open space.

  • I really can't stand Phillip Rivers. I understand that off the field he may be a personable and engaging gentleman. But on it, he seems like a douche. He's annoying and arrogant and I really don't like him. But he's talented and there's no disputing that. He's got to make some big plays for the Chargers to advance.

Prediction Time: Steelers 20, Chargers 13

I don't know that the Chargers can overcome all of their injuries to take down the powerful Steelers in this one. I think the Steelers are the most complete and playoff ready team in the NFL and it would take a healthy L.T. and Gates and Merriman for the Chargers to take it down. The only way the Chargers win this one is if they get a score defensively and Roethlisberger shits the bed. Which is possible. If I'm Mike Tomlin I give the Chargers a healthy dosage of Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore and take my win and move on.

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