The Steelers are allowing 3.7 yards per rush, same as the Chargers defense has allowed. And while they are aware of the options in the passing game, the plan is to cutoff Tomlinson first.
"Not to take away from Gates, Keenan, Reche or Parker, but you have to stop LaDainian Tomlinson," Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher concluded. "These guys have rushed for over 200 yards in the last two games. If you don't stop the run, the only thing Drew's going to be doing is handing the ball off left and right. We have to stop the running game."
The Chargers enter the game as the league's second best team in putting points on the board (31.8), while the Steelers are fourth best on defense in points allowed (12.3). That makes this test a battle of wills.
And while the Steelers focus on Tomlinson, the Bolts still boast a formidable unit of receivers. Keenan McCardell leads NFL receivers in touchdown grabs with five and Antonio Gates is always a threat in the passing game.
"We're very respectful of the other elements of their game but you have to take away their big play," Cowher explained. "Those receivers can have a big play but every time they put the ball in the hands of 21, that's potentially a big play. We have to be very aware of him."
The importance of the running game in San Diego is clear. Tomlinson netted 127 yards rushing and from scrimmage in the first two games of the season combined and surpassed that total in rushing yards alone in weeks three and four.
"Any good football team has a great runner," McCardell said. "Everything comes from the running game."
Dallas and Denver each brought an aggressive defense that featured a lot of blitzes while New York and New England chose to sit back a bit more.
The Steelers already are on a record pace for sacks in a single season and bring a lot of creativity to the table.
"They are fast and have a lot of athletes," Tomlinson said of the Steelers defense. "They get to the football. A defense that really tries to take the ball away with interceptions and fumbles."
While the offense had to figure out how to get Tomlinson the ball more in weeks three and four, they were able to against defenses that did not capitalize on items the Chargers were unable to address in weeks one and two.
At this point in the season, however, the Chargers offense is clicking. The well-oiled machine has been polished and is ready to go. After putting up forty points in successive weeks they believe they are unstoppable, even against a defense that boasts All-Pro nose tackle Casey Hampton, among the best run stuffers in the league.
"I like the balance of our offense," Tomlinson grinned.
Healthy doses of Tomlinson will surely aid the passing game and a few passes to Gates and McCardell could do wonders in opening up the running lanes.
Tomlinson on Monday night – he is at his best when put in the spotlight.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took offense to comments made by Schottenheimer after the Chargers victory this past weekend. Schottenheimer had mentioned that at some point injuries have to catch up with a team.
"When an opposing coach comes out and says stuff in the fourth game of the year -- you take it for what it's worth," Brady countered while speaking with area reporters. "We won three of the last four Super Bowls. We realize the character and toughness of this team. If people want to write us off, that's fine by us - go for it. But I don't think that's the wisest thing to do.
"You don't talk about our team. He has no business talking about our team. We'll let our coach talk about our team. We'll let our players talk about our team. The only thing we ever do is give respect to the other teams. They played a good game. They beat us. That's what it is. There's not a lot of carry over from week to week. We played much better against Pittsburgh than we did against San Diego. It doesn't mean we're going to play this way against Atlanta. If we do play that way, it will be tough. But that is not the way we are approaching it. It's a new week. We're done with San Diego and moving on to Atlanta."