Chargers - Steelers walkthrough

Monday will be the 26th meeting between the clubs. Steelers lead the series, 18-7, two of those losses in the playoffs. The Steelers beat the Chargers 40-24 on Dec. 21, 2003 in Pittsburgh. They are 6-2 against San Diego under coach Bill Cowher, one of the losses in the 1994 AFC championship game.

2005 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 5th (5th rush, 14th pass); defense 19th (11th rush, 20th pass). Chargers: offense 7th (2nd rush, 23rd pass); defense 23rd (7th rush, 26th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: This is a good test for the Steelers offense, which relies so heavily on its running game. If the Chargers' 3-4 front can contain the ground game, San Diego can afford to lend more help to its vulnerable secondary. But the key then is to get pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is very efficient when allowed to sit in the pocket and progress through his reads.

Defensively, the Steelers want to focus on stopping RB LaDainian Tomlinson and force QB Drew Brees to beat them through the air. TE Antonio Gates is hitting his stride, but tight end routes take longer to develop, which could be a problem against a Steelers defense on pace to record an NFL-record 76 sacks this season. It will take a strong effort from their offensive line for the Chargers to pull this one out.

FAST FACTS:

Steelers: Coaching staff has a league-high 78 combined years of NFL playing experience. Coach Bill Cowher is 6-1 (.857) against San Diego.

Chargers: Brees has thrown at least two touchdown passes in four consecutive home games. With two touchdowns, Tomlinson would tie RB Steve Van Buren (68) for the fewest career games to reach 70 for his career.

NOTES FROM THE WEEK:

Steelers:

Jerome Bettis has looked good in practice and it appears he may dress and be the No. 1 backup to starter Willie Parker Monday night. Bettis has not played since he pulled a calf muscle in the third preseason game.

Hines Ward missed several practices this week after re-injuring his hamstring late in practice on Wednesday. He fully expects to make his 83rd start Monday. He has not missed playing in a game since he arrived in Pittsburgh as a third-round draft choice in 1998.

Ike Taylor, who is listed as questionable, is back practicing with the team. Taylor started the first three games on the left side.

Joey Porter, listed as questionable with a knee injury, practiced all week and will start against the Chargers.

James Farrior, listed as probable with a sore back, returned to practice on Thursday after missing drills on Wednesday. Farrior is tied for the team lead with 30 tackles.

Chargers:

Steve Foley (abdominal) didn't work out this week but will play on Monday. He has complained of soreness and says the adrenaline gets him going for games. That will likely be the team's gameplan until the bye week of Nov. 13.

Darren Sproles didn't complete the entire Thursday practice, but he ran pretty well for the time that he was in there. He was able to complete Saturday's practice and will be a gametime decision. Sproles is a weapon on returns.

Shawne Merriman, the team's top pick, continues to see increased playing time but has yet to record his first sack.

Luis Castillo, the team's second first-round pick, has solidified his hold on a starting spot. That means Igor Olshansky, a second-round pick last year, has been pushed to the bench.

Kassim Osgood doesn't get many passes thrown his way; he's yet to catch one this year. But don't overlook his blocking skills. He continues to draw praise for helping spring the backs for big games on the edges.


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