TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
2006 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 25th (11th rush, 28th pass); defense 11th (4th rush, 20th pass). Chargers: offense 9th (2nd rush, 30th pass); defense 1st (2nd rush, 1st pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Steelers have had two weeks to work on their struggling passing game and get QB Ben Roethlisberger comfortable after he posted a 34.3 passer rating in his first two starts of the season. RB Willie Parker is proving he can handle the heavier workload with Jerome Bettis gone, but the Steelers need their wide receivers to help out Roethlisberger following numerous drops in the first three games.
The Steelers have one of the game's best offensive lines, but the Chargers' aggressive defense will tee off if the Steelers become one-dimensional. Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer came under fire after calling just eight passes in the second half last Sunday while Baltimore came from behind to win. But he will continue to play Marty Ball, leaning on the running game and not exposing first-year starter QB Philip Rivers more than absolutely necessary. If the Steelers can shut down RB LaDainian Tomlinson, they can force the game onto Rivers' shoulder.
Steelers: Roethlisberger seeks to avoid the first three-game losing streak of his career. .. Are 39-14 in October under coach Bill Cowher. ... Are 100-1-1 under Cowher when leading by more than 10 points at any point during a game.
Chargers: RB LaDainian Tomlinson has 87 touchdowns in 81 career games. ... WR Keenan McCardell (10,756) needs 101 receiving yards to pass Gary Clark for 17th place all-time.
PREDICTION: Chargers 24-13
Ricardo Colclough was ruled out this week with a neck injury. As the Steelers await further tests on a possible nerve problem, it's possible Colclough could be finished for the season.
Najeh Davenport (calf) practiced for the second consecutive day and predicted he would dress for Sunday night's game. He could be used in short yardage against the Chargers.
Dan Kreider never has figured much in the Steelers' game plan other than as a blocker, but he's never been ignored quite like this. He has no carries and just one catch for 4 yards through three games.
Troy Polamalu went through another full practice Thursday and looks much improved. He injured his right shoulder in the season opener and has been on the injury report since then. He's listed as probable this week and will be the Steelers' prime defensive answer to San Diego TE Antonio Gates.
Shawne Merriman left practice early as an Achilles' heel he's been nursing became a little tender. The injury isn't expected to keep him from playing Sunday, but for a guy who relies so much on speed, it's worth watching.
Eric Parker will remain the punt returner. He was hit pretty hard on a return Sunday and had a slight leg contusion, but he's fine and has practiced all week.
Billy Volek continues to stay after practice to get in some extra work as he tries to absorb the offense. It appears for the second game in which he's been on the roster that Volek again will be at No. 3 behind Philip Rivers and rookie Charlie Whitehurst.
Terrence Kiel, despite being in court Tuesday pleading not guilty to five felony drug charges, is expected to start Sunday opposite Marlon McCree. Kiel didn't play last week in the wake of his arrest.