Offensive line praised for protection

There was no doubting the protection up front in the Chargers 23-13 victory over the visiting Steelers with pressure coming on nearly every play. Right tackle Shane Olivea, who had a terrific camp, is part of the stabilizing force propelling the Chargers offense.

It was an up and down performance, as Shane Olivea failed to generate much movement in the running game yet was surprisingly efficient in pass defense. All in all, the Chargers put up over 340 yards of total offense against a stingy Pittsburgh defense, meaning that Olivea and his fellow linemen certainly earned their paychecks this week.

Things started poorly for the Chargers, as they finished the first quarter in the red in terms of total offense. Olivea had his part in that ineptitude; Steelers end Aaron Smith frequently stood up Olivea, thereby winning the leverage battle and preventing him from making any second-level blocks. The Chargers coaching staff saw this and adjusted accordingly, running sweeps and quick tosses to the outside to allow Olivea to simply turn his man to the inside before getting downfield.

Despite his struggles in the running game, Olivea fared very well in pass protection. Part of his success in that realm was a result of the Steelers' preference to test rookie Marcus McNeill on the other side. Still, Olivea showed stellar footwork in riding linebacker Clark Haggans to the outside on most occasions, creating a comfortable pocket for Philip Rivers, who thrived as a result.

"I think he came in and showed what he can do when given time and the opportunity to do some things," Olivea commented on Rivers.

"I thought our protection held up really well," said Marty Schottenheimer. "They bring more than you can block unless you take the whole line and slide it, which we ended up having to do. Offensively, up front, I thought we played quite well in pass protection but we have to iron some things out in the running game."

The running game wasn't all bad, though. LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 11 yards behind an Olivea block on the first drive of the second half, picking up a first down and extending a series that would culminate in a 28-yard Nate Kaeding field goal. Later, Michael Turner ran behind Olivea for a 23-yard gain with under three minutes remaining in the game on a play that essentially iced the win for San Diego.

Those plays helped Olivea redeem himself for a false start penalty on the Chargers' final drive of the first half. Although the team overcame the penalty and eventually scored, such unforced mental errors are never taken lightly by Schottenheimer.

That may be nitpicking, however, as there was little to complain about in Rivers' coming out party.

"They did a great job up front," said Rivers of his offensive linemen. "They are the players of the game."

"I think the future is very bright here in San Diego," Olivea added with a smile.

Next week, when the Chargers travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers, we will analyze the performance of tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

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