Michael Lombardo: The Steelers enter this contest with a sub-.500 record and a two-game losing streak. Does that make them vulnerable, dangerous or both?
Jim Wexell: I don't know if they'll be any better, but the team (and their fans) will be at an emotional peak. They've been embarrassed, particularly the defense, by blowing two leads. The home game will help their no-huddle offense and the media's "too old" line of questioning all week will help the defense. They also have great respect for the Chargers and think they have to play the game of their lives to win.
ML: San Diego's biggest deficiency is the inability to stop the run. The Steelers have some issues running the ball, but they piled up 289 rushing yards in two games against the Chargers last season. Do you see Pittsburgh having a big game on the ground?
JW: The Steelers' problem has been Willie Parker's health. Against the Chargers in the playoffs, he was at his finest. But he's nicked again, so I don't think the Steelers will play him. They threw Rashard Mendenhall into an imaginary doghouse last week after he had the best run of his career the previous week. They wanted to teach him how to deal with success, so he should be at his best for this one. But the guy to play is Mewelde Moore. The coaches may be thinking along with me on that one.
WR Hines Ward
JW: Mike Wallace. He's the new toy. He's a rookie sprinter from Ole Miss who has fit right in. They don't connect deep too much, but only because Ben Roethlisberger has underthrown him a bit, but he's learning and they connected for 51 last week. Ideally, they want to threaten deep with Wallace and Holmes to open up the middle for Ward and Miller. Unless they get a short lead and go into their turtle act in the fourth quarter, they should score a lot of points.
ML: How does Pittsburgh's defense change without Troy Polamalu? Does this open the door for a big game by Antonio Gates?
JW: They can't disguise as well. Quarterbacks also are more confident without having to account for him. They can get into their short-drop pass game without worrying about Troy making a pick-six. Also, since the Chargers like to throw deep, they won't have to worry about his deep coverage speed. And, yes, of course the tight end will always play better with an average strong safety defending him. Look for ILB Lawrence Timmons to draw plenty of Gates.
ML: The Chargers rank second in the AFC in pass attempts per game (38). Will the Steelers attack this pass-first scheme by bringing the house or by keeping an extra man in coverage?
JW: Since Rivers isn't a dinker and dunker, the defensive ends will be happy to bring the pressure. Of course, beating your left tackle (Marcus McNeill) won't be Harrison's easiest assignment by any means. No, I look for the Steelers to blitz a lot. Big corner Ike Taylor's perfectly suited for Vincent Jackson, last year's TD pass notwithstanding.
ML: Who are the key members of Pittsburgh's kick-coverage teams that will be charged with keeping Darren Sproles in check?
JW: Timmons, Keyaron Fox, Patrick Bailey and Andre Frazier -- all linebackers -- make up the core of the coverage units. They've done a better job on punts, because punter Dan Sepulveda is back. He booms and hangs, and that's needed since they cut their only great gunner.