AFCN game matchups - week 5

With the exception of the Cleveland Browns who this week host the Chicago Bears, the AFCN teams are all on the road for week 5. The Baltimore Ravens travel to Detroit to meet the Lions, the Steelers play the San Diego Chargers on Monday night and the Bengals are on the road in Jacksonville.

Complete Game Listing:
Sunday
Baltimore Ravens (1-2) at Detroit Lions (1-2)
Chicago Bears (1-2) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)
Miami Dolphins (2-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-3)
New England Patriots (2-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-1)
New Orleans Saints (2-2) at Green Bay Packers (0-4)
Seattle Seahawks (2-2) at St. Louis Rams (2-2)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-0) at New York Jets (1-3)
Tennessee Titans (1-3) at Houston Texans (0-3)
Indianapolis Colts (4-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
Carolina Panthers (2-2) at Arizona Cardinals (1-3)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) at Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
Washington Redskins (3-0) at Denver Broncos (3-1)
Cincinnati Bengals (4-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2)

Monday
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) at San Diego Chargers (2-2)



Baltimore Ravens (1-2) at Detroit Lions (1-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/09/05
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Brent Jones
SERIES: Second meeting. The Ravens won the only previous meeting, a 19-10 victory over the Lions in 1998. The Ravens limited Barry Sanders to 41 yards rushing in the running back's final game. Defensive tackle Lional Dalton forced Sanders to fumble at the Detroit 1-yard line, which led to a Priest Holmes touchdown and a 9-0 lead. This marks the Ravens' first regular-season game in Detroit.
2005 RANKINGS: Ravens: offense 26th (29th rush, 17th pass); defense 2nd (2nd rush, 11th pass). Lions: offense 29th (27th rush, 27th pass); defense 15th (14th rush, 14th pass)

PREDICTION: Lions 17-13

KEYS TO THE GAME: Both offenses like to pound the ball on the ground, in part because they call a conservative passing game behind two unproven quarterbacks. Look for the Ravens to stretch RB Jamal Lewis out wide more often to get away from massive Lions DTs Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson. But like counterpart Joey Harrington, Ravens QB Anthony Wright will have to make a few plays down field to force the Lions to respect the pass. Wright is hampered by an inferior receiving corps, but does have TE Todd Heap. Lions WR Charles Rogers' four-game suspension means rookie Mike Williams or veteran Kevin Johnson must step up to provide a reliable complement to Roy Williams.

FAST FACTS: Ravens: Team's 30 points through three games is the lowest output under coach Brian Billick. ... Have won six of their past eight games against NFC teams. Lions: Are 7-3 when Harrington has a passer rating of at least 90.0. ... RB Kevin Jones has averaged 116.8 rushing yards in his past five home games.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Ravens:
-- TE Todd Heap is expected to play Sunday. "Think he has a little cold going on and it's working its way out," coach Brian Billick said.
-- Coach Brian Billick said he's surprised the Ravens have no interceptions this season, but added, "They'll come to you. You have to be careful about forcing the issue because you can leave yourself vulnerable by coming out of coverage."
-- Lions WR Kevin Johnson played for Baltimore last season, but Ravens coach Brian Billick doesn't think that gives his team an advantage in containing him Sunday. "No more than it is for Kevin Johnson to know us," Billick said. "Whatever advantage there is to be had is pretty much balanced out."
-- WR Derrick Mason has 21 receptions through three games, a pace for 112 for the season, which would obliterate Michael Jackson's team record of 76 set in 1996. His 213 receiving yards is 25 percent of the Ravens' entire offensive output. But he's not worried about defenses shifting their attention to stop him just yet. "I don't think they're shifting, not quite yet," he said. "They've still got to worry about Todd (Heap). They still have to worry about Mark (Clayton) and Clarence (Moore) and Randy (Hymes) when they're in the game."

Lions:
--DE James Hall did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but Lions coach Steve Mariucci is not ruling him out for the game Sunday against Baltimore. Hall started in the game last Sunday at Tampa Bay but left early because his groin injury was bothering him, however, and Mariucci said he doesn't want a repeat of that scenario.
--LS Don Muhlbach, who has one of the fastest deliveries of the long snap in the NFL, will not play in the Lions game Sunday against Baltimore. Muhlbach has a knee injury and will sit out the game. Former Ravens long snapper Joe Maese will handle the long snapper duties in Muhlbach's place.
--LS Joe Maese will handle the long snaps on punts, extra points and field goal attempts with less than a full week of practice with the Lions. With Don Muhlbach down with a knee injury the Lions signed Maese on Tuesday, giving him four days to work with holder P Nick Harris and PK Jason Hanson.
--QB Jeff Garcia, who suffered a broken left fibula and badly sprained left ankle in the Lions' final preseason game Sept. 2 at Buffalo, threw in seven-on-seven drills Thursday for the first time since having his cast removed last week. Garcia, the backup to starting QB Joey Harrington, will not be available Sunday for the Baltimore game and might not be ready to play until the game at Cleveland on Oct. 23.
--CB Andre Goodman, who suffered a sprained ankle in the game last Sunday at Tampa Bay, returned to practice Thursday, giving the Lions encouragement that he might be ready to play against the Baltimore Ravens at Ford Field on Sunday.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Ravens:
The Ravens enter Sunday's game at Detroit riding a four-game road losing streak. At 1-2 with four of their next six games on the road, coach Brian Billick knows the upcoming stretch will go a long way in determining how successful Baltimore can be this season.
"Good teams are good on the road, bad teams are bad on the road," Billick said. "Bad teams are bad at home ... they're not good before the game, they're not good after the game.
"You have to win on the road in this league and it's a hard thing to do. So it has to be a priority for you, and it is a mindset about how you conduct your week, how you conduct your business when you get to the city you're going to. You're not going anywhere unless you can have a positive record on the road."
The Lions' roster isn't particularly daunting, but it will be a rare game indoors for the Ravens.
Billick returns to Detroit for the first time since serving on Minnesota's staff for six seasons before taking over the Ravens. It will be his first visit to Ford Field ... which he expects to be at least slightly quieter than the old Silverdome.
"It's a new experience for me," Billick said. "The (Silverdome held) 80,000 ... that's a lot of noise. This new one is 65,000 or something, but it's still a dome. There's a comfort zone because of the difficulties that presents teams coming in, and we have to be cognizant of that."
Little phases middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but he's hoping being indoors might actually help the defense hear better. However, he recognizes every road game presents a difficult challenge.
"It can be different, but at the same time, it can help you," Lewis said. "Being in a dome, hopefully it won't be as loud for our defense. Hopefully, it is quieter so you can communicate and fly around and have some fun. For our offense (a dome) might be a little more challenging, because it is away. So, it can be kind of different playing up there."

Lions:
The Lions' success in their final drive Sunday - moving from their own seven yard line to the Tampa Bay five before being stopped on downs in the 17-13 loss - has led to speculation coach Steve Mariucci might want to use a no-huddle offense occasionally.
Although the drive did not produce the desired results and it wasn't pure no-huddle, it represented quarterback Joey Harrington doing what he seems to do best and Mariucci says it's something he has thought about.
"We practice it and have it in our back pocket," he said. "Most of the last drive was huddle-up and changing personnel groups though; it wasn't on the ball.
"Yes, we have the capabilities of going no-huddle in the first quarter if need be and we've chosen not to do that, but we certainly may."
In the final drive, which lasted 5:14 before the Lions ran out of time and downs at Tampa Bay, they ran 17 plays and moved the ball 86 yards. Harrington completed seven of 14 passes and had two touchdown passes nullified because it was ruled the receivers did were on the out of bounds line.
Even on the practice field, Harrington typically does his best work in the two-minute portion of the day. He says he feels comfortable in a hurry-up situation, with or without the huddle.
"Of course, I'm comfortable there," Harrington said. "You've got to be comfortable there as a quarterback because sometimes the game comes down to it. I'm always comfortable in a no-huddle, two-minute type of drill."
With the Lions struggling to put to get their offense moving - both the running game and passing game have been sluggish - it might make sense for Mariucci to take a chance with the no-huddle.
It is not like Mariucci to take that kind of roll-of-the-dice approach, however, and it remains to be seen if he will try it against the defensively tough Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.



Chicago Bears (1-2) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/09/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 13th meeting. Browns lead series 8-4 over Bears, but they gave met just once in the past 12 years, a 27-21 Bears victory in overtime on Nov. 4, 2001. The Bears scored 14 points in the final 28 seconds of regulation and then won on the Browns' first possession, when QB Tim Couch's pass was batted at the line of scrimmage by DT Bryan Robinson and picked off by S Mike Brown, who returned it 16 yards for the win. It was the second straight week in which Brown returned an interception in overtime for a Bears victory.
2005 RANKINGS: Bears: offense 27th (14th rush, 29th pass); defense 4th (9th rush, 5th pass). Browns: offense 12th (25th rush, 5th pass); defense 30th (26th rush, 30th pass)

PREDICTION: Browns 14-10

KEYS TO THE GAME: Bears QB Kyle Orton has thrown one touchdown to six interceptions, but coach Romeo Crennel isn't likely to go overboard with various packages to confuse the rookie because the Browns are still getting adjusted to their new 3-4 defense. Chicago desperately needs to run the ball to put Orton in manageable passing situations, and rookie WR Mark Bradley needs to produce in his first career start to take pressure off Muhsin Muhammad, whose 16 receptions are four more than the Bears' five other receivers. The Browns also want to run the ball well on early downs to avoid facing the Bears' strong pass rush, which should only improve with DT Tommie Harris as healthy as he has been all season.

FAST FACTS: Bears: Are 10-6 (.625) following a bye. ... Muhammad has five 100-yard receiving games in his past six road games. Browns: Offense has just one touchdown in six red-zone possessions. ... Have forced at least one turnover in 16 consecutive games, tied with San Diego for the NFL high.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Bears:
--SS Mike Brown (hamstring) didn't practice Thursday, although he remains probable for Sunday.
--S Mike Green, who was replaced as the starting free safety after Week One, would be part of a platoon that would replace starting SS Mike Brown (hamstring, probable) if he can't play Sunday. Green would share time with Todd Johnson.
--SS Todd Johnson would be part of the Bears' replacement plan if SS Mike Brown cannot play on Sunday because of a hamstring injury. Johnson would share time with Mike Green.
--PK Doug Brien (back) did not practice Thursday but remains probable for Sunday.
--PK Tyler Jones would be promoted from the practice squad to replace starter Doug Brien (back) if he cannot play Sunday.
--CB Jerry Azumah was removed from the injury list and returned to practice on Thursday. He is expected to play nickel and return kickoffs on Sunday.

Browns:
--QB Trent Dilfer ranks 20th in the league in third-down passer rating (71.6 rating). Dilfer said he needs to be better there, especially in the red zone. "That's where I want to play my best football," he said.
--RB Reuben Droughns welcomed the return of Lee Suggs to full health, even if it cuts into Droughns' playing time. "We're a different style of running back," Droughns said. "When you got that you're going to throw defenses off balance."
--WR Dennis Northcutt has just eight catches for 62 yards in the team's first three games, totals far below what is expected of him. "I don't think he's gotten as many looks as some of the other receivers have gotten," coach Romeo Crennel said. "As a result he might not have been as productive as we all would like him to be and know he can be."
--DE Orpheus Roye benefited more than any Browns player from the bye week. Roye had time to rest a sore knee. Thing is, the "injury" has not affected Roye's play one bit. He's been the team's best player.
--LB Andra Davis is on pace for more than 200 tackles but shrugged it off saying: "I really haven't paid attention to the tackle totals. I'm just out there trying to get a victory."
--LB Kenard Lang said a fast start is the key to curing the Browns woes at home. The team has not won a home game since Oct. 17, 2004, when they beat the Bengals. "You start fast you get the crowd into it and get going," Lang said.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Bears:
Muhsin Muhammad isn't listed as a player-coach, but the Bears' go-to receiver has helped mentor the team's young wideouts since minicamp, and he's been doing more of that than ever with rookie Mark Bradley joining him in the starting lineup.
They're an odd couple. The 32-year-old Muhammad is a 10-year veteran, an elder statesman and a team leader, even though he's only been with the Bears since Feb. 26. Bradley is readying for his first NFL start at 23, and he only started four games in two years at Oklahoma after transferring from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, where he started just six games.
"It's a great relationship," Bradley said. "He's a guy with poise and leadership. Coming into the league, you don't know what to expect. You have a guy who has been a Pro Bowler and has been in the league for a long time and you just try to learn everything you can about the game from him, even off the field."
More than anything, Bradley needs to learn how to attract some of the attention that opponents have been lavishing on Muhammad. Even so, the veteran has 16 catches for 198 yards and 1 touchdown. The Bears' five other wide receivers have combined for 12 catches, 146 yards and zero touchdowns. As a result, the Bears are No. 29 in passing yards and No. 27 in total yards. Even Muhammad won't be able to maintain his numbers without another viable option on the field.
Four years ago, during his nine-year career with the Carolina Panthers, Muhammad came to practice wearing a jersey that read: "D. Coy," because he wasn't satisfied with the number of passes coming his way. Now, he wouldn't mind that role - temporarily.
"I'd like to be the decoy one weekend and have somebody have a big game," Muhammad said. "When I was in Carolina, the one thing we always knew was that there's no way that a defense was going to take both of our receivers out of the game. Somebody was going to have a big game receiving, whether it was Steve (Smith), or me, or both."
Bradley is second on the Bears with 57 receiving yards on four catches, but that's not enough to take double-team coverage off Muhammad. Bradley has more than enough speed to stretch opposing defenses vertically, the size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and strength to break tackles and the elusiveness to avoid them.
Off the field, Bradley has learned some valuable lessons in private film sessions with his teammate/teacher on Tuesdays, a day off for most players.

Browns:
Romeo Crennel didn't sound so confident about using different coverages to try to confuse rookie quarterback Kyle Orton of the Bears.
"You have to be able to get in position and do your job after the disguise is over so you can do your job," Crennel said. "That's the main thing we are concerned about. The disguise is great if you can pull it off, but if you can't pull it off you have to get lined up where you need to be."
Crennel seemed to be expressing some reluctance to use his secondary to confuse a rookie.
Cornerback Daylon McCutcheon favored trying different things.
"If our defensive line gets in his face, it'll be hard for him," McCutcheon said. "If our secondary moves around and disguises our coverage, it'll be even harder for him.
"He's only going to get better and better, but right now, he is a rookie."
This seems like classic pre-game gamesmanship. The effort itself is confusing.
On the one hand a player advocates confusing the rookie. On the other the coach said: "I don't know if we're good enough to disguise."
How it plays out will be an interesting feature of the game.



Cincinnati Bengals (4-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/09/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: ESPN, Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Suzy Kolber
SERIES: 16th meeting -- Jacksonville leads 10-5. The Jaguars lead 6-1 in Jacksonville. The Bengals last won in Jacksonville in 1995, the first season of play for the expansion Jaguars. The Bengals have since lost since in a row at the now-Alltel Stadium.
2005 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 3rd (10th rush, 7th pass); defense 10th (15th rush, 12th pass). Jaguars: offense 24th (18th rush, 20th pass); defense 3rd (29th rush, 2nd pass)

PREDICTION: Jaguars 20-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals have been making a living off getting early leads and controlling the clock with a running game that is third in the league with 130 carries. The Jaguars won when RB Fred Taylor was given 37 carries two weeks ago, but lost when he got just eight in last Sunday's loss. Jacksonville needs an early score and to keep it close so it can continue to pound at an untested Bengals run defense allowing 4.9 yards per carry. And with the Jaguars' beat-up offensive line struggling to protect QB Byron Leftwich, an early deficit could be the death knell because their own run defense is allowing 130.0 yards per game and will struggle to stop Bengals RB Rudi Johnson consistently.

FAST FACTS: Bengals: Are 4-0 for first time since 1988 and only the third time in franchise history. ... QB Carson Palmer is the only quarterback with a passer rating of at least 100.0 in every game this season. Jaguars: Are 10-2 under coach Jack Del Rio when scoring at least 20 points. ... Leftwich averages an AFC-best 8.88 yards per pass attempt on third down.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Bengals:
--FS Madieu Williams (shoulder), though he remained listed as questionable Thursday, was in shoulder pads at the start of practice. He did drills early in practice on the sideline under a trainer's supervision.
--RB Rudi Johnson (knee) remained probable but did return to practice after sitting out Wednesday.
--RT Willie Anderson (back) did participate early in practice and was listed as having practiced.
--C Rich Braham (knee) did not practice for the second day in a row and remained questionable. Braham's status also could lead to some lineup changes. The Bengals are hoping he can play, but if he can't, there is some question whether rookie Eric Ghiaciuc would start. His first snap Sunday night would be the first of his NFL career.
The Bengals might again slide left guard Eric Steinbach to center and play Scott Kooistra at left guard. That alignment is how the Bengals finished the game Sunday against the Texans after Braham and backup center Larry Moore were injured.
Moore is out for the season. Steinbach and quarterback Carson Palmer did not fumble a snap.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hand) missed a second consecutive day of practice and remained questionable. He is a key part of the offense. He has 20 receptions and, as was the case Sunday against Houston, can work as the primary receiver if Chad Johnson draws double or triple coverage.

Jaguars:
--RB Fred Taylor, whose longest run of the season has been for 18 yards, hopes to break some long runs against the Bengals. He's averaging just 3.3 yards a carry this year.
--DT John Henderson practiced for the second straight day Thursday with a shoulder injury, but it remains to be seen if it'll affect his play against the run Sunday against Cincinnati. He didn't play well last Sunday when Denver ran for 188 yards.
--DT Marcus Stroud practiced for the second straight day Thursday with a knee injury, but the ailment could hamper him in stopping the run Sunday against Cincinnati.
--RT Mo Williams practiced for the second straight day with a knee injury Thursday, but the ailment could hamper him in trying to block Justin Smith of Cincinnati Sunday.
--RG Chris Naeole practiced for the second straight day with a knee injury Thursday, but he played poorly with the injury last week.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Bengals:
The Bengals and Jaguars will meet on Sunday night for the 2002, the year before new head coaches and new quarterbacks arrived in their respective cities.
The Bengals and rookie head coach Marvin Lewis had the first overall pick and took Carson Palmer.
Jacksonville and its new coach, Jack Del Rio, took Byron Leftwich at No. 7. They were the first two quarterbacks taken that year.
"We both ended up, I guess, at the right place," said Leftwich, who went to Marshall. "He's happy where he's at and I'm happy where I'm at."
Leftwich is 69-for-117 passing for 867 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions in four games. Southern California's Palmer is 94-for-131 passing for 1,062 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Leftwich's passer rating is 85.7, Palmer's 112.2.
"You never play against the opposing quarterback," Palmer said. "Of course, he and I want to out-compete each other. We're both competitors."
Palmer has better offensive talent around him, especially the offensive line. Palmer has been sacked just five times, compared to 13 times for Leftwich.
"He has been banged up, hit a lot this year," Palmer said. "But he throws a great deep ball. He has a really good touch on all his passes."
Palmer has a 10-7 record as a starter. Leftwich is 15-16.

Jaguars:
Coach Jack Del Rio is telling his team to look at the big picture this week.
Even though the team is 2-2 after a lackluster effort in a 20-7 loss to Denver last Sunday night, Del Rio's message this week is that the race is still wide open because none of the teams have yet to jump into a big lead.
There are only four unbeaten teams in the league at the one-quarter pole and only two of them are in the AFC.
The Jaguars play one of them, Cincinnati, Sunday night.
So if they beat the Bengals, they'll be no worse than within one game of every team in the conference with the possible exception of Indianapolis, which is heavily favored at San Francisco Sunday.
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith also sees another positive development.
"We've yet to have our breakout game," he said.
What would his definition of a breakout game be?
"The offense getting out there, scoring at will, everything working right, no penalties or mental errors. Everybody executing, getting the ball in the end zone and looking like a well oiled machine. Hopefully this week will be the week," Smith said.



Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) at San Diego Chargers (2-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Monday, 9:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/10/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: ABC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Samantha Ryan
SERIES: 26th meeting. 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)

PREDICTION: Steelers 24-21

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.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Steelers:
--RB 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.
--WR Hines Ward did not practice on Thursday 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.
--CB Ike Taylor, who is listed as questionable, practiced for the second straight day on Thursday. Taylor started the first three games on the left side.
--LB Joey Porter, listed as questionable with a knee injury, practiced all week and will start against the Chargers.
--LB 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:
--OLB Steve Foley (abdominal) didn't work on Thursday but will play on Sunday. That will likely be the team's game plan until the bye week of Nov. 13.
--LG Kris Dielman's continued fine play could make it easier to let Toniu Fonoti (hand; out three weeks) walk after his contract expires at the end of the season.
-KR/PR/RB Darren Sproles didn't complete the entire Thursday practice, but he ran pretty well for the time that he was in there. Sproles is a weapon on returns.
--OLB Shawne Merriman, the team's top pick, continues to see increased playing time but has yet to record his first sack.
--DE 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.
--WR 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.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Steelers:
James Harrison stands only 6 feet but he'll have a tall order to fill when the Steelers play at San Diego Monday night. Harrison not only will replace injured Clark Haggans, Pittsburgh's top playmaker through three games at left outside linebacker, he'll have some coverage responsibilities for both Chargers halfback LaDainian Tomlinson and their prolific tight end, Antonio Gates.
That, of course, is in addition to other duties such as stopping Tomlinson on any runs to his side and trying to get a pass rush on Drew Brees. Harrison, who weighs under 240 at the moment, will line up against right tackle Shane Olivea, who is 6-4, 312.
But Harrison is a powerful player who uses his strength to bull rush, and he has good quickness. He says his height can be an advantage over a taller, lankier linebacker.
"I think my height actually helps me out. Considering I'm a lot more compact, I can put a little more power into it than a guy who is, say, 6-4 and weighs the same as I do."
Harrison made the Steelers last year because Haggans broke his hand one week before training camp opened lifting weights. The Steelers then signed Harrison, who played in NFL Europe and was released by Baltimore in June 2004. He did so well on special teams, he made the club. Then he became their top backup at outside linebacker and played well in four starts.
"If Clark Haggans didn't break his hand I'm not in Pittsburgh, I'm not in football," Harrison said.
He'll get at least the next four starts as Haggans recovers from groin surgery.
"He was able to play inside and outside, plus his proving ground was his play on special teams," said Pittsburgh linebackers coach Keith Butler. "Normally when guys play the way he did on special teams it translates on defense. That's what happened to him."
Coach Bill Cowher promoted Harrison last season over Alonzo Jackson, their No. 2 draft pick in 2003. They cut Jackson before this season.
"He has a very low center of gravity," Cowher said. "He's a powerful guy. He can dip and get around a corner and that's something not a lot of people can do. It's one thing to get to an edge, but to be able to plant that foot and dip and get 'skinny' can separate people."
When Joey Porter was ejected for a pre-game fight in Cleveland last Nov. 14, Harrison made his first NFL start, at right outside linebacker, and had a sack and six tackles. He started the final three games of last season when Haggans had his first groin injury and turned in strong performances in each game.
"I look at it what it is, it's an opportunity, whether you want to call it big or small that's up to you," Harrison said. "I'm not preparing any more or less than I would if I didn't know I was starting, like I got the start in Cleveland."
Harrison, an undrafted player from Kent State in 2002, spent that season and part of 2003 on the Steelers practice squad.

Chargers:
Coach Marty Schottenheimer knows that no matter how many cylinders the Chargers' offense is firing on, it has to be wise when handling the Pittsburgh blitz on Monday night.
The Chargers have been pretty good in protecting quarterback Drew Brees; he's been sacked six times in four games.
But the Chargers blockers must been keen Monday, as the Steelers have 14 sacks in just three games, including four against the Patriots and Tom Brady two weeks ago.
"We have to be prepared for them to bring pressure from anywhere," Schottenheimer said of the Steelers' vaunted zone blitz package.
To avoid getting his quarterback rocked, Schottenheimer said it's imperative for the offense to get on a roll on the early downs. So far, the Chargers are averaging a whopping 7 yards on first downs, the NFL high.
"The key is if you can make yards against them on first downs," he said. "Then you are looking at second-and-4, second-and-5. Then you've got a chance to get it, at the worst, into third-and-2 or third-and-3.
"Then you've got a chance to get the ball out. You may not be able to block them all, but you beat the blitz with the ball."
And while Schottenheimer's old pupil, Bill Cowher, is known for his defensive slant, the Chargers coach said the real credit for the Pittsburgh blitz goes to Dick LeBeau, its defensive coordinator.
"He has used it very, very effectively," Schottenheimer said, "every place he has been."

 


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