Key Match-ups: Steelers-Chargers

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers.

CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Vincent Jackson

Taylor and the Steelers know Jackson well, even if only now is most of the league getting familiar with San Diego's budding superstar. The crowd at Heinz Field in the 2008 Divisional Playoff game between these teams got awfully quiet when QB Phillip Rivers hit Jackson on a 41-yard bomb to put the Chargers up 7-0.

Taylor is the Steelers best cover corner, and his size and wingspan make him a realistic option for covering the 6-foot-5 Jackson. Considering San Diego's penchant to pass this season (38 pass attempts per game, 14 pass completions of 20 yards or more), It's a safe bet to say Rivers will look to continue using Jackson's active-NFL leading 18.5 career yards per catch to the team's advantage.

C Justin Hartwig vs. Ogemdi Nwagbuo

Since the absence of NT Jamal Williams, the Chargers run defense has become suspect. They head into Pittsburgh with the league's 26th-ranked run defense, allowing a whopping 4.5 yards per carry. Nwagbuo is in his second year, and teams have keyed on him in their rushing attack. Williams was the anchor of some very strong run defenses in San Diego over the past few years, and Nwagbuo is going to have to find a way to replicate his presence.

The Steelers running game can't take any opponent for granted. With the likely absence of Willie Parker, both Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall will be running to, in many ways, protect what's left of a rushing attack. Hartwig will be the key cog this week, as the Steelers will look to run the ball with a sense of ferocity, and they will aim right at the man across the line from Hartwig.

RB Darren Sproles vs. ILB Lawrence Timmons

The Chargers haven't been able to stop the run well this year, but their lack of ability to produce rushing yards is more glaring. With a banged-up LaDainian Tomlinson and a few injuries along the offensive line, the Chargers are averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. While they may not admit it, Pittsburgh is not the opponent against whom to make all efforts to get a running game on track. Sproles has an 81-yard touchdown reception to his credit this year, and a total of 13 catches and 181 yards as a receiver. The Chargers will try to get the ball to Sproles in space as a means of an atypical running game.

Timmons, the Steelers most athletic linebacker, will have to monitor Sproles all over the field. The lightning-quick Sproles is a match-up headache for any linebacker, but Timmons is about as fast as they come, and his ability to keep Sproles from turning up field will be a critical component in the Steelers' defensive success.

TE Heath Miller vs. SS Clinton Hart and OLB Shawne Merriman

In the times Pittsburgh won't want to gash away yards on the ground, they have a favorable match-up in Miller vs. the injured Merriman or the undersized Hart. Miller is quietly second on the team with 16 receptions, and his 6.1 yards per catch seems more like he supports a makeshift running game himself. He can body up Hart if the safety comes in to cover him down the seam, and with Merriman's status questionable due to a groin injury, the Steelers have to like what they see in the flats if Merriman appears to have coverage responsibility.

Merriman is used more as a pass rusher than in coverage, and likely wouldn't be responsible for Miller on passing downs. That will be critical for QB Ben Roethlisberger to identify pre-snap, and it could lead to a big day for Miller.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Chargers
  Quarterback x
even Running backs even
  Offensive line x
x Wide receivers  
  Tight ends x
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
  Defensive backs x
  Special teams x

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