As I stated last week, Phillip Rivers may well be the hottest quarterback in professional football. In 2008 the NC State product set a Chargers record with 34 touchdown passes while throwing just eleven interceptions. In his last six games, he threw 13 TD passes with just one pick.
Rivers does a great job of distributing the football, but when push comes to shove, he generally looks at three options; Tomlinson on flat, screen and arrow routes, Gates on shallow crosses and curls and Vincent Jackson on five and seven routes.
Keep in mind that in their mid season loss to the Steelers, Rivers had his worst throwing day of the season (15 for 26 and 164 yards with two picks and a season-low passer rating of 44.4).
The Chargers running game is to say the least very uncertain due to a groin injury to running back LaDanian Tomlinson. He will again be less than 100% and this creates a major problem for the Chargers; how do they protect the immobile Rivers from the Steelers ferocious pass rush with an undersized Darren Sproles?
As a runner even a less than a perfect Tomlinson is a threat, but the Chargers are going to discover very early in this game that this Steelers group is difficult to run against. The aforementioned Darren Sproles has been one of my favorite players since his days at the Kansas University, he explosive, quick as a hiccup, has great playing instincts and is ever so dangerous in space.
His major negative is that he needs a note from his parents to go on the big-boy rides at the state fair! In small doses he can be very effective, but I have stated so many times in the past; over the long haul, little guys do not hold up in the NFL. Last week he ran for 105 yards and totaled 328 yards in all-purpose yardage, but it's going to be very hard to duplicate that effort versus a nasty Steelers defense that didn't allow a hundred yard rusher all season long and limited the league to a stingy 3.3 yard average.
The real key to this game is whether Ben Roethlisberger will be able to play well, after sustaining a concussion two weeks ago. Playing injured for much of the season, Big Ben has made some big plays, but his overall numbers are not very impressive (17 TD and 15 picks).
If the Steelers offensive line can protect and establish a running game, this one could be easy, but those are some very big ifs, given the fact that Parker ran for less than half the yards (791) that he accumulated in last year's and their injury-riddled offensive line gave up 49 sacks in the season.
The Steelers were 6 and 2 on their home turf while the Chargers were 3 and 5 on the road. Although logic hasn't worked too well for me in the divisional round, I'm going with the superior defensive unit and all those warm and fuzzy fans in Western Pennsylvania.
Steelers 21 – Chargers 10