Though many people might not be aware of it, the San Diego Chargers have developed an offense that is among the league’s elite.
The whole team could be put in that class after this week.
Entering as the AFC’s highest-scoring team, San Diego has a chance to knock off one of last year’s AFC championship game participants for the second straight week in a matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We’re probably just flying under the radar, just going out and taking care of our business,” Chargers quarterback Drew Brees said. “And all that stuff takes care of itself when the time comes. We’re a team that if we keep going at the rate we’re going, yes, we’ll reach that level.”
San Diego will get closer to that level if it can beat Pittsburgh, which fell to New England in last season’s AFC title game and was again beaten at home by the Patriots two weeks ago, 23-20. That stopped the Steelers’ regular-season winning streak at 16 games.
The Chargers fared much better against the two-time defending Super Bowl champions last week, scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half to win 41-17 and halt New England’s 21-game home winning streak.
LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the victory, but by Monday, he was no longer celebrating.
“My focus now is Pittsburgh. I don’t want to keep thinking about the New England Patriots, and us beating them. We beat New York last week, and now we’ve got Pittsburgh this week. You know what? Now people are saying the Indianapolis Colts are the best team in the NFL. So, I mean, so it’s like, ‘Forget about the Patriots, it’s all about the Colts, baby,”’ Tomlinson said with a laugh.
Tomlinson keys a San Diego offense averaging an AFC-best 31.8 points per game. While he gained just 124 yards combined during the Chargers’ 0-2 start, he’s run for 326 yards and five touchdowns in victories over the New York Giants and New England.
“One thing with that running back, the way he runs, we definitely have to be disciplined,” Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said.
Brees has done his part in the turnaround, with just eight incompletions in 46 pass attempts over the last two games while throwing for four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Tomlinson and Brees face a Pittsburgh defense surrendering 12.3 points per game, and coming off a bye week.
The Steelers have not allowed an opposing player to rush for more than 63 yards, and are tied for third in the NFL with 14 sacks despite playing one fewer game than every other team in the top 10.
While Pittsburgh’s defensive front has been solid, the offensive line is coming off a sub-par performance.
Against New England, Ben Roethlisberger faced the most persistent pass rush he’s experienced since coming into the NFL and was sacked four times. He completed 12 of 28 passes, and his 42.9 completion percentage was easily his worst in 18 career starts.
Plus, Willie Parker was held to 55 yards on 17 carries after rushing for well over 100 yards in each of the first two games.
“We did not play to our ability and the standards that we’ve set here,” coach Bill Cowher said. “You like to think that it’s something that is correctable. Sometimes you’re going to have a day like that.”
Roethlisberger, though, remains the NFL’s highest-rated passer, and he could have a wide array of options out of the backfield.
Though Parker will retain the starting job, Duce Staley is expected to get worked more into the offense and Jerome Bettis could make his first appearance of the season. Staley, who underwent knee surgery during training camp, returned against the Patriots but did not get a carry. Bettis, the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history, is healthy and practicing again after missing the first three games with a calf injury.
“I don’t think it’s going to be tough,” Parker said, diplomatically, when asked how all the backs would stay active. “They’re going to put us in position to make plays, and they will be the best plays for the team.”