Week 14: Chargers-Steelers preview

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

San Diego at Pittsburgh
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 712
*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
*Keys to the game: If Ben Roethlisberger returns as he expects, the Steelers want him to be his usual self -- to a certain physical limit. It's not Roethlisberger's nature to play with restrictions, leaving it in the hands of offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Pittsburgh's improved offensive line to safeguard Roethlisberger from taking undue abuse. The formula figures to feature Jonathan Dwyer, a tackle-breaking inside runner who spells little worry with his receiving skills. That's the reason the Steelers are employing a healthy co-op with Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey sharing a piece of the workload. With or without Roethlisberger, the threat of TE Heath Miller catching passes between the hashes and Antonio Brown moving the chains with precise inside routes eliminates the thought of an eight-man box from most defenses. If Roethlisberger isn't ready to go, shift the pressure squarely to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his veteran group. Chargers QB Philip Rivers' first-half accuracy has been uncanny, but it's the one - like the game-ending pick last week - or two throws that get away from him in the second half that sparked the Chargers' tailspin. Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates are critical as second-read outlets with Rivers knowing an assortment of linebacker blitzes could be coming.
*Matchup to watch - Steelers OLB James Harrison vs. Chargers LT Michael Harris and Gates: Harrison is a threat in passing situations as his left knee is getting healthier. He had been getting by largely on power moves, but showed some of his lateral agility last week and as soon as Sunday will again get tandem-blocker treatment.
*Player spotlight - Steelers CB Cortez Allen: Lead cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle) was injured early at Baltimore last week. Allen is a strong nickel cornerback but stepping up in class to an outside role made him a target and invites Rivers' attention. Allen, from The Citadel, is 6-1, 199 pounds and runs the 40 in the 4.5-second range. He was beaten over the top on longer routes by the Ravens and Chargers WRs Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander run a smorgasbord of vertical routes.
*Fast facts: Rivers has 11 turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime this season. ... Nine of Pittsburgh's 12 games have been decided by seven points or less.
The Chargers have lost four straight on the road and with little more than pride on the line, can't overtake the Steelers even if Ben Roethlisberger sits for a third straight game.
*Our pick: Steelers 19-10

What to Read Next