Friday, December 7, 2012

Steelers Look For History To Repeat Itself Against Chargers


In case you missed the news, not that it's been mentioned all week or anything, the San Diego Chargers are 0-14 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh during regular season.

That and a $1.50 will get you a coffee at Starbucks.

We say that because what happened in years past has no bearing what happens this year. Remember: that same franchise is also 2-1 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Ask Tim McKyer about that.

That said, it's the former history that the Steelers (7-5) want repeated, not the latter. This version of the Chargers (4-8) does have its issues, but don't expect them to just lay down and concede victory, either.

The Chargers have weapons to throw at the Steelers and have the ability to turn back missiles launched their way as well. Despite having lost seven of their last eight games, they've been in each game into the fourth quarter and have lost by less than a touchdown on the average (6.6 points). ColdHardFacts.com breaks down the last game even further in a recent column that you can find here: http://tinyurl.com/arpoatx

Keeping that in consideration, the main thing that will be on the minds of every Steelers fan when the offense is on the field is "Protect Big Ben." One way to do that is to be able to run the football. That won't be overly easy.

The Chargers are the NFL's seventh ranked run defense and they're tied for fifth in run average per carry (3.8 YPC). The Chargers defense is ranked ninth overall.

Nevertheless, establishing the run to keep the Chargers honest in their attack is prudent. The less Big Ben has to endure, the better. To aid in this, he will be wearing a special "compression vest" that will have a layer of Kevlar to help to absorb hits to his clavicle/shoulder areas. (photo courtesy Will Graves-Associated Press)

Per Pro Football Talk, the Steelers asked Unequal Technologies to create the protective vest for Big Ben to wear in order to protect his injured right shoulder. The vest will include Concussion Reduction Technology (CRT) padding already in some NFL helmets. - http://tinyurl.com/aoeu852

Even so, the Chargers aren't exactly sacking the quarterback at a record pace this year. They have sacked the QB even fewer times than the Steelers have, doing so only 23 times. Shaun Phillips leads them with seven so far on the season.

When passing, the Steelers will have all of Young Money, aka the Bugatti Boys, aka "the boo boo crew" to throw to again. One of whom caused a bit of a stir in an interview with Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Mike Wallace had some...interesting comments regarding his inclusion in the offense and his production. He referenced his drops as an issue he's well aware of.

"I've never been a guy who dropped balls or just lose focus," Wallace told Paulk. "The first three years, I was always involved, so you just warmed up in games and were just into it.

"But when you don't get the ball for two-and-half quarters, you lose focus," Wallace continued. "But that's the type of offense this is. We're spreading it around, so you're not going to get as many targets. When you get them, you have to make the best of them." - http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/3090560-85/wallace-yards-ball#axzz2EPi2Xplb

O...kayyy... Really?

Granted, Wallace was labeled as a co-starter (i.e. "demoted") by coach Mike Tomlin last week. Wallace did start against the Ravens, yes, but his snaps were significantly down compared to other games, per Mark Kaboly. Also, he's had just six targets over the last five games.

And as he pointed out, the Steelers wide receiver snaps vs. Ravens went as follows: Antonio Brown, 52; Emmanuel Sanders, 49; and Wallace, 41. - http://tinyurl.com/as58cl9

Does that equal fewer targets on the whole, though? Let's break down the key points of his assertion and see what's real.

1) "Focus" is a 'you' problem first of all. Faithful readers to If It Ain't Steel know that we've talked about this before. If he isn't involved early, he can become disinterested. Now, he's admitted it.

2) The "dropped balls" is much more of a problem this year as, I do believe, he's now credited with eight. He has 52 catches so far on the season. So, if he catches those other eight, he would have 60 by now, i.e. the total he had in 2010.

3) How can he say he's not getting "as many targets" when he's actually getting targeted more often? Look at the actual numbers:

Targets -
2010: 100 in 16 games (6.25 avg per gm)
2011: 113 in 16 games (7.06 avg per gm)
2012: 93 in 12 games (7.75 avg per gm)

Receptions -
2010: 60 in 16 games (3.75 avg per gm)
2011: 72 in 16 games (4.5 avg per gm)
2012: 52 in 12 games (4.33 avg per gm)

Now, help me with this, how is he less involved? He's currently on pace for 69 receptions. Not only that, but he could also attain a career high in receptions if he caught more of the passes where he was targeted.

That being the case, expect him to be looked for early in the game to appease him and to keep him from falling asleep at halftime. Either that or expect the team to buy stock in 5-Hour Energy.

With Willie Colon saying he "felt real good," and being listed as Probable on the Friday report (he says he's a game-time decision), that's added help against those rushers so Big Ben can gets Wallace those targets, and for pushing the run game that will be led once again by Jonathan Dwyer.

"He obviously is being tested, but he passed that first test. Now he has to come out and back it up," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Dwyer. Most of the questions naturally were about the return of Big Ben, but he did address his running back. - http://blog.steelers.com/2012/12/06/coordinators-corner-haley-lebeau-4/

“The older guys, we keep telling the younger guys about this. They’ve got to believe, they’ve got to understand how important these games are to us. We’ve just got to get a ticket.” - Steelers inside linebacker Larry Foote

Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon are two of those "younger guys." They saw more snaps against the Ravens last week and it needs to continue. They are proving themselves to as effective, and sometimes more so, as the "older guys" they're subbing in for throughout the game. This will continue to be necessary so that the Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel won't be so banged up heading into the playoffs.

No time like the present.

In the Chargers loss last Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals, they lost starting right tackle Jeromey Clary (knee), left guard Tyronne Green (hamstring) and left tackle Mike Harris (high ankle sprain). Head coach Norv Turner said on Monday that he doesn’t expect any of those players to be able to go this Sunday.

He was right, don't expect any of them. The Chargers Friday injury/practice report said, among others, that Clary is out, Green is doubtful and that Harris is questionable. And if Harris does play, he'll be very limited.

To offset all the injuries, three different offensive linemen were signed off of their practice squad or off of the street during the week.

Maybe it's the chicken I have thawing in the sink, but I can literally smell blood in the water.

Steelers offensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will definitely dial up schemes designed to exploit those mismatches and get after Philip Rivers early.

"Yeah, that's what we do," quipped LeBeau. "I never answer any questions about game plan."

He did answer questions about his players, though, and what he expects of them. Specifically Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.

"Troy's instincts are so great and that's something you don't lose," LeBeau said. "From the first snap that he went in there, you could tell it was Troy in there. He's just a special player. We're happy to have him back."

Of his other former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, LeBeau said that he believes that the Silverback has 'turned the corner' and that "he's been getting better every week," but that he's finally "playing at a very high level."

It was Deebo's strip sack that fueled the comeback victory over the Ravens last Sunday, and he knows he'll need to continue his heroic play this week.

Despite having an offensive line decimates by injuries, the Silverback knows not to assume they'll just lie down for the Steelers. The sacks that Rivers has endured, 36 so far this year, has affected his overall play, resulting in poor numbers for Rivers.

Deebo, when asked about Rivers' poor numbers, said, "I'm not worried about that. I hope they get lower. That's not my problem."

Yes, sir, Mr. Harrison.

Deebo has always been that way, though. He has no regard for the opposing players and teams. He's judge, jury and executioner on the field when healthy. And, like LeBeau said, he's getting back there. - http://tinyurl.com/ac3oa2x

The other aspect of the defense that LeBeau spoke of, though, was the secondary and what to expect with Ike Taylor out for a couple of weeks.

Ike, who has never missed a game under LeBeau, had 32 tackles, 13 pass defenses and one interception in the 12 games prior to his injury.

Cortez Allen replaced Ike and, after giving up a long pass interference penalty and a 28-yard touchdown to Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, settled down and played well having five tackles and three pass defenses.

Curtis Brown, who had a tackle and a pass defense against the Ravens, now becomes the third cornerback. In the nickel packages he'll stay outside and 'Tez Allen will move inside to his normal slot position as he has the most experience in it.

The other side of that coin is a player should be in Pro Bowl consideration: Keenan Lewis.

Lewis has recorded 57 total tackles and is one of the top cornerbacks in the league in passes defended with 19. He is only allowing an approximate 53% completion ratio on passes thrown his way.

He predicted back in May that he'd make the Pro Bowl, but having no interceptions may hurt his bid. Still, he's locking down one side of the field.

All of those men will be needed against the tall receivers of the Chargers. If they close the back door, though, and Deebo and Jason Worilds, who now leads the team in sacks with five, can bust down the front door, the Steelers could find themselves repeating history again.

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TIDBITS: Practice/Injury reports: Steelers - Mike Adams, Ike Taylor and LaMarr Woodley are out; Leftwich is questionable; Antonio Brown, Drew Butler (illness), Ryan Clark, Willie Colon, Jerricho Cotchery, Will Johnson, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace are probable.

Chargers - Donald Butler, Eddie Royal and Jeromey Clary are out; Tyronne Green is doubtful; and Mike Harris is questionable.

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Love for the big guy:
"Ben Roethlisberger is not only one of the best quarterbacks, but one of the best players, in the NFL. Having him back changes the mindset of all the players and gives them confidence. It gives the coaches confidence in what they’re trying to do in calling and designing plays.

“The one thing about Ben Roethlisberger that people don’t pay enough attention to is that he’s a terrific thrower of the football. When there’s a play to be made by throwing it down the field, he makes it. It always gets lost when people talk about these quarterbacks in the NFL. He may not put up the numbers of Drew Brees or Tom Brady but he takes advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to him." - Phil Simms

"He's awesome. He's a comeback quarterback, he's our leader, he's our field general -- he's everything....It's December football and we're trying to clinch a spot. With him back, our odds are good." - Willie Colon

"Ben's one of the best players on our team and one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Whenever we get him back that's good for us." - Heath Miller

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Charlie Batch is completely embarrassed after almost losing to Joe Flacco. - http://www.theonion.com/articles/charlie-batch-totally-embarrassed-after-almost-los,30634/