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fordfixer
11-13-2008, 04:28 PM
Chargers at Steelers
http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/preview?gameId=20081116023


The Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers both have plenty of concerns. At the top of those lists are their franchise players.

Two teams who were considered Super Bowl contenders entering this season, but have not played much like it recently, will meet Sunday as a struggling Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers host the Chargers and frustrated star LaDainian Tomlinson.
Pittsburgh (6-3) goes into this matchup in much better position, tied atop the AFC North with Baltimore, while San Diego (4-5) sits a game behind AFC West-leading Denver and trying to get back to .500.

Neither team has looked worthy of winning its division lately, with Roethlisberger making too many mistakes and Tomlinson failing to find much running room.

The Steelers have lost two of their last three games, and in the one win - 23-6 at Washington on Nov. 3 - backup Byron Leftwich led both of the team's second-half touchdown drives in place of an injured Roethlisberger.

Second to only Tom Brady in passer rating last season, Roethlisberger is 25th this year at 76.1 and he's tied for second in the league with 11 interceptions - eight in his last 10 quarters. The Pro Bowler has one touchdown pass during that span while getting sacked 10 times.

"When you feel like it's your fault, it really hurts," said Roethlisberger, who had three interceptions - two that led to touchdowns - in last Sunday's 24-20 home loss to Indianapolis.

"I take it on myself. I let the guys down, offense and defense, but the good thing is it's not the end of the season. We'll come back."

The Chargers are looking to come back in the second half of the season, though they started it in somewhat discouraging fashion despite getting a win. Coming off a bye after back-to-back road losses, San Diego returned home last Sunday and had to stop one-win Kansas City on a 2-point conversion try with 23 seconds left to win 20-19.

"We've been so up and down this season, obviously that can drain you mentally," said Tomlinson, who was held to 78 yards on 22 carries. "We're just trying to find ways to continue to get better at this time of the year with this now starting to come down to the wire. We need wins."

Tomlinson, the NFL rushing leader the last two seasons, is on pace to run for a career-low 1,118 yards. He's rushed for 100 yards in just two games and has failed to run for a touchdown in five straight. Tomlinson hasn't finished with fewer than 15 total TDs since his 2001 rookie season, but has five this year.

San Diego has been among the league's top 10 in rushing in five consecutive seasons, but ranks 25th in 2008 with 96.1 yards per game.

"I guess I'm really concerned about it because football to me is simple," Tomlinson said. "I think in order to really be successful and to do what you want to do you have to be able to run the football. That's the way it's always been."

While the offseason departures of backup Michael Turner and fullback Lorenzo Neal might be catching up with Tomlinson, the trouble with Roethlisberger could be that injuries are bothering him more than he leads on.

Besides playing more recently with a damaged ligament in his left little finger, Roethlisberger has battled a slight shoulder separation since the season opener and that had been keeping him out of practice until Friday of a game week. That changed this week, with Roethlisberger taking snaps with the first-team offense Wednesday.

"I think it's important that you practice." coach Mike Tomlin said. "The longer that goes on (missing practice), you start to see issues coming up with timing and cohesion. I think that's the spot we're at this point."

Roethlisberger also is playing behind a shaky offensive line which has given up an AFC-high 31 sacks, though that unit could get a key piece back this week if left tackle Marvel Smith can play after missing the first nine games due to a back injury.

Smith's return could benefit a rushing attack which has been limited to 214 yards over the past three games, and getting Willie Parker back could provide another lift. The Pro Bowl running back has missed five of Pittsburgh's last six games with injuries, but coach Mike Tomlin thinks he'll return Sunday.

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, could have a breakout day against a San Diego pass defense which is last in the NFL, giving up 264.9 yards per game. Over the last three games, the Chargers have one sack and no interceptions.

Last week's game was San Diego's first with Ron Rivera as defensive coordinator after Ted Cottrell was fired.

"We understand that, hey, if we don't get this going, it might be more than just D-coordinator changes," safety Clinton Hart said.

The Steelers are No. 1 against the pass, giving up 171.1 yards per game, and now they face the AFC's top-rated passer in Philip Rivers (106.3).

Rivers leads the NFL with 21 touchdown passes, including 10 in the last four games as he's completed 69.7 percent of his throws for 1,171 yards.

San Diego has never won in 12 regular-season games in Pittsburgh, but has won both playoff meetings there, including the 1994 AFC championship game.