Matchup: Steelers vs. Chargers
When the Chargers have the ball: QB Philip Rivers will make his 109th consecutive start -- the second-longest streak among active QBs -- and ranks eighth in the league with a 65.3 completion percentage. But, despite having five games with a 100+ passer rating, he ranks 17th overall (85.1) -- proof of his inconsistency. That is reflected in their offensive production. They have just one offensive TD in the past two games and converted just 10 of their past 43 third-down chances. His favorite target has been TE Antonio Gates, with whom he has connected for 53 career touchdowns, most in league history among a QB-TE tandem. WR Malcolm Floyd leads the team with 51 catches and averages 15 yards per reception. They will use three different running backs, but they highlight Ryan Matthews (620 yards) and Ronnie Brown (45 catches). The offensive line is plagued with injuries. T Mike Harris, T Jeromey Clary and G Tyronne Green are not expected to play. Two players who weren't with the team at the start of the season, Kevin Haslem and Stephen Schilling, should start. Rivers has been sacked 36 times -- most in the AFC -- and takes a lot of hits.
When the Steelers have the ball: QB Ben Roethlisberger will return after missing the past three games. That should help the third-down conversion chances, which suffered (11 of 39, 28.2 percent) in the three games without him. The Chargers have a consistent run defense that ranks sixth in the league. The problem has been their pass defense. The Chargers rank 21st against the pass and 27th in third-down conversion percentage (42.2), including 46.2 in the past three games (25 of 54). LB Shaun Phillips has a team-high seven of their 23 sacks and also has 15 pressures and nine QB hits. The Chargers are also getting some production from their past two No. 1 picks -- DE Corey Liuget and OLB Melvin Ingram. Liuget has four sacks and leads the team with nine tackles for losses. Safety Corey Lynch made his first start for injured Atari Bigby and had an interception, nine tackles and two passes defensed against the Bengals.
WR Danario Alexander ... He signed a one-year contract Oct. 22 and has appeared in just six games. But he had his second 100-yard performance in four games against the Bengals, compiling a game-high 102 yards on six catches. Since Nov. 1, Alexander has 467 yards receiving on 26 catches. The only players with more yards in that span are A.J. Green of the Bengals (471), Dez Bryant (490) of the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago's Brandon Marshall (507), Houston's Andre Johnson (670) and Detroit's Calvin Johnson (790).
The Chargers have lost four in a row and their only two victories in the past 10 games are against two-win Kansas City. ... They have never won in Pittsburgh during the regular season (0-14) and have lost eight of the past nine overall since beating the Steelers in the 1994 AFC championship game at Three Rivers. ... The Chargers are notorious for their late-season pushes, going 18-4 in December under coach Norv Turner. But that doesn't look as though it will happen this year. The only thing saving the Chargers is they have been competitive in most of their games. They have lost five games by seven points or fewer. ... The Steelers are second in the NFL in time of possession at 33:33; the Chargers fourth (31:35).
To win, the Chargers must ...
1. Get some lighting in those Bolts. The Chargers have managed just one TD and only 32 points in three games against the AFC North.
2. Get pick-six No. 6. Their defense has five interception returns for touchdowns, including scores of 59 and 80 yards.
3. Send men at Ben. They do a good job pressuring the pocket, especially off the edge with Shaun Phillips and Corey Liguet.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Get a batch of fresh energy. They need to use the emotional boost provided by Charlie Batch in Baltimore to start stacking wins.
2. Give Rivers the shivers. Only Aaron Rodgers (39) has been sacked more times than the Chargers quarterback.
3. Close the Gates. Having Troy Polamalu back helps to minimize the matchup problem the Chargers tight end can create.
Game: Steelers (7-5) vs. San Diego Chargers (4-8), Heinz Field.
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network.
Favored: Steelers by 8.
First Published December 9, 2012 12:00 am