´ Steel Curtain Rising: Steelers Defeat San Diego Chargers 35-24

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Steelers Defeat San Diego Chargers 35-24

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the San Diego Chargers to the tune of 35 to 24 in Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff, giving Mike Tomlin his first post-season win and exorcising some of the franchise's playoff demons in the process.

Most importantly, they showed that they arrived to the NFL’s 2008 postseason ready to play.

I'll Eat My Crow with a Side Helping of Humble Pie

There are sometimes in this business when you like to be wrong, and Sunday was one of them. Less than two hours before game time, Steel Curtain Rising posted an article declaring that Ben Roethlisberger held the key to the Steelers playoff fortunes. That supposition, in-and-of-itself, is probably still valid. But in leading up to that, we had this to say:

The running game might marginally improve, but there is no way this team is running over people they way it did in the 1990’s and even as recently as 2004....

I will happily eat my own words. If the performance of the Steelers running game against the Charges marks “marginal improvement” then I shudder to think of what a significant improvement will be.

Crossroads…

After the Steelers 11-10 regular season victory over the Chargers, Steel Curtain Rising suggested that, the inability to get into the end zone not withstanding, the Steelers offense might have reached a crossroads.

Well, that didn’t happen the first time against the Chargers, but it may have happened Sunday.

Steelers Nation should be crystal clean on one point:

  • Running against the Ravens will be exponentially more difficult than it was on the Chargers

With that said, there are a number of positives that the Steelers can take out of this playoff victory. Not only is the offense peaking at the right time, but the Arians, either by himself or under pressure from Tomlin, finally appears to be committed to a balanced passing attack.

The Steelers historic 3rd quarter against the Chargers, the one where they held the ball for 14:43 vindicates that balanced approach.

The Steelers ran the ball and ran the ball again. And when they found themselves in third downs, they converted them, and went back to running the ball.

More than anything else, you got the feeling that the Steelers offense believed offense they were running, more thoroughly than at any time during the year.

Stepping it Up

The Steelers performance against the Chargers was not flawless, but as they have done throughout the year, no one flinched.

Mike Tomlin went to his bag of tricks early and often, and while we do question some of those calls, the decision to go for it at fourth and goal in particular, there’s a lot to like about the attitude.

The Steelers did what battle-tested, championship caliber teams do. They played to win, and when one part of their game faltered another area kicked into high gear.

Give up a long touchdown on the opening drive...

  • Respond with a surprise punt, and hold’em to three and out and return a punt for 65 yards

Give up a long kick off return?

  • Get the ball back on the very next play

The defense did its part on this front too. The Chargers discovered the “secret” (shish, don’t tell anyone, but here's the secret to stopping James Harrison: hold him, closeline him, and if all else fails tackle James Harrison from behind and ride him to the ground) to shutting down James Harrison, only to have LaMarr Woodley make them pay.

Reason to Worry?

The fact that the Chargers scored two late touchdowns to come within theoretical striking distance of winning has been largely over looked.

  • Should those late touchdowns be overlooked?

In the short-term yes. This group of Pittsburgh Steelers has lived on the edge all year. And they’ve thrived on it.

When they’ve needed opportunities, they’ve gone out and taken them. When it’s come time to execute, they’ve executed. This propensity to lay off the gas a little, as they also appeared to do against the Texans, might develop into a worrisome tendency for Tomlin teams during the long term, but for now it seems to be under control.

  • The Baltimore Ravens will certainly yield no quarter, and Pittsburgh will have little chance for complacency

The calf injury to Troy Polamalu undoubtedly contributed to San Diego’s three touchdown passes. Suffice to say, the worse the injury, the better Baltimore’s chances.

A Bigger Test is Yet to Come

As pleasing as the Steelers victory against the Chargers was, it is only a first step.

The Baltimore Ravens are up next. Both regular season games against the Ravens went to the wire.

There’s good reason for that.

  • The Ravens are physical. The Ravens know how to attack. The Ravens are relentless.

The Steelers will need to bring their ‘A’ game to beat the Baltimore Ravens.

If Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers is any indication, the Steelers will do just that.

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