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Friday, October 07, 2005 | Pittsburgh cannot hide behind the cross-country flight excuse if it gets struck down in San Diego on Monday Night. That old football cliché refers to whenever a team travels across three time zones it rarely covers the spread, however the Steelers had two weeks to get here. Their bye week came on the heels of a bitter 23-20 loss to visiting New England in Week 3.
Bolts at Their Best. The scowl on Bill Cowher’s face is in sharp contrast to the smile stretching across Marty Schottenheimer’s face after the Chargers snapped the Patriots 21-game home winning streak last week. San Diego’s 41-17 shellacking of the defending Super Bowl champs was arguably the team’s finest performance this century. If you missed it make an all effort to find a videotape of the game or a buddy who kept a recording on a DVR device. Everyone deserves a pat on the back, no pun intended, but it’s time to go from grin to game face.
Wheels Back on Bus. Running the football is vital to Pittsburgh’s success. An average of 20 pass attempts per game and 32 rushing attempts tells the story. Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis are ready to go after nursing injuries to start the season. The veterans will not carry the bulk of the load, but rather support the surprising Willie Parker. “Fast Willie” joined the Steelers as an undrafted free agent last season and was supposed to be a role player. Parker appears to be the go-to back until further notice after compiling 327 rushing yards in three starts in 2005.
Ground Control. A virtual non-factor in San Diego’s consecutive losses, LaDainian Tomlinson is back on track after a pair of dominant games. L.T. and Parker are two of only four players to average more than five yards per carry on at least 60 attempts. Getting the ground game going will be difficult for both offenses. Pittsburgh led the NFL in rushing defense last year and San Diego finished third. Neither side is showing any signs of weakness against the run thus far, both allow 3.7 yards per carry – a mark right on par with ’04. Despite efforts to establish the run, the outcome of this contest rests on the right arms of Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.
Winning Is a Breeze. Brees is the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week thanks to much-improved protection from the offensive line. He completed more than 80 percent of his passes for nearly 450 yards and four touchdowns in San Diego’s back-to-back triumphs. Brees looks for Antonio Gates in key situations, which explains why he is the most efficient QB on third down in ’05. In fact, 15 of 18 completions to Gates moved the chains. Keenan McCardell is not acting his age, looking spry and leading the way with 18 receptions and five TDs. Brees is the league’s leading passer on third down, when he has completed 21-of-29 for 254 yards with four touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 124.1.
Like Clockwork. San Diego’s ineptitude to consistently pressure the pocket could equal a big day for Big Ben and Co. Roethlisberger makes the most of every opportunity to air it out. He owns the NFL’s top quarterback rating and has not thrown an interception this season. All-Pro wideout Hines Ward has snagged four of Roethlisberger’s six TD tosses.
Manic Mondays. Pittsburgh has 31 wins in 52 chances on Monday Night Football, while San Diego looks to improve on its 14-13 mark on MNF. The Chargers posted a 26-17 victory against the Steelers in the foes’ lone Monday Night encounter on Dec. 22, 1980. San Diego is hosting MNF for the first time since 1996. Wildfires in October 2003 forced the league to move a scheduled MNF tilt from Qualcomm Stadium to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Kevin Aron is a freelance writer in San Diego and outright sports junkie. Kevin has worked in college sports information, sports agent offices and, most recently, as managing editor of DIRECTVSPORTS.com for nearly five years.