By Teresa Varley
The Steelers ran the ball effectively against the Chargers when they played on Nov. 16 at Heinz Field, with Willie Parker carrying the ball 25 times for 115 yards.
They hope to continue that trend this Sunday, but know that the offense can't be one-dimensional.
"Everyone has made a big emphasis on the running game and how it has to get going," said offensive tackle Max Starks. "It's just important to be a balanced team. If that means getting the running game going early, then it's an important factor. But if they are showing a lot of eight in the box then your passing game and play action stuff is going to be more important. It's a delicate balance of making sure you can do both at any given time is the more important focus."
Down the stretch the Steelers did not rush for 100 yards against Dallas, Baltimore or Tennessee, but the running game flourished against the Cleveland Browns for 176 yards in the season finale.
"It was more for everyone outside of our locker room to see we could do it," said Starks. "We have known all along we can run the ball if given the opportunity to. It's just about whether it's been the right situation every time. You look at it and a 12-4 record - it wasn't a prerequisite to make the post-season. But it shows everyone that we still have it and we can use it at any time."
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The Chargers were able to keep the Steelers out of the end zone in their previous meeting, with the only scoring coming on three Jeff Reed field goals and a safety. Getting into the end zone this week is a key for the offense.
"We did well offensively, efficiency-wise," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "We moved the ball, but we sputtered in the red zone. We can't afford to do that. We can't turn the ball over. The big thing is we can drive up and down the field, but we have to be able to put the ball in when we get down there. Three points is great but we'd rather have seven."
Wide receiver Hines Ward, who is always a threat to score, agrees that putting touchdowns on the board is a key.
"We need to work on our red-zone efficiency," said Ward. "We went down there and we couldn't pick up touchdowns. We got the result through a lot of field goals. They stopped us on fourth and one. So we definitely have to work on putting more emphasis on the red zone and getting touchdowns rather than field goals."
The Steelers were called for 13 penalties for 115 yards in the earlier meeting against the Chargers this season and they know this is something they have to eliminate this time around.
"You know they got me for two holding calls, but that's something you just got to work on," said Ward. "You don't know who the refs are going be. Each crew calls the game a little differently. We definitely can avoid to negate big plays on penalties. That is something we also got to look at and make sure we don't do."
Parker is also hoping that the penalties are eliminated because in the playoffs you can't afford to make mistakes.
"We definitely have to avoid that," said Parker. "We have to play mistake-free football. We are going to be all right; we have to keep plugging. I think that it is about time for our offense to explode."
Chargers head coach Norv Turner was asked what scares him the most about the Steelers defense, which is ranked number one in the NFL.
"It's a tough combination," said Turner. "They do a great job on first and second down of stopping the run and they have the best pressure package in the National Football League. They wreak havoc with the quarterback and they have some DB's that fly around and make plays in the secondary, so you have to handle the rush and you have to handle their blitz scheme.
"It's hard to continuously be in great third down situations. They do a great job of forcing you into those third and eights or plus, and that's where they really take advantage of you."