By Teresa Varley
When the San Diego Chargers played the Steelers at Heinz Field on Nov. 16 they had just lost two of their last three games. The 11-10 loss to the Steelers then triggered a three-game losing streak, dropping their record to 4-8 with post-season dreams fading.
But once December rolled around, the Chargers went on a tear, winning their last four regular season games and defeating the Indianapolis Colts in overtime in an AFC Wild Card game.
And they aren't doing anything different than they were back in November; they are just having more success at it.
"They are playing really good right now," said nose tackle Chris Hoke. "They played well when they played against us. Defensively I think we did some things that confused them, socked them in the mouth a little bit. This time around they are playing with a lot of confidence. They have won a bunch of games in a row. They are riding high right now with confidence and are going to come in here to play."
The Steelers were able to pressure Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, forcing him to make mistakes, including throwing two interceptions. He was also sacked twice.
"We threw a lot at him and hit him a little bit and made him a little uneasy in the pocket," said Hoke. "The thing about him is he is a true competitor. He is going to get into the film room and study what happened in that game. He is one of the better quarterbacks in the league and we expect nothing less from him."
Rivers has been one of the big reasons for the late season success the Chargers enjoyed. His quarterback rating for the season, while only 43.6 against the Steelers, ranks first in the NFL at 105.5.
"I think he has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," said safety Ryan Clark. "If you look at his rating, his touchdown passes. He has been on fire lately.
"They are throwing more screens, getting more explosive plays. Also they have been a little more physical up front. We were able to stop them from running pretty good and they hadn't gotten their running game going at that point. Since that point they made a commitment to it and have been doing a good job. It's going to be a big challenge for us."
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers:
On the Steelers defense:
"I think there is no question that it is the best defense we've played all year. Since Saturday obviously a lot of us having been preparing for them, but every Wednesday as we our in the team meeting, we go over offense, defense, special teams. When you throw that defense up there and look at those categories and see a one by almost every one of them, first in the league, obviously you already know what challenge you're against and you throw there and it sure is impressive."
On if the game-plan changes if LaDainian Tomlinson doesn't play and Darren Sproles does:
It really doesn't change a whole lot. When LT is healthy, obviously, you hear from every defense here comes screen, here comes draw, watch, something like that. I think this year, more than ever, Darren got more snaps on first and second down. He's got more carries on traditional run plays and then obviously last week, touching it as many times as he did and really being the work horse for us last week. He's gonna sit right in there and go. We are what we are offensively and I don't see us changing. I think Darren did a great job. We had our same game plan last week and he executed it great. A lot of the big runs he had are off tackle traditional runs and he certainly got the capabilities to make all those go."