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Opponent Spotlight: QB Phillip Rivers

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It's interesting that Steelers fans are less concerned about their opponents than they are with the way our own team has been playing. Makes sense really. Not one team has overwhelmed us. Sure, Philly made us look bad, but they weren't able to deliver a TKO till late in the 4th quarter despite our unfathmoably awful and prolonged ineptitude on offense. Other than that though, it's just been us standing in our own way. Our attention consequently has stayed largely on our own team rather than our opponents, but as you'll see in ncoolong's post below, it's easy to see upon first glance that San Diego QB Phillip Rivers is doing his best to keep SD afloat despite getting no help from his defense or run game.

Oh, and I couldn't help but add that picture of Rivers before the fold, despite the largely laudatory tone of the post. Sorry ncoolong! A different form of editorial control I guess :) And the dude wonders why he has a hard time garnering respect from fans around the league. - BLITZ-

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While Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger likely spent a good chunk of the week looking in the mirror after tossing seven interceptions in his past three games (1-2), his 2004 draft classmate Phillip Rivers has the opposite problem; he's hotter than any other player in the game right now, but his defense mostly wastes his individual performances.

Put those two issues together, and it makes a wildly unpredictable Week 11 match-up at Pittsburgh that will likely hinge on Rivers' ability to score on Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense.

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2008 began with Rivers' Chargers perched on the precipice of being under center of one of the best teams in the game.  While Rivers is easily having his best year - statistically he's the best quarterback in a surprisingly shallow AFC quarterback crop - the wheels of the Chargers defense have fallen off without Pro Bowl LB Shawne Merriman. It got so bad for San Diego, they fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and promoted Cover 2 guru Ron Rivera from linebackers coach to coordinator at the end of October.

The result? A 20-19 squeaker win over hapless Kansas City.

The most dangerous animals are the ones closest to death.

San Diego is meekly sitting at 4-5, and with their playoff hopes on life support, they pack one of the game's best offenses alongside one of the shakiest defenses, and look to gun their way back to the top of a wide-open AFC West. They're 1-4 on the road, not a good omen going into Sunday's showdown with the Steelers - who, incidentally, are 0-2 in their last two home games.

Rivers is the AFC's top-rated passer, and he's doing it without a definitive No. 1 receiver. Going by the stats, it's obvious why Rivers has been as effective as he has been; TE Antonio Gates leads the team with 38 catches. WR Vincent Jackson is second with 35 and RB LaDainian Tomlinson is third with 33. His ability to spread the ball around may be limiting the stats of the superstars on his team, but it's making his offense average 27 points per game - 5th in the NFL.

Rivers looks fantastic in the pocket; poised and collected, different from the pechulant attitude he developed last season. He was seen taunting fans in Indianapolis as he walked off the field with a knee injury in the playoffs last season, or how he taunted Denver players during another game.

He'll be a tall task for Pittsburgh's rock-solid defense, mostly because he is using every route in the book, and every player on the field. He isn't showing strong tendencies to one particular position or area on the field.

A key component to this game will be Rivers' ability to avoid taking sacks. The Chargers have only given up 12 sacks, making it the second game in a row the Steelers will face a top-five team in that category. Without LB LaMarr Woodley in the lineup, the Steelers got to the Colts' Peyton Manning twice, neither of those coming in the second half. The Steelers will need to apply a boatload of pressure to keep Rivers' deep options in check. He has matured enough as a passer to read his check-downs effectively and get the ball out of his hands when he has to.

Conversely, Rivers is going to want to try to stretch the field with the big-play ability of Jackson and Gates down the seam. Doing this puts SS Troy Polamalu down the field, and the Steelers are at their best defensively the closer to the line he is.

If the Steelers defense can keep Rivers' NFL-high 8.72 yards per completion down, their offense will be able to score, but an offensive shootout clearly favors the Chargers, regardless of where the game is played.

Roethlisberger is not showing he's physically or mentally able to top Rivers pass-for-pass, so stopping Rivers is the key for the Steelers to win this game.