Five to Watch: Defensive Special

NT Jamal Williams (Rick Stewart/Getty)

In the wake of an exhilarating victory, the San Diego Chargers meet a Pittsburgh Steelers team looking to avoid a second consecutive home loss. If the Chargers are going to fight back to .500, it will take a stronger effort on the defensive side of the ball. With that in mind, Samantha Fillerup profiles five defensive players to watch this week.

1. The last time the Chargers and Steelers met, Jamal Williams fought double- and triple-teams and still managed to control the line of scrimmage. That will be his objective again on Sunday, as he looks to shut down the run and make the Pittsburgh offense one-dimensional. San Diego enters the game ranked No. 13 against the run, allowing an average of 103.1 yards per game.

The typically run-heavy Steelers rank in the NFL's bottom-10 in rushing offense, tallying less than 100 yards per game. Pittsburgh was held to a mere 59 rushing yards last week in its 24-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. RB Willie Parker missed that game with a shoulder injury; he will play with a harness against the Chargers.

2. Shaun Phillips has not logged a sack in four games, which matches a career-long for him. The Chargers have only one sack in the last three games -- on a play where they didn't even bring down the quarterback -- and desperately need to put pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers' offensive line has allowed the third most sacks (31) in the NFL and gave up two last week against the Colts. Phillips will look to turn the corner against OT Willie Colon, who is noted more as a run blocker than a pass protector.


LB Jyles Tucker
Doug Pensinger/Getty

3. Jyles Tucker is now fully recovered from his strained hamstring and must perform as he did before the injury, when he posted three sacks between Weeks 3 and 4. As the replacement and possible heir apparent to Shawne Merriman, Tucker needs to show he deserves the five-year contract extension he signed prior to the season.

As noted above, the Steelers' pass protection is vulnerable. Pittsburgh's offense has lost 165 yards on quarterback sacks and the Chargers would love to add to that total. Tucker will look to exploit a Steelers left side featuring backup OT Max Starks, who is subbing for the injured Marvel Smith (back).

4. Antonio Cromartie has been hindered all season by a lingering hip injury. The Chargers' efforts to limit his snaps by replacing him with Cletis Gordon were unsuccessful when Gordon went out with a sprained knee early during last week's game. Cromartie will have to endure the pain and regain some semblance of the formidable player he was last season. He has failed to snag an interception in eight of nine games this year.

Cromartie will be pitted against a gifted set of wide receivers, but Pittsburgh's intended target is not always who gets the ball. Roethlisberger has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season, 11-10.

5. Clinton Hart made some poor plays against the Kansas City Chiefs when he was beat for a TD and flagged for a crucial pass interference penalty. Nonetheless, he came through at the right moment when he batted down the two-point conversion to maintain San Diego's one-point lead. Hart has to play four quarters of good, smart football against the Steelers to keep Roethlisberger from getting off.

A big problem this season for Hart and fellow safety Eric Weddle has been shutting down opposing tight ends. The Chargers catch a break this week, as Heath Miller will miss the game with an ankle injury. Backup Matt Spaeth is playing with a broken hand and is not nearly as dangerous a pass-catcher.

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