8:20 PM ET, October 4, 2009
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
The road hasn't been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Maybe a return to Heinz Field will help.
Pittsburgh tries to avoid its first three-game losing streak in three seasons Sunday night when it looks to maintain its home-field dominance over the San Diego Chargers.
Coming off three-point losses at Chicago and Cincinnati, the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers (1-2) are off to their worst start since 2006, when they opened 1/3 and finished 8-8.
"Finishing as Super Bowl champions and starting 1-2 is not how we envisioned our season starting," wide receiver Hines Ward said.
Finishing has been a problem for Pittsburgh, which has been outscored 24-0 in the fourth quarter of its last two games.
The Bears scored 10 unanswered in the final 6:21 to defeat the Steelers 17-14, and the Bengals had two touchdowns in the last 9:14 to pull out a 23-20 victory last Sunday.
Pittsburgh has not lost three straight since Oct. 22-Nov. 5, 2006.
"We have some work to do and we have a top-quality, familiar opponent coming in here that is a playoff-caliber team, and has been one perennially," coach Mike Tomlin told the team's official Web site. "We respect that, and we are excited about doing it back at Heinz Field in front of our fans."
Since Dec. 7, 2003, the Steelers have won 34 of 43 at Heinz Field.
The Chargers have never won in 13 regular-season matchups in Pittsburgh, and they lost 35-24 at Heinz Field in the divisional round of last season's playoffs.
LaDainian Tomlinson missed that game due to a groin injury as the Chargers were held to 15 yards rushing, and he could sit out a third consecutive game Sunday with a sprained right ankle. However, the five-time Pro Bowler was back at practice Wednesday for the first time since getting hurt in the season opener.
San Diego (2-1) is off to its best start in Norv Turner's three seasons as coach despite being last in the AFC with 66.3 rushing yards per game. Darren Sproles is averaging 2.4 per carry while getting most of the attempts in Tomlinson's place.
"You can move the ball, but if you're going to be the type of football team we want to be, you're going to have to run the football," Turner said. "If you look at the good teams and the type of teams we would like to be, you see them run the ball."
Pittsburgh has the NFL's sixth-ranked run defense, allowing 76.7 yards per contest.
The Steelers' own ground game, though, has problems. It ranks 27th in the league with 81.0 yards per game and leading rusher Willie Parker missed practice Wednesday with a toe injury.
"It's painful, but it's something I can deal with, so we'll take it day by day," said Parker, who rushed for a season-high 93 yards against Cincinnati.
Parker was expected to share some carries with Rashard Mendenhall, but the second-year back did not get one last week.
"Young guys have to earn their opportunities," Tomlin said. "They have to make coaches confident with their ability to execute details of their assignments. (Mendenhall) didn't do that to my satisfaction last week and didn't get any playing time on offense as a result. I took action, but I don't take any baggage into this week."
Tomlin also can't be very happy with his kicker.
Jeff Reed hit 87.1 percent (27 of 31) of his field goals in 2008 but already has missed three this season, including two fourth-quarter tries versus Chicago.
The play of wide receiver Limas Sweed is also a concern for Pittsburgh. The second-round pick in 2008 may be deactivated Sunday after dropping Ben Roethlisberger's pass in the end zone in the third quarter of Sunday's loss.
"Quite frankly, he's not catching the football when he's deep down the field," Tomlin said.
Shaun McDonald could get the nod Sunday if Sweed does not play.
San Diego has been much better in the passing game, ranked second in the league with 315.7 yards per contest with Philip Rivers off to a strong start.
After throwing for a career-high 436 yards and two TDs in a 31-26 loss to Baltimore on Sept. 20, Rivers had 303 passing yards and a five-yard rushing touchdown in Sunday's 23-13 victory over Miami.
Rivers' run was his second career rushing touchdown and the Chargers' only TD in 11 trips inside the red zone the last two weeks.
"When you look at the tape, I think the problems we're having are correctable," Turner said. "I thought we had a chance a couple of times to throw a couple of touchdown passes. We just missed."
Rivers hasn't had a problem finding Vincent Jackson, who is second in the NFL with 105.7 receiving yards per game.
San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman is questionable against the Steelers after leaving in the third quarter last Sunday with a groin injury.
More from ESPN.com
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Source: Chargers' Mathews has MCL sprain
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has a sprained MCL in his right knee and could miss four weeks, a source confirmed.
Chargers' Allen: Sherman 'not a shutdown CB'
After making several catches against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman on Sunday, San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen wasn't all that impressed with the Pro Bowl player.
Chargers-Steelers: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Chargers-Steelers matchup.
1. San Diego needs to continue its physical play: In their first two games, a win over a hapless Raiders team and a loss to the Ravens, the Chargers got pushed around by their physical opponents. But San Diego came out with an attitude and played toe-to-toe against the Dolphins and Miami was the first team to blink. The Chargers can expect the Steelers to come out angry after their first loss to the Bengals since September 2006.
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|Avg Points Allowed||25.5||19.5|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||SD|
|Rush Yds Allowed||SD|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 5-1|
|Jan 11, 2009||SD 24, @PIT 35|
|Nov 16, 2008||SD 10, @PIT 11|
|Oct 8, 2006||SD 23, PIT 13|
|Oct 10, 2005||SD 22, PIT 24|
|Dec 21, 2003||SD 24, @PIT 40|