Pittsburgh, San Diego Ready to Grind It Out

PITTSBURGH -- Cowher Power and Ross Force. That's precisely what the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers want to present to the nation Sunday.


Both teams are that strangest of American Football Conference animals: hard-nosed, no-nonsense, here it comes, see if you can stop it types.


The Steelers led the NFL in rushing, using a three-man backfield of Barry Foster (851 yards), rookie Bam Morris (836) and fullback John L. Williams (317). They throw if they have to, but make no secret that Cowher Power means keeping it on the ground and daring defenses to stop them.


"Our confidence comes from leading the league in rushing and knowing that is what we can do each week," Williams said Wednesday. "They've got to do something to stop the run. It's no surprise that we are going to run the football until they can stop us."


The Chargers will air it out a bit more -- they threw 522 times this season, 59 more passes than Pittsburgh attempted. But the force for coach Bobby Ross comes from tailback Natrone Means, operating behind an offensive line whose lightest starter is center Courtney Hall at 281 pounds.


"In the past, they had Air Coryell and some great teams and great programs," Ross said, looking back to the Chargers' only trips to the AFC title game, in 1980 and 1981 under pass-happy Don Coryell. "But we've fallen into this, maybe not by design, but it's what we've got."


Although Means was by far the most productive runner this season with 1,350 yards and had another 139 in Sunday's victory over Miami, that doesn't give San Diego any edge on the ground. Pittsburgh's defense yielded just 90.8 yards rushing a game and held Means to his average of 85 yards in a 37-34 loss to the Chargers in the season finale.


The Steelers firmly believe they have the edge with three dependable runners, while Means' backups are Ronnie Harmon, almost exclusively a receiver out of the backfield, and Eric Bienemy (295 yards).


The Chargers are well aware of the depth Pittsburgh's backfield presents. They don't seem worried.


Means, in fact, claims he gets more dangerous late in a game, when defenders are losing steam and he's still bringing the same rolling thunder. "When it comes time to make a big play, I want to be the one to make it," he said.