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3 things to watch for against the Steelers

Austin Ekeler is primed for a stellar performance in primetime.

Minnesota Vikings v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

If you’re like me and currently roster Austin Ekeler on your fantasy team, you’re likely expecting a big week against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL.

You might be asking, “Michael, why didn’t Ekeler put up big rushing numbers against the Vikings? They were also bad!” Well, when the offense is inefficient out of the gate and finds themselves down early, they’re going to ditch the run pretty quickly. This is essentially what happened on Sunday and was only turbo’d into existence following Herbert’s interception. Even when down just a score, running becomes less prevalent because they know other teams can speed up the game by running the football on them. The Chargers can’t risk running it as well which only speeds things up further.

But this week feels different. The Steelers may be without their best defensive player and without him, there’s not much to be scared about on this unit.

Before I begin to ramble, we might as well just dive into this week’s three things that I’ll be watching for when the Bolts host the Steelers on Sunday night. Enjooy!

1.) Austin Ekeler could be poised for his best game of the season

With T.J. Watt, the Steelers own one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. If there’s a chance that Watt is unable to return from an injury sustained last weekend against the Lions, I don’t know how that doesn’t spell a great chance for Ekeler to be his best self.

The Steelers rank 25th in the NFL and allow 123.0 yards per game on the ground. Their pass defense, on the other hand, is a top-10 unit that’s allowing 225.9 yards through the air each week. If there was ever a game where the Chargers didn’t have to put all the pressure on Justin Herbert’s shoulders, this could be it. The Steelers lost run-stuffing tackle Tyson Alualu in week two to a broken leg and fellow stalwart tackle Stephon Tuitt remains on IR.

Ekeler should have no problem running it between the tackles on this team and the Chargers could honestly use the boost of confidence for their run game going forward.

2.) Which defensive lineman will step up in a short-handed group?

There’s an actual chance that the Chargers will be without Joey Bosa, Jerry Tillery, and Christian Covington this Sunday night if neither are able to return from the league’s COVID-19 list. Heck, in the worst-case scenario, the team might also be without Linval Joseph who was held out of both Wednesday and Thursday’s practices with a shoulder injury.

In that case, the Bolts may end up trotting out a front five that includes Uchenna Nwosu, Justin Jones, Breiden Fehoko, Joe Gaziano, and Kyler Fackrell.

*Shivers

If reality ends up being that bad, I don’t care how bad the Steelers offense is, one or more of these players will have to step up in a big way to make sure the Chargers don’t drop to 5-5 with the majority of their AFC games left on the remaining schedule.

3.) Can a healthy secondary make up for last week’s performance against a lackluster Steelers passing game?

It was a perfect storm that aided the Vikings passing offense this past Sunday when the Chargers went without Michael Davis against the likes of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Tevaughn Campbell, who was forced into the starting lineup on the outside, was burnt to a crisp by the end of the game. He allowed seven of eight targets thrown his way for 127 yards, the most allowed by any defender in coverage during week 10.

Thankfully, Davis was a full participant in practice on Thursday and is trending towards returning for Sunday night. In general, the Steelers wide receiver room isn’t in the best shape, but both Diontae Johnson and James Washington are talented enough to make their fair share of plays if given the chance.

Even after allowing Kirk Cousins to throw for just under 300 yards, the Bolts are still the fourth-ranked passing defense and this week is honestly a great opportunity to improve upon that ranking.