Philip Rivers. Antonio Gates. Keenan Allen. Melvin Ingram. Joey Bosa.
The Chargers may boast a list of elite players, yet despite their 8-3 record, the team continues to fly under-the-radar, noted by many pundits as a dark horse in the AFC.
However, they will be center stage this weekend when they face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first Sunday Night Football game since 2014.
While the Bolts may be winning quietly, the Steelers know that their fourth-ranked offense will be facing an imposing and forceful defense. Though he's only a rookie, 22-year-old Derwin James has made an impact on the unit, recording 82 tackles on the year so far.
"They've got dynamic players on all levels," said Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin. "(You) talk about the guys up front, but you better talk about Derwin James, who is impactful not only in the backend but also at and around the line of scrimmage. He's a dynamic player in all aspects of defensive play and I think any time you've got quality players like that, you've got a chance to really play good defense, and they've done that."
The Steelers currently boast the second-best passing game in the NFL, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completing 312 of 472 attempts. But with playmakers like James, who has two interceptions, and Desmond King who leads the team with three, Pittsburgh will have to carefully craft their air attack, not to mention fight off the powerhouse duo of Ingram and Bosa up front.
"They're a top 10 defense in just about every way you slice it – yards per carry, yards per game," Tomlin noted. "They're a formidable bunch. I've got a lot of respect for them. But again, they're a fundamentally sound group. … They're going to play hard. They're going to shed blocks. They're going to be a strong tackling and hustling group."
On the other side of the ball, Tomlin said the Black and Gold is keeping a close eye on Austin Ekeler, given how Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn deemed Melvin Gordon "extremely doubtful" to suit up on Sunday.
Ekeler, like the Chargers, has been an under-the-radar player, coming to L.A. as an undrafted rookie who earned his way onto the 53-man roster during an outstanding showing in the final preseason game of 2017.
So far this year, Ekeler has recorded 409 yards on 70 carries (5.84 ypc) and a score. Through the air, he's notched 32 catches for 453 yards and three touchdowns. According to Tomlin, it's his versatility that makes Pittsburgh wary of him.
"Obviously, he's going to be in a different role in this game but he's a dynamic player. You can just tell by the ways in which they're willing to give him the ball in the running game, in the passing game, jet sweeps and so forth. He's also a solid contributor on special teams. … When I look at the special teams tape, he is a dynamic player. He's capable of doing the same things on the offense and oftentimes, all the guy needs is an opportunity."
Check out the top practice photos as the Bolts get ready to take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh.