Can Steelers defend Gates without Troy?

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- One reason the Steelers were able to beat the San Diego Chargers twice last season was because Pittsburgh’s X factor often canceled out the Chargers’ X factor.

But Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu likely will be out when they host the Chargers Sunday. Polamalu began running for the first time this week, but he probably needs another week or two to recover from a knee injury.

Yet, San Diego will definitely have its star tight end, Antonio Gates. The big-bodied, sure-handed Gates looks to control the middle of the field where Polamalu usually roams.

"Antonio Gates is probably one of the best tight ends in the world," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He is a matchup problem when you have a guy like Troy. So needless to say, when you don’t have a guy like Troy, in weeks like this we have to get in the lab a little bit in terms of how to slow this man down."

Replacing Polamalu is Tyrone Carter, who is undersized and has little chance of having one-on-one success with Gates. In addition to a lot of zones and bracket coverage, it’s possible athletic linebacker Lawrence Timmons could draw the tough assignment of guarding Gates. Timmons is one of Pittsburgh’s top athletes and has both the size and quickness to keep up with the Pro Bowl tight end.

Overall, this is definitely something to keep an eye on in a big game for both teams.