The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Cincinnati Bengals in a Sunday night prime time game, and it appears that they will be doing so short handed once again. This season the Steelers have had to deal with more injuries this early than I’ve ever seen. This is a huge division game on the road and really could be either a turning point toward recovery, or the nail in the coffin for the season.
The latest injury report indicated that running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are out. Along with them, offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and safety Troy Polamalu has also been ruled out. And finally rotational linebacker Chris Carter will miss tomorrow night’s game.
Before I talk about the bad news, the good news is linebacker Lawrence Timmons appears to be ready to go, as does quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The wildcard of the injury report is center Maurkice Pouncey who is listed as questionable.
The impact of these injuries is of course significant. Without Mendenhall and Redman it means that running back Johnathan Dwyer will get his first career start, and be spelled by Baron Batch and Chris Rainey. With Gilbert out, it will mean that rookie Mike Adams will get his first career start at right tackle. If Pouncey can’t go, Doug Legursky will start in his spot.
Worst case scenario, this could be a nightmare situation for the Steelers. If they are forced to start Adams and Legursky, the only 2 other lineman they had dressed will now be in the starting lineup, so the backups at that point will be guard John Malecki and guard Kelvin Beachum, according to the Steelers official roster. As much as this offensive line was lacking depth before, it would be so much more than that, with this 2 deep.
Jumping to the defense, I think most Steelers fans should concede that Polamalu is going to be in and out of the lineup all season, more out than in. Thankfully it sounds like Timmons will be in the game to help with the middle of the field against the Bengals intermediate passing game. The Steelers have gotten so used to having Polamalu out of the lineup by now, having safety Will Allen is a huge dropoff in talent, but not unexpected.
Can the Bengals exploit these injuries? On offense, I’d say certainly. Adams has really struggled when he’s been on the field, and starting at right tackle he’s going to have his work cut out for him trying to stop defensive end Carlos Dunlap who’s a load at end and if Legursky goes at center he’s going to get steady doses of 325lb Domata Peko and 300lb Geno Atkins, both defensive tackles. The Steelers at full health were going to have their hands full, but in this scenario the coaching staff is going to have to get really creative to try and protect Roethlisberger and create some sort of running game.
I am not sure the impact of Polamalu being out will be as significant, mainly because they have done so much to account for him being out of the lineup. linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will be on the field, and that’s far more significant than a hobbled but talented veteran safety being on the sidelines.
In the final analysis, the greatest impact of the rash of Steelers injuries will be along the offensive line. If the Steelers lose this one, I think you will be able to point to mistakes on the line, whether it’s penalties, missed assignments, or just losing their matchups. Clearly, this team has some problems on the line, and how they play will be key.
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