By Christina Rivers
With the NFL changing the rules that a team must travel a day before the game due to the state of emergency which remains in place in New Jersey due to Hurricane Sandy, the Pittsburgh Steelers will head to New Jersey early Sunday, but will still face off against the NFC East-leading New York Giants. They will be without three; Troy Polamalu, Marcus Gilbert and Stevenson Sylvester.
Polamalu, who was injured early in the season and then re-injured his calf has still not been able to participate in practice. The Steelers had been using Ryan Clark to cover his position, but Clark suffered a concussion last weekend in the game at Heinz Field against the Washington Redskins. After going through a battery of tests this week, Clark was medically cleared and is listed as probable for Sunday’s game. “I am good,” Clark said. “I never really had a concussion before and I didn’t know what the recovery would be like. I still have to go out there and see what happens. I don’t think I have any ill effects…My first big hit will be on Sunday and once I get over that it will be about playing football.”
Fantasy owners who have Polamalu on their roster may want to consider, at this point, dropping him. As for Clark, his listing as probable means that he is still a viable option for leagues that use multiple defensive players on their roster. Overall, the Steelers defense will still be a good option for a start as the game against the Giants is bound to be a tough one in which the Steelers play to the top of their abilities.
With Gilbert out at tackle with an ankle injury, the Steelers have found success with Mike Adams stepping up and using different offensive schemes to help him on the right side when needed. Heath Miller has helped in the past two games. The Giants will be throwing everything they have at the offensive line, so Roethlisberger will need to be as elusive as ever this week.
Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester is out with a hamstring, but LaMarr Woodley and Brandon Johnson have been upgraded to probable. Fantasy owners who have Sylvester on their roster should switch to Woodley or another linebacker this week. While Woodley could still have some issues, he’s an option if you have a deep roster league. The recommendation would be, out of concern, to keep an eye on who else is on your fantasy roster and substitute as the game nears.
Running back Isaac Redman, who has been hindered the past few weeks by an ankle injury, is cleared to play but listed as probable. With Baron Batch and Jonathan Dwyer also banged up a bit, this may be the week to sit your Steelers running backs. The Giants are tough against the run, nearly shutting down the Cowboys last week altogether. While the Steelers have options, like Chris Rainey, to add to the mix, it is probable that the Steelers will use the passing game to get the majority of their yardage and points.
The necessary adjustments due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy may seem a bit of a hassle, but Max Starks said it could be worse. “The good thing is we don’t have to get on the airplane with our pads on…obviously…it’s like high school. It’s been a number of years but even my rookie year we had to go down to Miami ahead of time because of a hurricane and wait it out to play a game.” He added, “It’s a minor inconvenience for use but you think about the people that are there in New York and New Jersey that are affected by this and are without power and everything else…In the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal (to go early).”
The Steelers had more opportunity to prepare on the field than the Giants did this week, but this won’t be a slam-dunk in any shape or form. The Giants have a very balanced team on both sides of the ball. Regardless of how they prepared, the Giants will be ready to play Sunday. Defensive End Brett Keisel said, “We’re used to going the day before but you’ve got to be tough-minded, regardless of how you get there. When you get there you’ve got to step up and play ball.” Guard Willie Colon added, “We need this game. I don’t think there’s anything that can mentally take me out of where I need to be. I know a lot of guys on the offensive line view this as a big challenge for us and we have to step up to it. We’re going to step on that field and we’ll be ready to go.”
Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley said that the Giants defense shows how opportunistic they are in their turnover ratio and their pass rush. “They do a very good job of creating opportunities for themselves.” Regarding Roethlisberger, Haley said he feels the quarterback “had done a terrific job of taking what the defenses have given him. That serves us well, considering some of our guys are catching the ball based on what the defense gives us.”
With Haley’s high praise of Heath Miller and the performance the tight end has given of late, Miller should be a starter on your fantasy roster this week. Haley said this week that Miller, “might be one of the best football players I have ever been around, taking everything into account. He’s just a good football player…the pure-all guy. If you have something unique that you need to get done…you go right to him and he will get it done.”
Coach LeBeau is prepared for what the Giants may throw at the Steelers this week. The fox-like defensive coordinator understands the weapons the Giants have on their offense, including Eli Manning. “He’s very accurate,” LeBeau said. “He’s got a good corps of receivers around him.” LeBeau also praised cornerback Keenan Lewis for his play of late. “This is his second year of playing a lot and playing all the time now. He should continue to grow in the next few years. I thought he played well last year and I anticipated him steadily improving…and I think that’s what we’re seeing.”
The Giants will be will be without linebackers Chase Blackburn (hamstring) and Jacquian Williams (knee). Linebacker Keith Rivers (calf) is doubtful as he was limited in practice. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) did not practice. Tight end Bear Pascoe (ankle) and safety kenny Phillips (knee) were limited in practice and are listed as questionable. Listed as probable are: Center David Baas (ankle/elbow), defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (quad), wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf) and safety Antrel Rolle (concussion). All four of those players participated fully in practice.
Probable: S Ryan Clark (concussion), LB LaMarr Woodley, LB Brandon Johnson, RB Isaac Redman (ankle)
Doubtful: RB Rashard Mendenhall
Out: S Troy Polamalu (calf), OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), LB Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring)
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.