By Christina Rivers
With a short week of preparation due to their Monday Night Football face off against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Pittsburgh Steelers were back to practice Tuesday morning preparing for the AFC North Division rivalry against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh (6-3) would really like to see Baltimore (7-2) lose one and set up the showdown for dominance over the division. Expecting a difficult battle, the Steelers are preparing emotionally and physically. Roethlisberger will not play due to a sprained SC joint and dislocation of his first rib (right side), but Byron Leftwich, who came in as his replacement in the third quarter of the Chiefs game, is ready to start.
On Wednesday, Leftwich said that having an opportunity this week to prepare for the game will help him be ready Sunday. He was confident when he said, “We understand we have a tough opponent coming in here Sunday night. We respect those guys. They’re going to come in here ready to play. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play…”
Practice this week will be different without Roethlisberger, but his teammates seem to take it in stride. “Practice will be different…my job is still to get the ball to the open guys, read defenses, make the right decisions and that’s not going to change for any quarterback in this league,” Leftwich responded. “[Leftwich] is more than capable of pulling this game out,” said offensive guard Willie Colon. “As a line we have to do our job and make sure he has time to get the ball out…As a line we have to be hard-nosed and be ready to go.” Guard Ramon Foster agreed, “We have a full week of practice…We have to be us, protect [Leftwich], let our backs run and we will be fine.”
When coach Mike Tomlin formally announced on Wednesday that Leftwich would get the start, he said of Leftwich, “He is a veteran guy. This isn’t his first rodeo. He has a good, charismatic leadership. He can make all the throws on the field. We expect winning football from him.” The fact that the Steelers learned early who would be the man getting the majority of the reps gives the Steelers an advantage in practice. Leftwich will get snaps with the starters and gel with the offense. He’ll be able to work on timing with the receivers and show how his personal style fits into Todd Haley’s scheme.
A total of seven players did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Receiver Antonio Brown has an ankle injury that has people asking if it was worse that a sprain, but said, “We are going to evaluate it to see where I am on Friday. It’s getting better from last week. There is a little bit of pain…I am hoping to be ready to get back out there soon.” Linebacker Chris Carter (abdomen), tackles Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and Max Starks (ankle), defensive end Brett Keisel (shoulder), safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and Roethlisberger were also on the list.
Limited in practice Wednesday were cornerback Curtis Brown (quadriceps), safety Ryan Clark (concussion) and cornerback Ike Taylor (illness). Running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) were full participants.
“It’s Ravens’ week for us,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “This is going to be an awesome game. It always is. They are a talented bunch as they are perennially. They are a very good football team.”
The Ravens will be without Ray Lewis. Lewis was placed on the injured reserve-designated for return list. On the other hand, Haloti Ngata has been a factor in games against Pittsburgh in the past. Terrell Suggs returns this week and was quoted as saying that he was disappointed that Roethlisberger was not playing. To that, Roethlisberger said, “I’m disappointed I’m not playing, too.” Ed Reed has three interceptions this season and has spewed hatred towards the Steelers in the past. This week’s matchup shouldn’t be any different.
The Steelers will focus on keeping Joe Flacco, the AFC’s seventh leading passer, in check. So far he has thrown for 2,331 yards and 13 touchdowns. His primary targets are Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith. Ray Rice is their primary rusher.
Tight end Heath Miller said that the offense won’t change and that the team has “confidence in our locker room (that) the next man up is going to do the job.”
“There will be a lot of ups and downs during the season, but only the strong survive,” said Emmanuel Sanders. “You have to have a strong mentality and we do on this team. We have complete confidence in every guy in this locker room if the time comes they can step up and make plays for us.”
“More than anything, we understand what this matchup is all about,” said Tomlin. “It’s about physicality and playing good, hard-nosed football. We expect them to do that, and we better be prepared to do it.”
About his injury: “From what I understand, it’s the SC joint and a dislocation of the first rib. That’s the scary part because I guess if it goes in the wrong direction it can puncture the aorta. That’s more of the issue I think. That’s probably the more painful part.”
On his pain level: “I got four hours of sleep the last two nights. I’m sleeping in a chair. It’s very uncomfortable. Probably about a nice on a scale of 1-10.”
About being able to hold his son once he’s born: “I better. I’ve got one good arm.”
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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.