By Christina Rivers
As fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers heard reports of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing in practice and showing a wider range of motion than many expected, it became a ‘cross your fingers’ moment that Roethlisberger would play on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown and the highly missed strong safety Troy Polamalu were active in practice as well, keeping those high spirits alive. Friday’s final roster moves and game status announcement was highly anticipated. The good news is that the Steelers will only have four players out for the game against their AFC North rivals. While some experts are predicting the Steelers will be out-manned and out-gunned by the division-leading Ravens, others have pointed out how the game could be close, but still a win for the Steelers. With one day from game time, all Steelers fans can do is wait and see how those in the black and gold uniforms will perform once they enter M&T Bank Stadium.
With Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger officially ruled out for Sunday’s game, quarterback Charlie Batch, who was given the start earlier in the week, will remain the top signal caller for the Steelers. Roethlisberger admitted on Thursday that he wasn’t 100 percent. “I can play through a lot of pain,” Roethlisberger told the press. “Can I make a long throw? Can I put a lot of zip on the ball, throw it really hard before people like Ed Reed and defenders can get to the ball? Because if I can’t, then I’m not putting this team in the best situation to win the game.” Batch had a rough first game of his 2012 NFL Season against the Cleveland Browns, but has had a week to polish his athletic skills and get back on the horse. For fantasy owners with Batch on their roster, this isn’t the game to play him. Three of the last four quarterbacks that have gone up against the Ravens (including Roethlisberger) have had only a single touchdown (passing) or less and under 230 yards through the air. Byron Leftwich is also out for Sunday.
There has been a changing of the guard, literally, on the Steelers’ offensive line. Because tackle Mike Adams (ankle) will not be available Sunday, Pittsburgh has activated a backup plan. Willie Colon is listed as questionable due to continued swelling in his injured knee and the Steelers plan on moving center Maurkice Pouncey to guard. “It’s football. I am an offensive lineman. I have to adjust to it,” said Pouncey. “It’s still run blocking and pass blocking.” Colon was limited in practice all week. Max Starks is probable for Sunday, which would put him at left tackle. Pouncey slides to left guard. Doug Legursky would then take the center position with Ramon Foster to his right and Kelvin Beachum will step in for Adams.
There was a bit of hub-bub about the so-called ‘demotion’ of wide receivers Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. Both of them have been placed on the depth chart this week as co-starters at WR1. Wallace said he was not sure if he would start on Sunday. “I will give everything I have,” said Wallace. “If not, I will cheer whoever starts.” Although Wallace may not start, he will most likely be used in three-receiver sets with Plaxico Burress as WR4, but he’s not a high fantasy choice this week due to his seeming inability to communicate with Batch at quarterback. Antonio Brown participated fully in practice this week and will start. While the Ravens are stingy on defense, they have allowed four wide receivers 70-plus yards in their last three games, but only three were able to score. Brown should put up decent yardage numbers this week for fantasy team owners, but he’d be best served in a three-deep WR league in case the Ravens are able to keep him out of the end zone. Jerricho Cotchery is not a viable replacement option as he is questionable for Sunday due to a continuing rib injury.
Heath Miller continues to be a strong outlet option for the Steelers and has good ball-handling skills and the ability to lead block rushing plays. Miller, Leonard Pope and David Paulson will most likely not have high fantasy value this week due to the fact that Baltimore has only allowed one touchdown by a tight end all season.
The top-rated Steelers defense (statistically) will be without linebacker LaMarr Woodley due to an ankle injury he sustained against the Browns last weekend. Jason Worilds will take his position on the field. “Early in the season, a few games got away from us…we honed in on that,” Worilds said of the improvements the Steelers’ defense have made over the course of the season. “We came in and made a conscious effort and practiced to bring more detail to our work and it’s paying off.” While nosetackle Casey Hampton missed some practice time due to illness, he participated fully on Friday and is likely to start Sunday. Strong safety Troy Polamalu is listed as probable, but looks to start the game Sunday after being out since October with a calf injury that some thought may keep him out for the rest of the season. The addition of Polamalu to the defense could shake things up in a positive way.
The Ravens will be without cornerback Jimmy Smith for Sunday, but have 13 players on their injury report. Tight end Ed Dickson is doubtful to play due to a knee injury. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (ankle, knee), cornerback Chris Johnson (thigh) and defensive end Pernell McPhee (thigh) are all listed as questionable. Listed as probable are: wide receiver Anquan Boldin (knee), defensive tackle Terrence Cody (elbow), cornerback Corey Graham (illness), wide receiver Jacoby Jones (ankle), tight end Dennis Pitta (neck), safety Bernard Pollard (chest), safety Ed Reed (shoulder), wide receiver Torrey Smith (thigh) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (ankle). The list reads like a medical chart of disaster, but the Steelers know that Jones will be in for special teams and Reed won’t miss an opportunity to play in the rivalry game he loves to play the most. It is highly improbable that Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta or Anquan Boldin will miss the game either.
Steelers Injury Recap/Participation in practice Friday
T Mike Adams (ankle) – DNP
QB Byron Leftwich (ribs) – DNP
QB Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, rib) – LP
LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle) – DNP
T Willie Colon (knee) – LP
WR Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) – LP
WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – FP
DT Casey Hampton (illness) – FP
S Troy Polamalu (calf) – FP
T Max Starks (back) – FP
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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.