By Christina Rivers
In his Tuesday presser, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called the upcoming meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday “an enormous week for us.” The Steelers will be putting everything on the line as they get ready for a high-stakes game that could either lead them into postseason play or a single game left in a rough 2012 NFL season. While the team will yet again be without veteran cornerback Ike Taylor due to an ankle fracture sustained three weeks ago, they will see the return of Keenan Lewis, who has been having a big year for the defense. While two players were placed on injured reserve, the Steelers have made additional roster moves to make sure that they have the needed personnel to determine their own fate this weekend.
On Wednesday, Lewis said that despite aggravating a hip injury during the game against the Dallas Cowboys, he will be ready to play on Sunday. Although Gerry Dulac reported on Twitter that Lewis had stepped in a hole during practice and had injured his knee, Lewis made no mention of knee pain following practice. Joining him will be defensive back Cortez Allen. Both were able to participate in practice on Wednesday giving the Steelers additional depth in an already depleted defensive secondary. Lewis has only allowed 51 catches for 587 yards and four touchdowns in the 100 times he has been targeted this season and leads the league in passes defended with 21.
The team placed DeMarcus Van Dyke on injured reserve after he injured his shoulder early last weekend, and signed former Gateway prep and Penn State defensive back Justin King to their active roster as insurance on Tuesday. King played his first three years in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams. He was most recently with the Indianapolis Colts. “[King] has played some time in this league,” Coach Mike Tomlin told the media. “He is in the building as we speak kind of getting up to speed with what it is we do.” King had been brought in a few weeks ago to work out and the coaching staff felt that he would be a good addition to the team. “We’ll get a sense of what he is capable of doing through the course of the week,” Tomlin added.
While Troy Polamalu was not active in practice Wednesday, he hasn’t fully participated in Wednesday practices for most of the season and is fully expected to start on Sunday. With an active A.J. Green on Cincinnati’s roster, having a full helping of ready-to-go Steelers defenders should make the Bengals’ pass offense less active.
Tomlin was more optimistic about his defense as he gave his analysis of what the Steelers will prepare for in the Bengals. Attention to the explosive BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has become Cincinnati’s premiere back will be a high priority. While both Cameron Heyward and Al Woods, both defensive ends, were not participants in Wednesday’s practice, neither was injury related. It will be up to the defensive line to keep the blocking lanes closed as much as possible against Green-Ellis. Defensive tackle Casey Hampton was vocal after the loss to the Cowboys, saying “We have no choice but to put [that game] behind us. We control our own destiny…we have to play better and try to get this next one.” He will get his opportunity to make an even bigger statement this weekend if he and the defensive front are able to contain the running game and threaten Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
Offensively, the Steelers saw good action from the wide receivers. Emmanuel Sanders broke a rib against the Cowboys and has had a shoulder issue. While his status is yet unknown, Tomlin said that the coaching staff will “gauge how he works if he is able to participate.” While Sanders was limited, Jerricho Cotchery was fired up. Cotchery and Plaxico Burress have been sharing the third wide receiver position the past couple of weeks. “This is a playoff game for us,” said Cotchery. “You lose and you are out of it.” When he was asked what the mindset was, Cotchery replied, “Guys are just locked in right now, doing what we need to do to prepare and go out and have a successful game. That is all we can do right now. Everything we do this week, we need to do it right and carry it over on to the field.”
Offensive tackle Mike Adams, who has missed three straight games due to an ankle injury sustained on November 25, was able to return to practice Wednesday on a limited basis. His return would most likely garner a backup position as rookie offensive linemen David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum gave solid performances against the Cowboys.
With only 69 net rushing yards gained in each of the Steelers’ last two games, the Steelers’ rushers are looking for the opportunity to make a difference against Cincinnati. Leading the charge is Jonathan Dwyer. “We are aggressive in our running game and physical, running hard like we always do,” said Dwyer. He said that the understanding that a more active running game would help the Steelers to get into an offensive rhythm has the backs wanting to make sure they are all on the same page. “We just want to play a complete game. It’s important to set up a score, make a play or a block so Ben (Roethlisberger) has time. It’s about being a complete player and doing our job and being specific on our details.”
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Steelers news, see CBS Sports Pittsburgh.
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.