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Injuries Aside, Mental Toughness Key To Steelers Victory Over Ravens

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By Christina Rivers

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 03: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the New England Patriots in the third quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(Credit, Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Facing a critical situation has begun to be a weekly situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 NFL Season. Thursday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens in unfriendly territory is par for the course every year, but with playoff implications, the game could possibly be the most critical of the season.

Despite injuries that have plagued the Steelers on and off throughout the season, Pittsburgh has new life at 5-and-6 and will use every available player to seize the opportunity to dig deep mentally in order to go notch another win in their belt. News that defensive end Brett Keisel will be available for the game was welcome as the Steelers focus on keeping a struggling Joe Flacco and the Ravens on their toes in Week 12.

While Pittsburgh suffered a woeful beginning, they have found new leadership on the team and moved forward on a three-win streak orchestrated by AFC Offensive Player of the Month Ben Roethlisberger. In Week 11, Roethlisberger helped the Steelers to a come-from-behind win over Detroit and has helped carry the team moving forward, but not without solid play from the Steelers defense.

The same cannot be said about Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Handed the reins, Flacco watched his Super Bowl Champion team miss opportunities to win big games and has thrown as many interceptions as he has touchdown passes (14 respectively). While Roethlisberger continues to praise his team for making proper adjustments, Flacco has been vocal about play calling, including the use of the wildcat offense, saying, “I’m just not a huge fan of it. I’m the quarterback. I want to be behind the line of scrimmage, I want to be taking the snaps.”  Flacco related the wildcat to an offense that might be run in high school.

The Steelers, however, have relished the opportunity to change things up by adding a no-huddle offense that has allowed Roethlisberger the opportunity to select from a smaller package of core offensive plays to get the offense on a roll and do their part instead of counting on the defense to save the game. Mental toughness and leadership have become a new mantra in Pittsburgh.

News that veteran defensive end Brett Keisel will be available to play on Sunday will help bolster leadership on the defensive side of the ball for Pittsburgh. Keisel praised the play of Cameron Heyward over the past few weeks.

“(Heyward) is one of those guys that has had to sit and wait for his time,” said Keisel. “The coaches gave him an opportunity, and that’s what we talk about…and he has taken advantage of it.”

When Keisel couldn’t play due to injury, Ziggy Hood came in and proved that he could respond like a professional as well.

“(Hood) played great and had a game-winning sack against the Lions,” Keisel responded. “He is a great competitor, he knows what it takes to get ready to play on (gameday).”

Keisel’s advice for long-term effectiveness on the defensive side of the Steelers’ ball is that players should never just be satisfied.

“Even if you have a great year, there are always things on the football field you can get better at,” he added. “That is what you have to strive to do…Make yourself the best player you can be so when (games) roll around you go out there and know you are ready to do your best.”

While the Steelers will be without nose tackle Steve McLendon after suffering an ankle injury against the Cleveland Browns, they will have AFC Defensive Player of the Week Troy Polamalu in the defensive backfield leading a full compliment of healthy players. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley was unable to practice on Wednesday, which leaves the door open for more action from Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones.

Al Woods, who played a great game against the Browns, isn’t ruled out as another weapon for the Steelers defense, according to head coach Mike Tomlin.

“I thought (Woods) was a positive contributor to our efforts…(Woods) has played a contributing role to our efforts largely throughout the season,” Tomlin said on Monday.  “Hopefully, he’ll be ready for the extended action that comes with having an opportunity to step up.”

Tomlin affirmed that the Steelers didn’t make any excuses during practice this week even though it was short preparation between the win over Cleveland to Thanksgiving’s game.

“We are excited about playing on Thanksgiving and being a part of that,” said Tomlin. “It’s an honor to really be a part of that, entertain and pursue victory at the same time…We realize that this is a big game.”

With the Ravens 2-0 at home since the Steelers last played them, Tomlin doesn’t see the game as un-winnable.

“We realize how difficult it is to go into their place and get a victory, but it’s the challenge that is on our plate this week, and one I am sure our guys will be excited about…”

Official injury report

Out:

  • NT Steve McLendon (ankle)

Questionable:

  • LB LaMarr Woodley (calf)

Probable:

  • OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle)
  • DE Brett Keisel (foot)
  • LB Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring)
  • S Shamarko Thomas (ankle)

For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.

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