By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers know that they will have their hands full with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and their plethora of weapons Heinz Field this Sunday.
The Steelers could be in more trouble if star cornerback Joe Haden and top reserve Coty Sensabaugh are unable to recover from their injuries. Haden has been out the last four games with fractured fibula. He has been a limited participant in practice after returning to Wednesday. Haden will likely be a game-time decision though the Steelers won’t play him if there are any lingering questions.
“We are in the playoffs, we have something to look forward to,” said Haden on Wednesday. “I don’t want to go out there half (way), and be out there hurting the team, hurting myself. Knowing we have games coming, knowing I am on my way back. I want to play if I can play, if I can’t it is what it is.”
Sensabaugh has started each of the four games that Haden has missed. He sat out the first two days of practice with a bum shoulder. However, he did fully partake in practice on Friday, which helps his case to play on Sunday. Sensabaugh is officially listed as questionable.
If Sensabaugh and Haden are unable to go, the Steelers could be left with just five healthy cornerbacks: Artie Burns, William Gay, Cameron Sutton, Mike Hilton and Brian Allen. This could be catastrophic if another of the five defensive backs suffers an injury especially considering the Patriots like to use three, four and five wide receiver sets.
On a positive note, reserve inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich appears ready to return to the lineup. Matakevich, who replaced Ryan Shazier following his injury against Cincinnati, missed last week’s game due to a shoulder injury. He will likely start alongside Vince Williams against the Patriots.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Maurkice Pouncey
Pouncey and Smith-Schuster were both bothered by nagging injuries this week. Pouncey’s name popped up on the team’s injury report on Thursday after he was a limited practice participant on Thursday with a hip ailment. However, the injury does not appear to be anything serious as he was a full participant at practice and was not included on the final injury sheet.
On the other hand, Smith-Schuster’s status is more concerning. The rookie wide receiver, who was suspended for last week’s game, re-aggravated his hamstring injury that sidelined him for the Week 12 contest against Green Bay. After not being listed on the injury report on Wednesday, he was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday.
With Smith-Schuster out last week, Ben Roethlisberger did a nice job spreading the ball around against the Ravens. Le’Veon Bell caught nine passes and Jesse James had a career-high 10 receptions for 97 yards, also a career-high. Martavis Bryant hauled in six receptions while Vance McDonald posted season-high four catches for 53 yards and Eli Rogers finished with three catches.
But McDonald has already been ruled out with a shoulder injury. He did not practice all week after leaving the left the Baltimore game early.
Patriots Injury Reports
Reserve defensive lineman Alan Branch (knee) is the only Patriot that has been ruled out. Branch, who has 12 tackles, has been part of the team’s four-man rotation along with Lawrence Guy, Malcolm Brown and Adam Butler. Veteran Ricky Jean Francois is expected to step into Branch’s role.
New England has other injury concerns, specifically defensive end Trey Flowers (ribs) and linebacker Kyle Van Noy (calf). Flowers, the team’s leader with six sacks, has missed the last two games while Van Noy was inactive last week. Van Noy is second on the team in both tackles (73) and sacks (5.5). Both players are listed as questionable after being limited in practice all week.
The Patriots have a total of 10 players listed as questionable. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (ankle) is the biggest name of the other eight players. If he is able to go, Gilmore will likely lineup across from Antonio Brown much of the game.
Steelers Full Injury Report
- CB Joe Haden. Fibula. Questionable.
- TE Vance McDonald. Shoulder. Out.
- CB Coty Sensabaugh. Shoulder. Questionable.
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. Hamstring. Questionable.