By Matt Pawlikowski
When a team has an early bye week, there are mixed thoughts about it. Most want that to fall later in the season, especially if you are a perennial contender for the playoffs like the Steelers are.
This year though, while early in Pittsburgh’s case it may have come at the right time as many of its players have been dinged up, and the extra time off has allowed two Pro bowlers, one who has yet to suit up for a game, and another who is a crucial key to its offensive scheme more time to heal.
Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled this year, especially against the big play. A big reason for that has been the absence of Polamalu, who still is nursing a tender calf.
Polamalu disrupts offensive schemes and throws them off balance and when playing with Ryan Clark the two form a potent tandem. Ryan Mundy has filled in for Polamalu and Clark, but doesn’t have the presence on the field that Polamalu does especially when it comes to freelancing.
Case in point, with Polamalu in the lineup Pittsburgh is 84-34.
The All-Pro safety said he feels much better last week and barring any setbacks this week, expects to play against the Eagles.
Linebacker James Harrison is a different story. He practiced for the first time last week, but again he did not practice on consecutive days which means his status is still up in the air for the Eagles game and perhaps many more down the road.
The problem stems from Harrison not being able to recover with his knee following a practice. Last week he posted on his twitter account he was optimistic following a workout, but then had another setback.
If Harrison continues to have problems, the knee could require repair again which would be a blow and cost him more games.
When it comes to the offense, Rashard Mendenhall has been the missing link. Ben Rothlisberger has put up some big numbers in the first three games, the unit has done wonders with controlling the clock, but in the process, the run game has become a run game alternative.
A big reason for that has been the absence of Mendenhall. The Steeler have rotated four backs — in Jonathan Dwyer, Issac Redman, Chris Rainey and Baron Batch, but none have proven to have the punch that Mendenhall provides.
Mendenhall who missed the 2011 post-season was drafted by the Steelers with the first pick in 2008 with hopes he would be the next great back in a strong lineage dating back to Franco Harris.
All he has done since joining the team is average 4.1 yards per carry, post two 1000 yard seasons, and the past two years tally 23 touchdowns, one via pass.
Mendenhall will also have something to prove when he hits the field, as this is the final year of his contract. Most players in that situation seem to thrive under pressure and put up big numbers as the dollar is the bottom line for them.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Steelers news, see CBS Sports Pittsburgh.
Matt Pawlikowski is a veteran journalist covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.