By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for some validation in another week where they will be calling upon players to fill in at positions. Injuries have been equally as disruptive on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. With the undefeated AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals coming into Heinz Field on Sunday, the Steelers were once again focused on putting their healthiest players in at practice to prepare. The question still remains whether Ben Roethlisberger will be 100 percent as step onto the field as the Steelers’ starting quarterback.

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Pittsburgh has already solved most minor issues on the offensive side of the ball by having Cody Wallace take over for an injured Maurkice Pouncey and tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are ready to go. Miller and Spaeth both had a veteran day off from practice this week, but were able to return fully to practice for the remainder of the preparation period. For the Steelers offense, the lingering injury question remains whether or not Roethlisberger will be ready. The team isn’t likely to have Mike Vick as an option as he was unable to practice on Thursday, leaving the door open for Landry Jones and possibly Tyler Murphy as backup at the quarterback position.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley isn’t worried Roethlisberger will be rusty this week, but says the offense must play as a unit to be successful. “It’s a potential issue when a guy hasn’t played a bunch,” Haley said, “but as we said at the start of the week, we have to get on track fast. That takes everybody. That means everybody needs to make plays when they get an opportunity.” Haley recognized that the team has faced a rotating door of available players but added, “That’s life in the NFL. It’s never going to be perfect. But the more guys you have out there practicing together and working together the better it is for us as a coaching staff.”

Several players have been cycled through the Steelers defense on a rotation this season based on availability due to injury. While linebacker Terence Garvin, the most recent to require surgery, is likely a scratch on Sunday, Sean Spence and Vince Williams have been filling in nicely. The duo did double duty with Ryan Shazier out of the lineup, but Shazier looks good to go against the Bengals. In the defensive backfield, Pittsburgh re-signed Ross Ventrone once again this week (something that has happened twice this season) after seeing both Will Allen and William Gay deal with injuries and the corners and safeties struggle to field a cohesive unit.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler spent time once again working with his defense on covering tight ends. The Bengals have successfully used Tyler Eifert to hurt opposing defenses and the Steelers have struggled managing tight ends all season. When he was asked about why the team has struggled, Butler responded, “I don’t think we’re the only ones in the league who do that. We have to do a better job of coverage on those guys…some of it’s technique, some of it’s bad positioning, some of it comes from not banging the guy around enough. We have to be able to do that, change it up.”

The Bengals are one of the healthiest units on both sides of the ball this season, allowing their team to spend little time worried about playing positions and more time fine tuning. It has led to their success and undefeated status. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton have combined to become one of the strongest one-two duos in the AFC North and league, giving the Steelers something extra to focus on this week. The Steelers need a big game from their secondary and Butler said that one key will be to keep the ball in front of the defense, preventing Dalton from simply throwing deep and digging Pittsburgh into a hole on the scoreboard.

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Injury Recap

Out

Will Allen (S, ankle)
Terence Garvin (LB, knee)
Stephon Tuitt (DE, knee)
Michael Vick (QB, hamstring)

Probable

William Gay (CB, shoulder)
James Harrison (LB, not injury related)
Heath Miller (TE, not injury related)
Ben Roethlisberger (QB, knee)
Matt Spaeth (TE, not injury related)

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist 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 as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.