By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t get the news that they obviously desired on Saturday as star wide receiver Antonio Brown sat out of practice for the second consecutive day with a toe injury. The injury is considered to be minor, but the Steelers are game planning as if they will be without Brown on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Brown, who is having a career season, was a full practice participant at the team’s first practice of the week on Thursday, so it is really unknown when the toe issue popped up. Brown is the top receiver in the league and it would be a huge blow to the Steelers if he is forced to sit out the game.
Brown leads the league in receptions and receiving yards per game. He is also second in the NFL with eight touchdowns. More importantly, the 29-year-old pro is a big-time playmaker who has 20 receptions for 313 yards and five touchdowns over his last two contests. He has not missed a game due to an injury since 2012.
If Brown does indeed miss the game, JuJu Smith-Schuster along with Darius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter could fill Brown’s role according to Fowler. Fowler added that Martavis Bryant, who had four catches for 40 yards last week against Green Bay, would remain in his role. Eli Rogers also could have an expanded role again.
Smith-Schuster is coming off an injury of his own. The rookie wide receiver missed the game against Green Bay with a hamstring injury, but he has been a full participant all week. Smith-Schuster has come up big all season long and has four or more receptions in each of his last three contests. He ranks third on the team in catches (33) and targets (52).
Rogers has had trouble with drops while Hunter and Heyward-Bay have seen sparse action this year.
Brown is not the only Steeler that is in danger of missing the game. Free safety Mike Mitchell is listed as doubtful as he has been unable to practice the entire week. Mitchell, who played last week, initially suffered the ankle injury against Indianapolis (Nov. 11) and missed the following week’s game against Tennessee.
Robert Golden will likely get the start if Mitchell is unable to play. Golden made his first start of the season against Tennessee, recording five tackles and picking off his second career pass.
Cornerback Joe Haden and tight end Vance McDonald are the two players who have already been ruled out. This will be the third straight game that Haden has missed. McDonald also has been inactive for the last two contests.
Ryan Shazier and James Harrison are good to go
Shazier and Harrison each missed the first two days of practice this week, but neither is on the injury report, which is fantastic news, especially concerning Shazier.
Shazier, who has dealt with a couple of injuries throughout the season, is coping with an ankle injury while Harrison is dealing with a knee issue.
Shazier is the leader of the defense. Not only does the left inside linebacker lead the team with 87 tackles, but he also makes the defensive play calls. Shazier is very fast and possesses a high motor. He is excellent against the run and is just as good versus the pass.
Harrison has not played since the last Steelers-Bengals matchup (Oct. 22).
Cincinnati Bengals Full Injury Report
The Bengals will be without three key members of their defensive unit. The biggest concern is at linebacker, where starting outside linebacker Nick Vigil (ankle) and key reserve Vincent Rey (hamstring) have been ruled out. Vigil leads the team with 79 tackles while Rey is fourth on the team with 56.
Rookie Jordan Evans, a 2017 sixth round selection, is likely to start, though the Bengals use a lot of nickel packages without a third linebacker. Evans has racked up 12 of his 14 tackles in the last three games, including seven last week against Cleveland.
Starting strong safety Shawn Williams (hamstring) is also out. That means Clayton Fejedelem will likely get the start, though reserve cornerback Josh Shaw could also see time at safety.
Michael Johnson is the only other Bengal who is in danger of missing the game. Johnson (back) has been strong upfront alongside fellow end Carlos Dunlap, picking up three sacks and four tackles for loss. If Johnson can’t go, rookie Jordan Willis is expected to get the start.
Pittsburgh Steelers Full Injury Report
- CB Joe Haden, Fibula. Out.
- TE Vance McDonald. Ankle. Out.
- S Mike Mitchell. Ankle. Doubtful.
- WR Antonio Brown. Toe. Questionable.