By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers will have three key players out when they host their arch-rivals the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night: Cornerback Joe Haden and linebackers Ryan Shazier and Tyler Matakevich.
Haden May Return In Week 15
Haden (fibula) will miss his fourth straight game on Sunday, but there is good news as he could play against the New England Patriots next week. Haden has been off crutches for over two weeks and has been working with the Steelers’ training staff as he prepares for his return.
Haden was given a timetable of five-to-six weeks after suffering the injury in Week 10 against the Indianapolis Colts. The game against the Pats would be the fifth week, so it is anything but a sure thing that he will be ready. While the Steelers could use Haden back, it doesn’t make sense to rush him—the last thing they need is to lose him for the rest of the season.
Without Haden, the Steelers’ secondary has been torched. They have given up eight touchdowns via the air in the last four games. The Steelers surrendered just six touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks through the first eight games.
Who will start opposite Artie Burns?
The big question is: Who will start opposite Artie Burns this week? Will it be Coty Sensabaugh, as it has been the past three weeks? Or will it be rookie Cam Sutton? Sensabaugh gave up two touchdowns along with a key long completion on third down to wide receiver AJ Green last week before being replaced by Sutton.
Sutton, in his first NFL appearance, helped limit the Bengals to just three second-half points. He didn’t record a tackle, though he was credited with a pass defensed. Sensabaugh, on the other hand, has racked up 14 tackles and one interception since Haden went out late in the first quarter against the Colts.
Is Shazier’s Football Career Over?
The news is not so good for Shazier (back). The Steelers’ leading tackler this season had spinal stabilization surgery on Wednesday, and according to neurologist Dr. Anthony Alessi, he “may not play football again.”
Matakevich would have been the logical choice to step in and replace Shazier, but he suffered a shoulder injury against the Bengals.
That leaves veterans L.J. Fort—who finished the Cincinnati game at inside linebacker after Matakevich’s injury—Arthur Moats and Sean Spence as options to start along side Vince Williams.
“We have some guys that we’re putting in there,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “We brought (Sean) Spence back. Spence knows the system pretty well. I had him when he was here. He’d been gone for about three years. We changed some stuff but he picks it up pretty fast. Very sharp young man. Arthur Moats is playing the other inside, too, so both of those guys might end up sharing the duty. We’ll see what happens.”
Fort has 30 tackles in 42 games, including one start, in his five-year career. Moats has spent most of his career as an outside linebacker, though he does have experience playing on the inside. Spence, who was signed Tuesday, started 13 of his 31 appearances in his previous stint with the Steelers from 2014-15.
Safety Mike Mitchell questionable, T.J. Watt expected to roll on Sunday
Mitchell has missed two of the last three games with an ankle injury and is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Mitchell was a full practice participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but was limited on Friday.
If Mitchell is unable to go, Robert Golden will likely once again get the start.
Watt is not on the final report after popping up on Thursday’s list due to a knee ailment and is expected to be “good to go” versus the Ravens. As is Antonio Brown, who did not practice Thursday due to a hurt toe. Brown is also not on the final injury report as he was a full practice participant on Friday. He was listed as questionable last week with the injury.
Tight end Vance McDonald has practiced all week and is expected to be available against the Ravens. McDonald had been inactive the past three weeks with an ankle injury.
Ravens Injury Report
Standout cornerback Jimmy Smith, who tore his Achilles last week, is out for the season, which is a major loss for the Ravens. Marlon Humphrey will make his first start in Smith’s place. That means that the rookie will lineup across from Antonio Brown, who leads the league in receptions and receiving yards.
The Ravens expect wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (back) and linebacker CJ Mosley (neck), both of whom are listed as questionable, to play on Sunday. Mosley, the Ravens’ top tackler, missed Wednesday’s practice but was a full participant the last two days.
Reserve linebacker Za’ Darius Smith (shoulder) and backup offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder) are unlikely to play. Smith is officially listed as doubtful as he has not practiced all week. Eluemunor has missed the last two games.
Steelers Full Injury Report
- CB Joe Haden. Fibula. Out.
- LB Tyler Matakevich. Shoulder. Out
- S Mike Mitchell. Ankle. Questionable.
- LB Ryan Shazier. Back.Out.