When the battered Pittsburgh Steelers line-up to face the Cincinnati Bengals, they will play the game with some important players on the sideline. Going into Sunday night, starters Troy Polamalu (calf), Marcus Gilbert (foot), Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (knee) will be on the sideline, with starting center Maurkice Pouncey (questionable – knee) possibly by their sides.John Malecki from their practice squad to their 53-man roster and released defensive end Corbin Bryant. Malecki, who was a standout at the University of Pittsburgh and Franklin Regional High School, will be active on game day and could be called on at either guard or tackle.
The Steelers should see the return of linebacker LaMarr Woodley, which should give their ailing pass rush a boost against the explosive Bengals offense. The team could use his help, as the defense has struggled for most of the season, especially on third down, and has had the propensity to surrender the big play. While the run defense has not been horrible, it has not been as stout as it has in the past, and the secondary play has been suspect. That is especially the case with cornerback Ike Taylor, who leads the league in pass interference penalties, and appears to be a shell of the potential Pro Bowl performer he was prior to the Denver meltdown in the 2011 playoffs.
In looking at film, Taylor’s ineffectiveness in 2012 has created many issues for the defense, in particular when the Steelers cannot generate a solid pass rush. With all four projected starters at linebacker on the field, there is hope that could change this week.
Offensively, with the offensive line and running backs banged up, the Steelers may again struggle to run the ball. In the backfield, it appears that Jonathan Dwyer, who flashed in preseason and early in the season, will get a shot to carry the load against the Bengals and their solid front seven. Behind him, it will be a combination of Baron Batch and Chris Rainey, both of whom could see more action as receivers to aid the running game.
There was a scare this week when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stepped on a foot and tweaked his ankle, but appears ready to go. That actually should be a good omen for fans as some of the quarterbacks most memorable performances came when he was banged up. Of course, it would an even better omen if the team could generate any yards in the running game to help take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger and the receiving corps.
One player who could also play a larger role in the controlled passing game this week is tight end David Paulson opposite Heath Miller in two tight end sets. With the line starting a rookie starting at right tackle in Mike Adams, offensive coordinator Todd Haley could decide to use the extra tight end to help on that side, and then turn into an outlet receiver. The Steelers are high on Paulson, which became clear when they released athletic second-year tight end Weslye Saunders after he returned from his four-game suspension.
At 2-3 on the season, the Steelers need a victory against the Bengals to keep any hopes of a successful season alive. More importantly, they need find themselves in the process, and determine who the 2012 Steelers will be.
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