Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE
The Steelers were healthy on offense, heading into the Tennessee game last week.
Then, players went down like a bunch of out-of-shape old geezers in a Sunday-morning hangover league.
Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert all were injured.
Mendenhall (Achilles) and Redman (ankle) might be back Sunday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
They need to return soon because the Steelers have to be able to run the ball to milk the clock and protect leads in the fourth quarter, and they can't do that without Mendenhall. In the first three games, Redman showed that he can't shoulder the load as the featured back, but he seems to get better with Mendenhall in the lineup.
Gilbert (ankle) is out for Sunday's game and could be out for up to two months, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. That means wide-eyed rookie Mike Adams will start at right tackle for the forseeable future.
Pouncey (knee) shouldn't be out nearly as long as Gilbert, but he is questionable for Sunday.
Without Gilbert and possibly Pouncey, the Steelers will have at least one new starter on the offensive line against the Bengals. That will break the string of five consecutive starts this season with the same unit.
The Steelers used 25 different offensive line combinations last season, the most in the NFL, according to ESPN. That was part of the reason Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 40 times.
Max Starks, Willie Colon, Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Gilbert have started all five games this season, and the Steelers have benefited from the continuity.
Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times, which puts him on pace to be sacked 32 times. He was sacked 32 times in 2010 when he played in just 12 games. The last time Roethlisberger endured fewer than 32 sacks in a season was 2005, when he was sacked 23 times.
Despite the Steelers' disappointing start this season, pass protection has been one of the pleasant surprises. However, if injuries force them to start mixing and matching their offensive line again, expect a lot more drives to be stalled by sacks.
That won't help the Steelers climb out of the hole they've created for themselves in the AFC North.