While the Steelers will certainly not concede to the Ravens—and they shouldn’t—they also shouldn’t push key starters to come back before they are ready to return to the lineup.
The Ravens are always a challenging opponent, especially when you are without your starting right tackle, franchise quarterback and All-Pro safety.
On top of that, the Ravens are nearly unbeatable at home, where they have won 15 straight games. They last lost at M&T Bank Stadium 13-10 to the Steelers on December 5, 2010. Meanwhile, the Steelers are only 2-4 on the road.
A win against the Ravens would be a huge boost for the Steelers' push to the playoffs, but at this point, they need to be focused on earning the fifth or sixth seed and make sure that their top starters are ready for the final month of the season.
Pittsburgh could lose at Baltimore, but still win the final four games to finish at 10-6 which would be more than enough to earn a playoff spot. If they are going to achieve this, all hands need to be on deck.
At his weekly press conference, Tomlin hinted that several players could return to the lineup on Sunday, including Antonio Brown, Willie Colon, Jerricho Cotchery and maybe even Troy Polamalu (via Steelers.com).
We are looking to get some guys back potentially but we are not going to hold our breath in that regard. We are going to continue to focus on reading the guys that are healthy and holding those guys to the standard that we are accustomed to, which is winning football.
All of these players would be a huge shot in the arm for the Steelers, who have struggled for the past three weeks—particularly on offense in which they have only scored 33 points (Lawrence Timmons scored a defensive touchdown as well).
The addition of Brown and Cotchery would be huge for the passing game which has been virtually non-existent since Ben Roethlisberger injured his shoulder and ribs against the Kansas City Chiefs three weeks ago.
Brown is the team’s best receiver and should open up space for Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.
The return of Colon should help the offensive line, which struggled to get a strong push against the Cleveland Browns last week, but it may not be enough as Mike Adams is expected to miss an extended period of time.
In a bit of good news, the return of David DeCastro means that he could potentially start at right guard and Ramon Foster could shift to right tackle, but Tomlin had other thoughts (via Steelers.com).
That is potentially an option, but based on our strengths and what we know right now, Kelvin Beachum has played and DeCastro has not, other than preseason football, said Tomlin. We feel that that’s the best mode at this point.
While it may be the best move on paper, considering that DeCastro needs time to get into “game shape,” it also means that Heath Miller will have to focus his attention on blocking rather than being another receiving option.
This will be a big loss for Charlie Batch, who is slated to start again this week, although Tomlin did not rule out the possibility of Roethlisberger starting (via Steelers.com).
“[Roethlisberger] will take steps towards playing this week. We’ll leave the door open for him. He’s got a chance.”
So is it possible that the Steelers could get their two best players back in Roethlisberger and Polamalu? It sounds like it, but neither player should play.
Pittsburgh’s defense has been excellent in recent weeks, and while Polamalu would provide a boost, they are playing well enough without him right now to get by another week with him on the bench.
The last thing that the Steelers need is for Polamalu to come back too early and re-injure his calf and be out for the remainder of the season.
The same could be said for LaMarr Woodley, who is doubtful with an ankle injury. All too often, the Steelers have brought back players too soon only to see them re-injure themselves and miss an extended period of time.
That brings us to Roethlisberger, who is the key to the Steelers’ playoff chances. The team will only go as far as he can carry them and that will not be very far if he isn’t healthy.
Last season, Roethlisberger did not complete better than 57.5 percent of his passes after suffering an ankle injury in Week 13 against the Browns. His ankle never fully recovered and the Steelers were out in the first round of the playoffs.
One more week of rest for players such as Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Woodley and DeCastro could be just enough to get them ready for the final four games of the season—three of which will be at Heinz Field.
If the Steelers can get their top players healthy, they could re-establish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC.