The question that many Steeler followers may be asking is – what HASN’T changed? The quarterback, 4 O-Line starters, one running back, one or more wide receivers, one linebacker, one strong safety…and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s not an ideal situation to have so many moving parts in a lineup. Some of these changes are due to injury, others are due to players healing from injury, while still others are coaching preferences.
At quarterback, everyone is abuzz whether Ben Roethlisberger will play or not. The conventional wisdom is that he will not start, nor will he be active due to limited strength in his shoulder and still dealing with pain associated with his shoulder / rib injuries. So, it appears that Charlie Batch will get his second consecutive start, and perhaps his last NFL start with Big Ben and Byron Leftwich likely both available when the Steelers host the Chargers on December 9.
The offensive line situation is dicey, at best. At left guard, Willie Colon has a shoulder injury that will likely cause him to miss a second straight game. Right tackle Mike Adams has a high ankle sprain that will keep him out of the game, and almost certainly multiple weeks. So, two injuries means two new starters, right? Well…not exactly. Coach Mike Tomlin likes to throw around the term “position flexibility.” This week, he plans to introduce a lineup that relies heavily on many moving parts. All-pro center may switch to left guard while Doug Legursky could start at center. The question is whether the drop-off from Pouncey to Legursky at center, or Colon to Legursky at guard is more severe. It appears that Coach Tomlin feels that he is better served with Legursky at center. Ramon Foster has exhibited position flexibility to the point where he could play anywhere along the line. As such, he will slide out from right guard to right tackle to make way for….highly touted rookie first-round selection David DeCastro to make his first NFL start. Another option would have been to leave Foster at guard and start rookie Kelvin Beachum at right tackle. Beachum has a propensity to hold (and not block), so if DeCastro has recovered enough from a gruesome preseason knee injury, this lineup adjustment makes sense. The Steelers still have stalwart Max Starks at left tackle, right?
At running back, Pittsburgh fumbled the ball away so frequently that Tomlin probably was ready to make phone calls to you or me to fill in last week in Cleveland. With the carousel of pathetic ball security, the head coach has settled on a starter – Jonathan Dwyer. He looks to get the majority of carries against Baltimore. This may diminish the role of Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, in an attempt to have some consistency in the running game.
At receiver, Antonio Brown will thankfully make his return from a high ankle sprain. That may open the field up for the other receiving options. Mike Wallace has been demoted…sort of. Tomlin listed Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders as the #2 WR. His lack of production has not gone unnoticed, while Sanders gives forth maximum effort despite not having the top-end speed that Wallace possesses.
Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley is doubtful, which allows Jason Worilds to start at left outside linebacker. Worilds surprisingly leads the team in sacks with five.
Last, but certainly not least, Troy Polamalu will emerge from the tunnel in Baltimore in uniform for the first time in nearly two months. As solidly as the defense has been playing, perhaps #43 can be a catalyst to jumpstart the defense’s ability to force turnovers.
Ten Fearless Predictions
1. The Steelers won’t turn over the ball eight times. If Pittsburgh has two or three turnovers (or more), they are doomed. Expect safe playcalling from Todd Haley this week to keep the offense on the field.
2. Charlie Batch’s jersey will look more green than white by game’s end. With so much movement along the O-line, Terrell Suggs, Paul Kruger, and company will be in Batch’s grill all day long.
3. Jonathan Dwyer will not fumble. It may not matter much because Pittsburgh will pass often, particularly in the second half.
4. Baltimore uses the no huddle with success. Joe Flacco thrives at home (and stinks on the road). The offense will get into a good playcalling rhythm to take advantage of a defense that has been very solid, but not opportunistic.
5. Antonio Brown and Heath Miller will be targeted early and often. These guys have the best hands on the team, and Batch will use these guys to keep the Ravens off balance.
6. Ray Rice has little impact on the outcome. After his little stunt while wearing a Terrible Towel on his head two weeks ago, that adds extra incentive for Steeler defenders to rein in the dual threat from Rutgers.
7. Troy Polamalu will have a quiet return. Cut the guy a break…this is his first week back. He will be a step slow, and just not quite himself yet. Polamalu won’t be jumping over the line to tackle Flacco on the snap count…at least not yet.
8. Joe Flacco will make at least one big mistake. He still may throw for 250-300 yards with 2-3 TDs, but there will be at least one decision that leaves folks scratching their heads and contemplating why Flacco is not yet an elite QB.
9. The CBS cameras will show Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger along the sidelines more than the men who are replacing them. Personally, I would rather watch the game than think about the guys who are injured.
10. Ravens 23, Steelers 16. The Ravens will win their 16th consecutive home game to put a virtual nail in the AFC North coffin (unless Cincinnati loses at San Diego, in which case it becomes an actual nail), and relegate Pittsburgh to Wild Card aspirations.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.