By looking at the injury report, one would think that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be a team preparing for their bye week, not a critical three-game stretch that could determine their playoff fate. Unfortunately, even though they are banged up with four starters already listed out of their match-up against the Baltimore Ravens; that ship has sailed.Antonio Brown (Ankle) and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (Foot) are already listed as out and will be inactive. This news means that two players, running back Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Ryan Clark (Concussion), who opened the week as question marks appear ready to go.
The return of Mendenhall could be extremely important for the Steelers against the Ravens, who have uncharacteristically struggled stopping the run in 2012. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the loss of on field and inspirational leader Ray Lewis, who sits on injured reserve. With Byron Leftwich at the helm, a balanced attack could go a long way at pulling out a victory Sunday night.
With the entire backfield healthy, the team has the ability to continually pound opposing defenses with three big diverse and powerful running backs, with enough differences to cause some unevenness in game preps for Baltimore.
Leftwich could also get a boost by playing against a Ravens secondary that has some injury questions at cornerback after starter Jimmy Smith underwent groin surgery on Thursday and will not play. Smith was the second starting corner to go down this season as franchise player Lardarius Webb was placed on injured reserve at the same time that the team lost Lewis. Even with Brown out of the line-up again, the Steelers should be able to complete some passes.
Defensively, the Steelers get a somewhat surprising boost with the availability of Clark this week, after the veteran safety suffered his second concussion in three weeks. With the team already without Polamalu, his loss could have been a devastating blow for the defense, for all intensive purposes, he is the leader of that unit.
The team will also need to have another solid game from inside linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons, as well as safety Will Allen. The Ravens offense has been a mixed bag in 2012, but do have Ray Rice and a couple of solid tight ends, who gave the Steelers fits in 2011. With that in mind, the left side of the defense, who struggled against the Kansas City Chiefs cannot have that type of effort in this match-up.
The defense could also get a boost if they could cause some turnovers, as the lack of production in that aspect of the game seems to have continued into this season. Of course, adding some consistent pass rush to their arsenal could help that cause as well.
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