During the Week 3 loss to the Chicago Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers saw veteran tight end Heath Miller return to the field for the first time since reconstructive knee surgery. This week, the team is optimistic that they could welcome two more playmakers back to the field against the winless Minnesota Vikings in London.Mike Tomlin appeared to be upbeat about the potential of starting cornerback Cortez Allen (ankle) and rookie running back Le’Veon Bell (foot), suiting up this week. With the team reeling after losing their third consecutive regular season game to start the 2013 campaign, any positive news will be a benefit.
Defensively, the loss of Allen has not been a total devastation. During the absence, the unit held its own with some solid performances. Unfortunately, while those games were solid overall, the defense did nothing to help the struggling offense; providing only adequate pressure on the opponents’ quarterbacks and creating zero turnovers. Allen has had a miserable 2013 campaign, suffering a knee injury that forced him to miss half the preseason and now the ankle injury that cost him two games.
In these last two games, William Gay was forced to start at cornerback and rookie safety Shamarko Thomas was moved into the slot in nickel and dime situations. Yes, these two players held their own, neither have the same ability to match-up with any wide receiver, inside or outside, like Allen. Entering the season, fans and staff had high hopes for the veteran cornerback, who appeared poised for a breakout season opposite Ike Taylor. Tall, physical and athletic, he has the skillset needed to make splash plays for the unit, and may have the best hands of any of the Steelers’ cornerbacks.
While Allen will give the defense a boost, the return of Bell might provide a spark to the Steelers’ dismal rushing attack; although, at this moment, there is no history to back that notion up. For many, he is an enigma, having only four carries in one preseason game before injuring his foot against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 of the preseason. From all reports, Bell looked the part of a potential workhorse, when healthy during training camp.
Unfortunately, even if his foot has healed, there will be questions about how much he can actually contribute to the offense id he does make his NFL debut on Sunday. Last week, the rookie second-round pick out of Michigan State was able to participate both in a full and limited capacity for the first time since suffering the injury on August 19. During those sessions and especially during the practice sessions during the Week 4 preps, Bell must not only show he is healthy, he must show an understanding of the playbook in all three phases, blocking, running and receiving to be active.
Of course, even if Bell returns, if the offensive line does not pick up its game, it will not matter who the running back is. This new group (including rotational tackle Kelvin Beachum) did show some improvement against the Bears, although they are still a work in progress. To this point, the unit still has not done enough in the running game with Felix Jones, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combining for 40 carries for 124 yards (3.2 YPC).
Rounding out the injury news, defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Steve McLendon are battling through hamstring injuries and may be limited early in the week. At this point, unless there is a major setback, both are expected to be in their starting roles when the Steelers kick off against the 0-3 Vikings.
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