When Coach Tomlin gave his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon he left off three key Steelers from the injury list; Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, and Rashard Mendenhall. It seemed almost too good to be true. In fact, I didn’t even want to believe it until after the three went through consecutive days of practice. As of Thursday afternoon, all three have fully participated in two consecutive days of practice and there is nothing but green lights ahead for each to join their teammates on the field Sunday afternoon against the Eagles. Will these three playmakers prove to be the difference maker for the Steelers pulling themselves back from under .500?
Most of Steeler Nation was undecided about how valuable Mendenhall is to the running game, up until the Steelers running game started off the season the worst in 62 years. After Isaac Redman was able to rush for 121 yards in the playoff game in Denver last year most of Steeler Nation went “Meh. No big deal.” When Kevin Colbert announced over the offseason that he didn’t expect Mendy back for the entire 2012 season after his ACL surgery. Even though the offense has managed to control time of possession in all three games, they haven’t done it by rushing the ball effectively. Mendenhall, even with his tendency to dance at the line of scrimmage on occasion, causing many a yinzer to scream at the television, has been the team’s leading rusher since 2009. Perhaps all the rushing game needs is the spark that Mendy can provide to get going and average a scooch more than the measly 2.6 yards per carry they got going on right now.
Troy is returning from his calf injury that has had him sidelined for the past two games. While the Steelers are still ranked #6 in overall yards allowed, the lack of Polamalu has created a noticeably lack of defensive “splash plays”. Most importantly, Troy and his buddy Ryan Clark have not been on the same field together since the Steelers final game of the regular season last year. Clark, who holds the only interception for the Steelers defense so far this season, only trails behind Larry Foote for the lead tackler on the defense. The Steelers defense needs some…well, they need some Polamalu. Even the offense wants to see Troy ruling the field as Ben Roethlisberger said he missed seeing Troy’s hair flowing in the wind on the field. Troy couldn’t be coming back at a better time too; the Eagles offense has been a turnover machine through their first three games. Perfect conditions for a healthy Troy Polamalu, wouldn’t you say?
Quite possibly the most exciting news from this week of practice was hearing that for the first time since last season, James Harrison was able to fully participate in two consecutive practices. Harrison was on the PUP list for the entire training camp and hasn’t been able to practice in back to back days yet this season with a nagging knee injury. The Steelers pass rush has definitely been hurting with the lack of the Silverback on the field. The Steelers have only collected five sacks so far this season and their performance in the fourth quarter against the Raiders should really have left a bad taste in all of their mouths. Even in their two losses, the Steelers offense has been able to control the majority of the game. The Steelers defense, however, not so much. Giving up the 71 yard TD pass from Manning to Thomas in their first game, along with the 64 yard TD run from McFadden in Oakland, not to mention allowing Carson Palmer to shred the defense for 13 unanswered 4th quarter points is not the Steelers defense we’ve grown accustomed to. Can the return of James Harrison eliminate those big plays? There’s only one way to find out. I only have one thing to say to James. Remember, when Vick takes off with the ball he’s no longer “defenseless”, he’s fair game so go get him!
The Steelers now have 13 weeks to maintain their health and regain their dominance in the division and the league. Getting these three dynamic playmakers back on the field certainly can help achieve the goals of this season. Will more players end up on the injury report? Sure. It’s a long, grueling season and the Steelers have an uphill battle to stay healthy with this early bye week. The two glaring issues that have had yinzers flooding the air waves of sports talk radio the past three weeks have been the defense and the running game. Enter Mendy, Troy, and Harrison. Welcome back to the field guys, you’ve been missed. Here we go Steelers!
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