|Pittsburgh's defense would welcome the return of Harrison and Polamalu. (US Presswire)|
Thanks to an early bye, the Steelers got last week off, which means they'll have an extra few days to recover from that last-second loss in Oakland on Sept. 23. The time off also allowed a banged-up team to get healthy in time for a Week 5 matchup with the Eagles.
Three of Pittsburgh's best players -- running back Rashard Mendenhall, safety Troy Polamalu and outside linebacker James Harrison -- have been sidelined with various ailments. Mendenhall and Harrison, who are both recovering from knee injuries, have yet to play this season. Polamalu, meanwhile, saw action in the opener but has been in civvies since dealing with a bum calf.
Coach Mike Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference that all three players should be on the field when Philadelphia comes to town Sunday.
“All guys performed well, and we anticipate them being able to participate this weekend,” Tomlin said, according to KDKA in Pittsburgh. “Based on how I looked at what we worked on yesterday, I think that's a safe assessment.”
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Mendenall on Monday that “[T]o get another difference-maker back will, hopefully, will be a big deal for us."
Well, Pittsburgh's running game couldn't get any worse. Although the passing attack ranks seventh, according to Football Outsiders, the Steelers are an anemic 29th on the ground. Mendenhall won't magically fix that but he'll provide both both size and speed to a group that has plenty of both, just not in the same package.
Harrison practiced Monday, and for the first time in a long time he sounded optimistic about his chances to finally suit up.
"God willing, I will be playing Sunday against the Eagles!" he tweeted afterwards.
And Polamalu, arguably the defense's most valuable member, told the Associated Press that getting everyone healthy will go a long way in fixing what has suddenly become a porous unit.
“We just have to get ourselves on the winning side of things, because nobody cares about losing teams,” he said. “We just haven't been executing that well, whatever the call is that coach LeBeau has made, we just haven't been executing it that well at all. It really has nothing to do with the scheme of things. It's just that we're not executing and not performing well.”
Even though they'll be just four games into the season, a loss to the Eagles puts the Steelers in a tough spot to make the playoffs. They could be two games back of the Ravens and the Bengals in the AFC North, and there are three other teams at 2-2 ahead of them in the standings (not counting division leaders).
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