Coach Mike Tomlin is well aware of what is at stake this Sunday when the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.
The Bengals hold a one-game lead over the Steelers and currently occupy the final playoff spot in the AFC. But a win over them would not just leave the two teams tied at 8-7, but it would give the Steelers the head-to-head advantage as they defeated them earlier this season in Cincinnati.
“It’s an enormous week for us with a big home game versus a division opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals,” said Tomlin. “There are a lot of ramifications on this game, for both teams. It is really creating an exciting environment around here as we prepare. I am sure it’s the same for them.”
The Bengals are a hot team right now, winning five of their last six games. One of the reasons for their success has been the play of several key weapons on offense, including BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has amassed 1,080 yards rushing to date. The Steelers held the explosive back to 69 yards in their earlier meeting this year, but understand stopping him isn’t going to be an easy task.
“He has a consistent run demeanor,” said Tomlin. “He always falls forward. He is kind of a one-cut runner. He’s had explosion plays for them over the last several weeks, as they have been a very hot team. He has been a significant part of that, providing a consistent run game for them but also providing some splash plays.”
Another player who will present a challenge for the Steelers’ defense is receiver A.J. Green, who has 85 receptions for 1,208 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
“He is extremely talented,” said Tomlin. “We are familiar with him and what he is capable of. He is big, fast and quick. He plays to his size down the field. He plays the ball above eye level. That’s going to be a challenge for our defensive backs.”
Cornerback Ike Taylor has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, so the job of covering Green and the Bengals’ receivers is going to fall on Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis, both of whom are battling injuries themselves.
“They’re very capable professionals, guys that have played a lot of ball for us, guys that are capable of standing up and covering people regardless of circumstances,” said Tomlin. “We’ll have a contingency plan if one or more of those guys are unavailable. But as we sit here, we’re anticipating having those guys and we’re going to do what we normally do.”
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Running back Rashard Mendenhall is back on the active roster after a one-game suspension, but don’t look for things to change dramatically at the position. Jonathan Dwyer is still expected to start against the Bengals, with Isaac Redman coming in to spell him.
“I’m happy with the rotation as it is now,” said Tomlin. “I look forward to getting Rashard back in the building and participating with his teammates and kind of letting that participation lead us in terms of etching a potential role for him.”
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Lewis teamed with KidsVoice, an organization that provides full-service advocacy for abused, abandoned, voiceless and vulnerable children, to make the holiday season brighter for 23 area teens.
“It’s important to give back to the kids and give them the opportunity to enjoy Christmas,” said Lewis. “That is the big thing. Some people are less fortunate and aren’t able to enjoy Christmas as much. If it puts smiles on their faces, it’s a blessing.”
The event definitely put smiles on the faces of the teens, who joined Lewis at Games N’ At on Pittsburgh’s South Side for dinner. Lewis also gave each of them a movie gift card and gift bag with a football and Steelers’ shirt, courtesy of Lewis and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“When you have the opportunity you give thanks to God to be able to share with others,” said Lewis. “It makes me happy and I’ll never forget where I came from. It makes me appreciative.”
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The Steelers will be without cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle) for the third straight game when they host the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday, and will also be missing fellow corner DeMarcus Van Dyke, who was placed on injured reserve after separating his shoulder against the Cowboys.
There is some good news at the position, though. Cortez Allen is expected to practice this week and play on Sunday after missing the Cowboys game, and Keenan Lewis, who aggravated his hip flexor against the Cowboys, could be limited in practice early in the week but is expected to play.
The team signed veteran corner Justin King to add depth at a position. King, in his fourth season, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round in2008 and made 19 starts and played in 35 games over three seasons.
“He has played some time in this league,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “He is in the building as we speak kind of getting up to speed with what it is we do. He was a short list guy for us. We worked him out a number of weeks ago and have been in pretty good communication with him. He should be a quick study and a guy who fits in quickly around here. We’ll get a sense of what he is capable of doing through the course of the week and maybe he is able to help us in this football game.”
The Steelers could get tackle Mike Adams (ankle) back this week against the Bengals after he has missed three straight games. Adams is scheduled to return to practice and how he performs will dictate his availability.
“We will gauge and watch him during the course of the week in practice in terms of determining whether or not he can help us,” said Tomlin.
Receiver Emmanuel Sanders injured his ribs against the Cowboys, and his status for Sunday’s game is not known at this point.
“He will be monitored and limited in the early part of the week,” said Tomlin. “We’ll gauge how he works if he is able to participate.”
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