The Baltimore Ravens are coming to town for the first truly big game of the 2012 season, but the Steelers will likely be without their team MVPs from the past three seasons.
Of course, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that won’t matter to him or his team.
“We’re not looking to make excuses,” Tomlin said at his Tuesday press conference. “Excuses are tools of the incompetent. I believe we’ve got a competent football team.”
But it’s a team without its superstars:
* Ben Roethlisberger, according to Tomlin, has an S-C sprain that “puts his participation into the questionable category this week.”
The medical term is a sternoclavicular sprain, which indicates a stretching or tearing of the ligament connecting the sternum to the clavicle. It’s considered an uncommon injury, and the expected recovery time depends on the severity, of which Tomlin said he had no knowledge.
Roethlisberger was the Steelers’ 2009 team MVP and had a 100.0 passer rating this season, which would be the third-highest of his career.
Roethlisberger’s only been sacked 18 times this season, and was injured on his only sack Monday when Justin Houston and Tamba Hali combined to plant Roethlisberger on his right elbow-then-shoulder.
Roethlisberger had scrambled up into the pocket when both Kansas City defensive ends converged on him.
Tomlin said that Roethlisberger would be replaced by Byron Leftwich if necessary.
* Antonio Brown missed Monday night’s game with a sprained ankle and Tomlin called him questionable for Sunday’s game against the Ravens.
“I’m not quite where I want to be but I’m making progress,” Brown said following Tomlin’s press conference. “Hopefully we should be there shortly.”
Brown was the Steelers’ team MVP last season, when he became the first player in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards.
This season Brown has 42 catches for 499 yards (11.9) and was averaging 7.1 yards per return.
His absence Monday was felt in both areas as the Steelers’ wide receivers were held to season lows in catches (6) and yards (66) and the punt returners averaged 1.3 yards per return.
* Troy Polamalu, the 2010 team MVP, has missed the last 5 games and a total of 7 games this season with a calf injury. Tomlin called him doubtful for the Ravens.
Polamalu’s absence was felt once again in a secondary that’s intercepted only 2 passes, forced 3 fumbles and recovered none this season.
Last night the Steelers forced only one turnover against the Chiefs, who still lead the NFL with 30 giveaways, nine more than the runners-up.
As for the rest of the Steelers’ injury list: RT Marcus Gilbert is questionable with an ankle injury; backup LB Stevenson Sylvester is questionable with a hamstring injury; FS Ryan Clark will be evaluated for the concussion suffered against the Chiefs but will likely play; and RB Rashard Mendenhall remains questionable with his Achilles’ injury.
Tomlin said the Steelers had “very few positives (against the Chiefs) but the positives were significant.” He pointed specifically to the overtime interception by Lawrence Timmons; the 3 field goals by Shaun Suisham, who’s 20 for 21 this season (only missed a 51-yarder); and Brett Keisel, who had 2 sacks and had a total of 4 quarterback hits.
The 7-2 Ravens hold a one-game lead over the Steelers and are ranked first in the league in red-zone defense and fifth in red-zone offense. They are +9 in turnover margin.
“It’s about physicality,” Tomlin said of Sunday’s game. “We better be prepared for it.”