Having dealt with their own barrage of injuries through the first seven games of the season, the Ravens won’t take any pity on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ health woes at the linebacker position.
But they will likely be left guessing over who exactly will be on the field when they travel to Heinz Field to take on their bitter rival Sunday night for part two of the 2011 edition of the best rivalry in the NFL.
The Steelers’ second-ranked defense — ranking only behind Baltimore — has been decimated by injuries to its talented group of linebackers.
Four-time Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison has missed the last four games with an orbital bone fracture in his face while inside linebacker James Farrior missed Sunday’s game against New England with a calf injury. A third starting linebacker fell during the Steelers’ impressive win over the Patriots when LaMarr Woodley sustained a hamstring injury in the third quarter of their 25-17 win over the Patriots.
A Tuesday report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said Woodley will not play against the Ravens and could possibly be out until after the Steelers’ bye on Nov. 20. However, Woodley said on his Twitter page he’s not willing to throw in the towel for the Baltimore game just yet.
“Everybody counting me out … don’t count me out yet,” said Woodley, whose nine sacks have helped fill the void left by Harrison in the Pittsburgh pass rush. “Big game on Sunday.”
The information on Harrison has been even more conflicting, with his agent declaring him ready to return against the Ravens before the 33-year-old linebacker said otherwise on his Twitter page. Harrison has been cleared to practice, but the veteran said he will not be able to play on Sunday night.
“He has been cleared to practice and that is where we are,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “We will reevaluate the situation at some point later in the week and let that be our guide in terms of potential participation. But, right now, I just want to be clear that he has been cleared to practice.”
Tomlin also said Farrior will practice on a limited basis on Wednesday despite the Post-Gazette reporting the 36-year-old would miss a month with the calf injury.
Though it appears likely that all three will be unavailable against the Ravens, the gamesmanship already being exhibited will force the Baltimore offensive line to prepare for the Steeelers’ pair of dominating pass rushers in Harrison and Woodley. In the decisive 35-7 win over the Steelers in the season opener on Sept. 11, the Ravens limited Pittsburgh to one sack and ran for 170 yards in the blowout.
With Harrison being out for the last month, the Steelers have been forced to shift inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to the outside. Veteran Larry Foote and rookie Chris Carter have played larger roles than anticipated with Farrior and Woodley now sidelined with ailments.