Polamalu brightens injury report, could return against RavensNovember 7, 2012 12:32 am


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By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It appears that Antonio Brown and Chris Rainey are out, and Jonathan Dwyer is in. Some of the most important injury news Mike Tomlin presented Tuesday, however, was that Troy Polamalu may return in time to play Nov. 18 against the Baltimore Ravens.


As well as the Steelers have played on defense recently, having their seven-time Pro Bowl safety and former NFL defensive player of the year back in the lineup should make them even more dominant.


Or would he?


The Steelers are 3-1 since Will Allen moved into Polamalu's spot at strong safety, replacing Ryan Mundy. Allen will get his fifth consecutive start Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. He won't get a sixth as long as Polamalu is healthy and there's no reason to explain why.


What Allen has done, though, is bring stability to the position while one of their best players has been out. The Steelers rank as the No. 1 defense in the NFL in fewest yards allowed and also in fewest passing yards allowed.


Before this season, the Steelers were 13-10 without Polamalu, not nearly the kind of success they have had with him in the starting lineup (76-29). With Mundy at strong safety, they were 1-1 this season (0-1 with Mundy playing for free safety Ryan Clark in Denver). Polamalu has played in two games, which the Steelers split.


"Will's done a nice job for us playing in place of Troy over the last couple weeks," Tomlin said. "The assets of his game are he's a deliberate run-force guy, he's got good range and he's consistently physical.


"He's flexible positionally, but we're not doing anything different with Ryan because he's in there. Ryan has the ability to play both strong safety and free safety and does quite often when paired with Troy. He's still able to do that with Will because of his versatility."


Polamalu, 31, injured his right calf while practicing the week before the first game, then said he aggravated it in the opener. He skipped the next two games and returned three weeks after the opener following the team's off week to start Oct. 7 against Philadelphia.


He left that game in the first quarter and has not returned to play or practice. The Steelers have not described the specifics of the injury but there was a report that his calf was torn. He has been with the team and been taking treatment on it at the training facility on the South Side. He has declined to talk about his injury or when he might return to play.


Polamalu played in 22 consecutive games before he missed the second game this season. He missed two games near the end of the 2010 season because of an Achilles injury. This year has taken on the look of '09, when Polamalu left the opening game with a knee injury, missed the next four, and played in four more before his knee was reinjured and his season ended.


Who will start?
Rashard Mendenhall no longer is the clear-cut starting halfback. Tomlin made that clear without offering names when asked how he would use his backs when all are healthy.


"Whoever's being productive when healthy is going to get the totes. I really think it's that simple. I'm not going to make it any more complex than it has to be.


"At times this season we've had a running back-by-committee approach because none of them had been overly effective at that time. When someone's effective, they'll get the ball."


Tomlin said Mendenhall (Achilles) will get some work this week but characterized him as questionable to play. He said Jonathan Dwyer, who missed Sunday's game with a thigh injury, "has a strong chance to play.''


Dwyer rushed for consecutive 100-yard games before Sunday, when Redman took over and rushed for 147 yards against the Giants.


So, which of those two will start against the Chiefs?


CB Lewis praised
Tomlin praised the play of cornerback Keenan Lewis, who leads the team with 15 passes defensed, nearly double those of the next highest, Ike Taylor with eight.


Lewis also has moved into the No. 4 spot on the team with 31 tackles and has a forced fumble to his credit.


"I think the arrow has been pointed up with Keenan," Tomlin said. "More than anything, he's been consistently challenging and competing with just about every throw. I think that's a great place for solid corner play to begin, to challenge throws consistently. He has done that, has been productive and has been a big component of why we've been hot, particularly on the back end in recent weeks."


The arrow has gone way up on Lewis at ProFootballFocus.com, where the play of each NFL player is analyzed and ranked. Earlier, Lewis ranked 91 out of 100 cornerbacks. He has improved to a tie for 43. PFF ranks nickel back Cortez Allen in a tie for 26 and Taylor at 63.


Brown unlikely to play
Tomlin did not sound optimistic that Antonio Brown (ankle) would play against the Chiefs: "We will leave the door ajar, but usually those are not positive things, particularly for someone that earns a living the way he does with his short-area quickness and change of direction."


He was more optimistic about Chris Rainey (ribs): "It's going to be big-time uncomfortable, but he has an opportunity to play. We'll see where it takes us as we push through the week. His participation might be limited in the early parts of the week."


Emmanuel Sanders will return kickoffs and punts if Brown and Rainey are unavailable.


Tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) could resume some work this week and could possibly be ready to play vs. Baltimore. Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) is questionable.


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
First Published November 7, 2012 12:00 am