The Steelers will limp into San Francisco on Monday night, hoping to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC playoff race.
The Steelers may be without 5 of their star players Monday nigh. James Harrison is suspended for the game (although an appeal is pending). LaMarr Woodley is still battling a hamstring injury. Troy Polamalu is also battling a hamstring injury. Ben Roethlisberger has a high ankle sprain. And Maurkice Pouncey also has a high ankle sprain.
Big Ben has yet to practice this week, and it’s not certain if he’ll be able to play on Monday. That’s why both Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon have been splitting reps in practice. Dixon hasn’t been on the active roster for most of the games this season, but he’ll be dressed and ready this week.
This is probably the worst possible time for the injury bug to hit the Steelers. The Steelers are tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North, but the Ravens control the tie-breaker. So the Steelers have to depend on a Baltimore loss in order to have any hope of winning the division. And they also have to make sure that they win all of their remaining games.
Winning their remaining games looked like a distinct possibility until the injuries started to mount.
The Steelers and 49ers are both 10-3, and both teams are fighting for playoff positioning. However, unlike the Steelers, the 49ers have already clinched their division.
But the 49ers enter the game with almost as many issues as the Steelers.
The 49ers have lost 2 of their last 3 games, and enter Monday’s game with issues at two of their key offensive positions.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith has looked surprisingly good this season. However, he had one of his worst performances of the season last week in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Smith completed only 18 of 37 passes for 175 yards and no touchdowns.
The 49ers’ star running back Frank Gore hasn’t looked much better. Gore has averaged just 54.4 in the last 5 games. Gore injured his knee in a loss to the NY Giants on November 13. Coach Jim Harbaugh says that Gore still isn’t 100% , but he failed to elaborate further.
Partially because of the challenges that they’re having at QB and running back, the 49er have the worst red-zone efficiency in the NFL this season. They’ve only been able to score 3 touchdowns in their last 19 trips into the red-zone.
Because of the questions that both teams have on offense, each may need to rely on their defenses to win this game. The Steelers and 49ers are both among the top 5 defenses in the NFL this season. The Steelers are the #1 defense in the NFL against the pass, and the 49ers are ranked #1 against the run.
If Big Ben plays on Monday, then I believe the Steelers will win this game. But if Charlie Batch has to start, then I think the advantage shifts to the 49ers, and the Steelers will likely lose.
Let’s all pray that Roethlisberger can play on Monday.
Today’s featured item:
Leading up to the holidays, we’ll be suggesting gift ideas that we believe Steelers fans will enjoy.
Today, we are featuring this unique Steelers jacket. I’ve seen lots of Steelers jackets over the years, but I’ve never seen this beauty before.
If anyone who knows me is struggling to think of a gift idea to buy me for Christmas, consider this to be a huge hint.
Click the link above to purchase this great Steelers item.