Will he play or won’t he?
No, not Ben Roethlisberger, though the Steelers certainly have some questions about whether their star quarterback will return to play this Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field.
Cornerback Ike Taylor suffered what is feared to be an injury to his fibula on the second play of Sunday’s 23-20 victory at Baltimore while breaking up a deep pass intended for Torrey Smith and did not return to the game.
Taylor had an MRI Monday, the results of which are not yet known. But the initial thought is that Taylor will be out two to six weeks, something that would end his consecutive games played streak at 135, the longest current streak for a cornerback in the NFL.
Ironically, Taylor’s injury came on a day in which the Steelers (7-5) finally put their projected starting secondary on the field together for just the second time since Troy Polamalu last played in a 16-14 victory over Philadelphia Oct. 7.
Polamalu, who had appeared in just two games this season, finally returned against the Ravens, and despite a plan to ease him back into action, he played 50 of 64 defensive snaps.
“I went in with zero expectations,” said Polamalu, who was credited with just two tackles, but was disruptive attacking the line of scrimmage. “I’d be happy to make it through two series, unlike against Philadelphia 10 weeks ago.”
Taylor’s injury is the latest in a secondary that has been critical to Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense.
Second-year corner Cortez Allen, the team’s nickel back, replaced Taylor, while fellow second-year corner Curtis Brown entered the game on passing downs.
Allen finished with five tackles and three pass breakups, but also drew a pass interference penalty and gave up a touchdown, while Brown had one tackle and broke up one pass.
They were part of a Pittsburgh defensive effort that limited Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to just 188 yards passing with only eight completions in 21 attempts to his wide receivers.
They also played a big part in the Steelers sacking Flacco three times, the biggest of which came by James Harrison with just under 10 minutes remaining as Harrison hit Flacco from behind and forced a fumble the Steelers recovered to set up a game-tying touchdown.
“Everybody was covered downfield,” said Flacco, who had been sacked just eight times in five previous home games.
“I was getting ready to tuck it and chalk it up as a loss. The guy came around and hit my wrist; he hit the ball and just got it out. I tried to hold on, but I couldn’t.”
The solid coverage has been a constant for the Steelers over the past seven games. Baltimore’s 177 net passing yards were the most permitted by Pittsburgh during that stretch.
The Steelers lead the NFL in pass defense, allowing 167 yards per game.
Considering they have played the better part of 10 games without Polamalu, one without free safety Ryan Clark and almost a full game Sunday with Taylor sidelined, the Steelers’ strong secondary play has been a pleasant surprise.
They will need to continue that strong play in their final four games if they hope to secure a playoff spot.
In the meantime, they’ll have to enjoy the fact that they kept the Ravens (9-3) from celebrating a division championship for at least one more week.
“I’m sure they’re probably going to win the division,” said linebacker Larry Foote of the Ravens. “I can’t see them losing two more games.”
The Steelers know they can’t afford losses, either.
“We’re still alive,” Clark said. “But we need some more games like this.”
Odds and end zones
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch was 16 of 20 for 219 yards in the second half against the Ravens. … Tight end Heath Miller’s 97 receiving yards moved him into ninth place on the team’s all-time receiving yardage list with 3,961. … Miller’s fourth quarter touchdown catch was his 38th and moved him past Elbie Nickel into first place among Steelers tight ends. … Clark was named the Steelers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year winner for his charity work. Clark will be entered among the finalists from each team for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.