On the Steelers: Receiving corps ailing
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That hissing sound coming from the South Side is air seeping out of the Steelers' aerial circus. The high-wire act is hurting this week after its most stupendous performance in 77 years of Steelers football.
Ben Roethlisberger's first 500-yard passing game in team history not only produced a 37-36 victory against Green Bay and kept what coach Mike Tomlin called their "pulse" alive, it also left several of his targets hurt or otherwise unavailable:
• Hines Ward, who led the Steelers with seven receptions for 126 yards against the Packers, reinjured a hamstring.
• Mike Wallace, who caught touchdowns on the team's first play from scrimmage and its last, has a bruised knee.
• Rashard Mendenhall, who caught six passes for 73 yards, has a bruised hip.
• Limas Sweed, the No. 4 receiver with one catch this year, was put on a season-ending list due to a mysterious "illness."
Joey Galloway, who is 38 years old and has not been on a team since Oct. 20, was signed yesterday because the Steelers believe he was the best available receiver to help them at this stage of the season.
"He was available to us," said Tomlin, who was secondary coach in Tampa when Galloway played for the Buccaneers. "He's a veteran player whose resume speaks for itself. He's one of those unique guys in that he's in great physical condition for a seasoned veteran. He can run. He's done just about all there is to do in this business other than win in the postseason, which is what he told me, so hopefully he can provide a little energy and spirit for us in that regard, some veteran-savvy leadership in a position that's been depleted a bit."
Depleted a bit is not what the Steelers need in what was the only sound part of their game against Green Bay and as they try to keep their playoff pulse beating over the final two games. Throwing the ball, a lot, may be their only salvation.
The good news is that some or all of the injured might play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Tomlin described all as being limited -- at least for practice today. Ward's hamstring, first hurt Dec. 6 against Oakland, might be the most serious, although the coach described it as a minor setback.
"We'll evaluate him on a day-to-day basis," Tomlin said.
Ward played in Cleveland after his injury but fell down on one route that partially led to a sack of Roethlisberger and had only 21 yards receiving in that 10-6 loss Dec. 10.
Mendenhall had the most productive day for a Steelers back in catching the ball since Amos Zereoue had 83 yards receiving Oct. 6, 2002, at New Orleans. No back caught more passes since Willie Parker had seven against Denver Nov. 5, 2006.
The mystery involving Sweed grew yesterday with the announcement that not only was he placed on the non-football illness/injury list but because that "illness" has been kept hush-hush.
Sweed, who has been an enormous disappointment since the Steelers drafted him on the second round in 2008 after picking Mendenhall in the first round, has one catch this season for 5 yards -- against Cincinnati in the third game. He did not dress for five games, including Sunday's against the Packers after he missed all week with his undisclosed illness.
"I think it's appropriate right now that we say very little in regard to his personal issues," Tomlin said. "I will say this: It's a non-football illness. He has our full support. Anything else I say will be in regards to protecting his privacy."
Coaches normally do not refer to players who have a physical illness as having "personal issues."
Tomlin admitted that when he tried the onside kick against Green Bay with a two-point lead and four minutes left, he did not think the Packers would score a touchdown if they recovered the ball.
"Making that decision to kick the onside kick started first and foremost with a belief that we could get the football, legally," Tomlin said. "We weren't able to do that. Even if we weren't able to do that with four minutes and some change left to go in the game, if we were not able to stop them, I felt we'd have significant amount of time to navigate down the field.
"Now, that process, that thought process of mine, was geared toward them maybe kicking a field goal and being up by one and us having to kick a field goal to win, not necessarily with those guys scoring a touchdown, which of course is what they did."
In other words, he thought his defense could hold them to a field goal after giving them the ball at the Steelers' 39 but not hold them if they had kicked off. It took the Packers six plays and nearly two minutes to score on a 24-yard touchdown pass.
"I make no apologies," Tomlin said. "What I told you after the game really was the thought process, really, in the latter part of the third all the way through the fourth quarters that I felt like both offenses were capable of moving the football."
He said he paid no attention to any feedback on it, except the one question he got at home.
"My 8-year-old asked me what I was thinking," Tomlin said.
"I just told him to be quiet."
Tomlin was awaiting the results of another MRI on Troy Polamalu's left knee to determine if it had healed enough for the safety to play Sunday.
Polamalu has missed the past five games with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament. He missed four games earlier with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Defensive end Brett Keisel was the only other player the coach identified with an injury -- a "stinger."
First Published December 23, 2009 12:00 am