Injuries giving the Steelers a spare-part shortage
Quarterback Byron Leftwich holds his left shoulder after getting sacked Sunday by Ravens safety James Ihedigbo late in the fourth quarter.
Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich was battered Sunday against the Ravens at Heinz Field.
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Playing quarterback for the Steelers Sunday in Cleveland, it will be next rib up.
With Ben Roethlisberger still shelved with injuries to his shoulder and rib, Byron Leftwich had his own ribs battered by the Baltimore Ravens in the Steelers' 13-10 loss to their archrivals Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Two sources close to Leftwich revealed he has broken ribs, injured when he fell in the end zone after his 31-yard touchdown run early in the game. He played the rest of the game with the injury, but the Steelers are not likely to let him do so in their next game against the Browns.
Veteran backup Charlie Batch likely would start in Cleveland Sunday, and the Steelers will search in earnest to add a quarterback to their roster.
Leftwich and coach Mike Tomlin downplayed the rib injury that was announced in the press box in the fourth quarter, one highlighted by NBC's broadcast crew. Leftwich appeared in obvious pain at times and clutched at the right side of his rib cage on several occasions. His passes later in the game -- particularly an attempted long one to an open David Gilreath with 22 seconds left -- seemed unusually short or otherwise off the mark even though he has the strongest arm on the team.
He returned to the game after the rib injury was announced and took all the snaps on offense.
"I'm OK, I'm OK," Leftwich answered both times when he was asked, first, if he were hurt and then if he hurt his shoulder.
Tomlin did not include him in the list Sunday night of those Steelers injured. When asked about Leftwich, Tomlin said, "Obviously, he sustained some hits but that's football, particularly when you're talking about this matchup. He did a nice job of communicating where he was and, more than anything, we just wanted to do a nice job of communicating."
With Leftwich's injury, the Steelers will go shopping for a quarterback because Batch is the only healthy one left.
A natural would be Dennis Dixon. The Ravens re-signed him to their practice squad not long after Roethlisberger's injury against the Chiefs eight days ago. The only way for the Steelers to get their former backup quarterback to return would be to sign him to their 53-man roster, and with their top two quarterbacks down, that is possible.
Jerrod Johnson, who spent the spring and training camp with them, plays for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the U.S. Football League. He had the best passer rating of all Steelers quarterbacks in the preseason at 136.2. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Among others who are unsigned and available: Troy Smith, who was with them in the spring; Tyler Palko, a Pittsburgh native and resident who played for offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Kansas City and spent a brief period with the Steelers in 2009; and a bevy of bigger names such as Donovan McNabb, Mark Brunell, David Garrard, Vince Young, etc.
The Steelers looked prepared to go from running back by committee to running back by play against Baltimore. Early on, they switched halfbacks as fast as they called plays.
In their second series, Rashard Mendenhall carried for 3 yards, then left in favor of Jonathan Dwyer, who carried for 11 yards but had it wiped out by a Willie Colon holding penalty. Dwyer then left in favor of Isaac Redman, who ran for 5 yards.
Redman left by the end of the first quarter with a concussion and the rest of the game was split between Mendenhall, who had 11 carries for 33 yards, and Dwyer, who had 12 carries for 55.
"We tried to have fresh legs out there," Dwyer said. "Unfortunately, we lost one of our horses. I wish we could have had him out there, too, as well."
A couple of times, Dwyer signaled to the sideline for another back. One of those times came in the third quarter after he touched the ball on three consecutive plays -- a 15-yard screen pass followed by runs of 7 and 11 yards.
"That was the whole idea," Dwyer said about taking himself out. "If you needed a blow, come out and someone would go in. That was the mentality."
Dwyer again was the most productive, including three receptions for 26 yards. He leads the Steelers with 410 yards rushing and a 4.6-yard average. Redman is next with 300 and a 3.5 average with Mendenhall at 107 and 3.6. Redman has been the most productive receiver of the trio with 14 catches for 172 yards.
With Redman's concussion, the choices might be down to two for their game Sunday in Cleveland. Or, maybe they will go with the most productive.
Here is what Tomlin said on the matter of playing his backs two weeks ago:
"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."
Plaxico Burress will work out for the Steelers today with the chance they could sign him, possibly to replace injured veteran Jerricho Cotchery.
Cotchery, in his second season with the Steelers, came out of the game Sunday night with -- what else -- a rib injury. Tomlin said after the game the injury would be evaluated, and that exam likely led them to bring in Burress, their former No. 1 draft pick who has been out of a job since the end of last season.
Coincidentally, Cotchery wound up signing with the Steelers in large part because of Burress. After he was released from jail, Burress was looking to rejoin the NFL as training camps opened in 2011. He visited the Steelers but wound up accepting a contract with the New York Jets for much more money.
After the Jets signed Burress, their own veteran, Cotchery, asked to be released from his contract because of what he saw would be an impending demotion. The Jets complied and he signed a one-year deal with the Steelers in 2011 training camp. He re-signed with them this year.
Burress, the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick in 2000, played five seasons for them and then signed with the New York Giants as a free agent.
With six games to go, the Steelers are virtually three games behind Baltimore, which means they need a collapse by the Ravens and a surge of their own to win the AFC North Division.
Baltimore (8-2) has a two-game lead over the Steelers (6-4), who are closer to third-place Cincinnati (5-5) than they are the top. Because all four of the Steelers losses have come in the AFC while the Ravens have lost to one NFC team, Baltimore has that tiebreaker if it comes to that. Division opponents and common opponents would precede it as tiebreakers.
"Everybody has their heads up," Casey Hampton said of the long climb to win the division. "We know what's in front of us. This isn't a situation we haven't been in before. We just have to keep going, get ready for next week."
• The Steelers extended their streak of not allowing a 300-yard passing game to 33 in a row, dating to Nov. 14, 2010.
• James Harrison's second sack of the season was good enough for him to tie Joey Porter for second place in career sacks, but only since it became an official stat in 1982. Each has 60. Jason Gildon leads with 77. L.C. Greenwood had an unofficial 73.5 and Joe Greene 66.0.
First Published November 20, 2012 12:00 am