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Steelers to face Eagles at full strength

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 6:10 p.m.
The Steelers Troy Polamalu at practice on the South Side Sept. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Christopher Horner
Peters Township's Sarah Komer returns a volley in front of teammate Abby Cummings during their WPIAL Class AAA doubles championship match against Oakland Catholic Friday October 5, 2012 at North Allegheny. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

For the first time this season, the Steelers will be at full strength defensively when they host the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field on Sunday. And running back Rashard Mendenhall is scheduled to return in hopes of igniting a stalled ground game.

Mendenhall, linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu practiced Friday and are listed as probable, along with offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert.

The Steelers, 1-2 for the first time since 2009, are hoping the return of Harrison (knee), Polamalu (calf) and Mendenhall (knee) can keep them from slipping to 1-3 and farther behind AFC North rivals Baltimore (3-1) and Cincinnati (3-1).

“We know the two defeats we have, it's come down to one-on-one matchups,” Polamalu said. “There were breakdowns here and there. It's not that I would have made a play that (safety) Ryan Mundy couldn't, and I'm sure James would say the same about (linebacker) Chris Carter.”

“There's always a perfect time to come back from injuries, and it's nice to have guys healthy.”

The Steelers will face a Philadelphia team that continuous to gather momentum. The Eagles are likely to challenge Harrison and Polamalu with an increasingly confident run game.

“I'm going to play as much as I'm allowed,” Harrison said. “I made it through the week without much of a problem.”

The Steelers seemingly are in need of confidence boost after Oakland moved the ball almost effortlessly in the fourth quarter of the Raiders' 34-31 win two weeks ago.

“We know what Troy and James bring,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “You don't know whether they are going to rush or drop back in coverage. It's like mind games, so (Philadelphia) has to account for them.

“All everyone remembers is the loss we had before the bye week and that we gave up a big run (a 64-yard to Darren McFadden). We have an opportunity to get two of our key guys back, so we have something to be excited about.”

The run game, too, hopes to pick up the pace with Mendenhall in the lineup. The fifth-year running back hasn't carried the ball since suffering a torn ACL in Cleveland on Jan. 1.

Mendenhall said he isn't sure how much work he'll get, but he's likely to share duties with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Redman and Dwyer averaged 2.5 yards per carry during Mendenhall's absence.

“I'm not sure what we have planned, but the game will tell it's own tale,” Mendenhall said.

What a rush

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked nine times this season. The Eagles alone sacked him nine times the last time the teams played, a 15-6 Eagles win in 2008.

The Steelers have not faced a pass rush as fierce as Philadelphia's. Defensive end Trent Cole, third all-time in sacks (69.5) behind late Hall of Famer Reggie White (124), will draw plenty attention. Cole is likely to be double-teamed, particularly in obvious passing situations.

Heinz homecoming

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is excited about his return to Heinz Field. He has purchased “tons of tickets” for family, friends and his former Pitt professors.

“I am a Philadelphia Eagle, and this is a big game for the fans,” he said. “I hope the fans react well, but I won't be mad if they don't.”

Situational matchup

The Steelers are first in third-down conversion (56.3 percent) and time of possession (35:59). But they'll be tested this week: The Eagles are third in third-down defense.

“I think it's a great challenge for our defense,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid. “If you play a team that is as good as the Steelers are on third downs, you have to step your game up. That's what this game is all about.”

Let it Rain(ey)

Chris Rainey thought he would have touched the ball far more than he has this season.

The rookie running back has 15 touches: six carries, four catches, four kickoff returns and one punt return. He is sometimes frustrated, but patient.

“We have to get him into the flow of the offense at some point when everybody is comfortable,” said offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

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