Steelers notebook: Cornerbacks Allen, Lewis probable vs. Bengals
Cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis practiced Friday and are probable for Sunday's key AFC North game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. Allen missed last week's game at Dallas with a groin injury, while Lewis left the Dallas game after aggravating a hip injury. “I'll be ready to go, and I've had a good week of practice,” said Allen, who stepped into the starting lineup after veteran Ike Taylor suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out for the third straight game. In addition, former NFL defensive players of the year James Harrison (illness) and Troy Polamalu (not injury related) are probable. Polamalu, who missed nine games with a calf injury, practiced for the first time this week, while Harrison was limited. Defensive ends Al Woods and Cam Heyward (not injury related), cornerback Curtis Brown (knee), center Maurkice Pouncey (illness) and receiver Emmanuel Sanders are probable. Offensive tackle Mike Adams was held out of practice after seeing limited duty earlier this week and is doubtful. Rookie Kelvin Beachum is expected make his fourth straight start at right tackle.
• Receiver Antonio Brown has done a number of things this season, but stretching the opponent's secondary hasn't been one of them. “I can't put a number on it, but my deep routes are way down from the last couple of years,” said Brown, who is averaging 11.3 yards on 59 receptions after netting 16.1 yards in 2011. “We've got to take advantage of every area of the field.” Brown expects the Bengals to show plenty of man coverage on early downs, an opportunity to test cornerbacks Terence Newman and Leon Hall. “The scheme is why I'm not running deeper routes,” he said, “but there are definitely opportunities.”
• Cornerback Keenan Lewis didn't commit to playing Sunday but said it'll take more than a bad hip to keep him from challenging Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green. “I'm all right,” he said repeatedly, brushing back questions of his availability. “It'll be hard not to play because I've been waiting on these chances for a long time. Everybody has been saying I guard the second- or third-best receiver. I feel like I can cover anybody in the league. No matter what nobody thinks, I feel like I'm the best.”
• While Steelers running backs carried 17 times each of the past two games, guard Ramon Foster said the offensive line hasn't gotten into a rhythm. “If we're in a rhythm, that means we're rolling them off the ball,” Foster said. “It's been the circumstances that have held the running game back. We've been behind. ... The last two games have been a matter of us being behind the eight ball, not that we haven't run the ball efficient.”
• The Steelers' run game has been up and down all season. There have been problems on the offensive line, but part of the problem has been a lack of rhythm — running backs aren't getting enough consecutive carries to get into a groove.
“As a running back you want the ball a few times in your hand,” said Jonathan Dwyer, who leads the team with 532 yards on 131 carries. “If you get the ball three or four times in a row, you get to come back later, you're already in a rhythm. We don't want it every single play, but you need to have a feel for the speed of the game.” This season, Dwyer's longest stretch of consecutive carries is five. “Most games we're winning, we're running the ball 30 plus times,” Isaac Redman said. “We want to get back to that.”
• Rookie defensive backs Josh Victorian and Robert Golden are confident and calm. The training camp roommates learned a great deal in defeat last week against Dallas. “The game is much faster and there's less margin for error,” Golden said. Victorian struggled in the first half but held his own in the second. “Going from the practice squad to the game was whole lot different,” Victorian said.