Polamalu can't offer Steelers a quick fix
If the reeling Steelers are going to right themselves Sunday against visiting Green Bay, they likely will do so without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu said Monday that the knee injury he sustained Nov. 15 is worse than initially thought and that he might not be healthy enough to return until the regular-season finale Jan. 3.
"Hopefully by the Miami game, I'll be ready to play," said Polamalu, who strained the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee in an 18-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
What seems clear is Polamalu can't be depended on to be a short-term fix for a team in the midst of its first five-game losing streak since 2003.
The Steelers have been a different defense with Polamalu and certainly a more opportunistic one. In the five games he has played, the Steelers have forced 10 turnovers. The Steelers have just six takeaways in their other eight games.
They also have been without defensive end Aaron Smith since he went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-October. Smith has long been a major reason why the Steelers have been so successful at shutting down the run.
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The Steelers, who fell to 6-7 after a 13-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns last Thursday, have struggled in that area in recent weeks. They are yielding an average of 137.3 rushing yards in their past three games.
"That's an easy out," inside linebacker James Farrior said of not having Polamalu and Smith. "We've had our top players out plenty of times and we've never played like this, so that's the easy way out, just blaming it on those two guys."
Farrior, a defensive co-captain, said he "did a lot of soul-searching" over the weekend. Yet, after reflecting on what has gone wrong with the team, he couldn't provide many answers.
"You try to put your finger on it and you really can't do it," Farrior said. "The one thing you've got to come back to is, you've just got to look at yourself individually and make the plays you're supposed to make."
That presumably was a point of emphasis yesterday morning when the Steelers watched film of their first loss in Cleveland since 2000. They did not practice, but coach Mike Tomlin had the players do a walk-through to correct the mistakes that were made against the Browns.
"He's pretty upset," Farrior said of Tomlin. "He feels like it's more us than anything else and that's probably the most frustrating thing about it. We definitely dug ourselves into something we probably can't get out of."
Even if the Steelers win their final three games, they need a lot of help to make the playoffs.
Farrior said the players won't do what they did a couple of weeks ago when they looked at the schedule and tried to figure out where they would end up if they won the rest of their games.
He added that a players' meeting isn't needed to remind everyone that the focus is on simply winning a game.
"I think we have enough guys around here that talk about it enough that we don't need to have a team meeting or a players-only meeting," Farrior said. "I hate those types of meetings anyway. I feel when we have those types of meetings it's pretty much over with and you're searching for any type of answers. Those are not good meetings."
Farrior said the Steelers have plenty to play for, even with the playoffs probably beyond their reach.
"Basically, when you're in this situation, when you're on a team where the playoffs are looking bad, you're really playing just to solidify your job and making sure you're doing everything you can do to be around next year," the 13th-year veteran said.
Plus, Farrior added, "We feel like we let the fans down. They can't even come to a home game and see a winning performance. That's bad. Play for your family. You want to go out there and play good and represent your name. You want to represent your team. There's plenty of stuff to play for and if you can't find something, then you've got a problem."
That mindset is what has Polamalu, who has sustained two injuries to his left knee this year, eyeing a return even though the Steelers may be out of postseason contention by the time he is cleared to play.
Asked why he would come back if it's only for one game, Polamalu said, "Why not• I'm a football player. I'm not a coach. I'm not a cheerleader. What I love to do is play football and to be out there with my brothers."
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