The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to make the postseason despite quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missing four games due to knee and head injuries and Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell suffering a season-ending knee injury and heading to injured reserve with 16 others joining him.
It was a gritty, resilient season for the Steelers, and their depth may be tested once again when they face the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals in Saturday’s AFC wild-card matchup at Paul Brown Stadium.
Pittsburgh running back DeAngelo Williams, who took over starting duties after Bell went down in Week 8’s loss to Cincinnati, may be on the sidelines after enduring a foot injury in the final game of the regular season, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Williams has since officially been ruled out, but there’s a chance he returns should the Steelers advance to the divisional round. The offense is reportedly preparing for fourth-year back Jordan Todman and or second-year rusher Fitzgerald Toussaint to take snaps behind Roethlisberger.
The former Panther Williams proved a revelation for the Steelers offense this season, generating 907 yards and 11 touchdowns off 200 carries. Williams’ dominance in the backfield left few snaps for Toussaint, who was fourth on the team with 42 rushing yards from 18 attempts, and Todman took four attempts for 22 yards.
Experience could be a factor that gives Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin reason enough to split the workload between Toussaint and Todman in the hopes of freeing up Roethlisberger to find star receiver Antonio Brown. Toussaint’s appeared in two playoff games, both last year with Baltimore, but in his short career he’s yet to reach the end zone. Todman spent his first three years in the league with Jacksonville and has never played in the postseason.
Pittsburgh did, however, see some encouraging signs on Thursday’s injury report. Tight end Heath Miller, linebacker James Harrison, cornerback William Gay, linebacker Vince Williams (illness), and receiver Martavis Bryant (neck) all returned to practice as full participants. Miller, Harrison and Gay sat out Wednesday’s session but their absence wasn’t due to an injury.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are relatively healthy heading into their fifth-straight postseason appearance, but quarterback Andy Dalton (right thumb) was ruled out Friday. The 28-year-old passer hasn’t played since Week 14’s loss to Pittsburgh, and the Bengals were hoping Dalton could return in time for the playoffs.
Still, Dalton hasn’t participated in practice this week and the Bengals will start second-year quarterback AJ McCarron under center. McCarron’s gone 2-1 in the first three starts of his career, completing 66.4 percent of his attempts for 854 yards and six touchdowns to two interceptions.
The Bengals have also nixed defensive tackle Brandon Thompson from action. He was placed on the injured reserve earlier this week, and Cincinnati promoted rookie defensive tackle DeShawn Williams from the practice squad as a replacement. Thompson appeared in nine games this season, but didn’t start in any, while Williams signed with the Bengals as a free agent in May.
Betting Odds: Pittsburgh -3
Over/Under: 45.5 points
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS