The Steelers defense will get a boost this week with safety Ryan Clark back in the lineup against the New York Jets at Heinz Field on Sunday and the potential return of linebacker James Harrison as well.
Clark missed the Broncos game because complications due to the sickle cell trait prevent him from playing in Denver's high altitude. Harrison was sidelined with a knee injury, but he worked out on Monday and is expected to run on Wednesday with the hope of returning to the lineup Sunday, but his status is still to be determined.
"Obviously, those guys are capable of helping us," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "They're quality veteran players. They know how to play and, specifically in Ryan's case, not only his play but his communication and leadership.
"What we are going to do is focus on the healthy guys and get them prepared to play and, ultimately, expect them to play on the acceptable level. Obviously, this week Ryan will be included in that bunch. Whether or not James is, remains to be seen."
Harrison practiced last Monday, but was limited on Wednesday and didn't practice at all on Thursday or Friday. While Tomlin knows what both Harrison and Clark are capable of, until he sees them in regular season action he isn't going to say how much their presence will help.
"I'm not going to speculate," said Tomlin. "They haven't played here in 2012 so I'm not going to assume that their contributions from past years will mirror their contributions here this year. We're excited and anxious to get those men on the field. We fully expect them to live up to their reputations, but they have to put that on tape."
The Steelers are going to need to be at full strength to stop a Jets offense that scored four touchdowns en route to a 48-28 win over the Buffalo Bills last week, after struggling during most of the preseason.
"The preseason is just that…it's preseason," said Tomlin. "From our own personal experience, sometimes there could be a myriad of reasons why you're unproductive or less productive in the preseason. Usually, it's centered around a limited game plan or wanting to see things from certain people and that's a place to begin. I don't read too much into it, to be honest with you.
"You look at the structure of how they attack, the tape they put out last week was very impressive and that's the tape that I'm concerned about and that we're focusing our energies on in preparation for them."
Quarterback Mark Sanchez was 19 of 27 for 266 yards and three touchdowns against the Bills, giving way to backup Tim Tebow only when utilizing the wildcat offense.
"He's done an awesome job for them, last week and for the past several years as their quarterback," said Tomlin of Sanchez. "He is very mobile. He can create plays as they break down. He is highly accurate, particularly on the move, which creates problems. Containing him is an issue, whether it's by plays breaking down or pocket movement, they utilize him very well."
Tomlin would like to see improvement from the running game this week, after the Steelers managed only 75 yards against the Broncos. Jonathan Dwyer, who led the offense with 43 yards on nine carries, will have a chance to help in that quest as he is expected to get more chances against the Jets.
"I think we're capable of being better," said Tomlin. "We're still going to continue to play a number of people. We haven't sorted out specifically what that rotation is to this point. Obviously, I thought Jonathan Dwyer provided a spark play and represented himself well and will probably get an increased opportunity because of it."
Injuries to tackle Marcus Gilbert, a hyperextended knee, and Ramon Foster, who had an optical migraine that caused blurred vision, against the Broncos left the Steelers with only five healthy linemen for a part of the game. Mike Adams filled in for Gilbert, while Doug Legursky held things down at guard for Foster.
But even though they were one injury away from not having another healthy lineman, Tomlin will not push the panic button when it comes to who dresses this week against the Jets.
"We'll look at the totality of our football team and the overall health of our football team and how we want to attack the Jets," said Tomlin. "We'll make that determination at the end of week. I never have a knee-jerk reaction to what transpired the week before, in terms of identifying who's playing and who's not.
"We'll look at the overall health of our team, the plan that we have in place this game, and we'll do it at the appropriate time, which is the latter part of the week for us."
Tomlin was asked during his weekly press conference to evaluate the performance of several players from Sunday night, and the reviews weren't bad.
On guard Willie Colon: "I thought he did some nice things. I think he has a desire to be better and we have a desire for him to be better. He's always a physical player and does a nice job in that regard. He's still getting up to speed on some of the nuances of the guard position. We'll expect him to be a player on the rise, as I'm sure he does too."
On linebacker Jason Worilds: "I was generally pleased with his overall level of conditioning. I think that's a concern when you talk about a guy who has missed the quantity of time that he has. His quality of play needs to be on the upswing, in terms of detail but that will come. He's a bright young guy. We expect him to provide a solid contribution for us. Sunday was nothing but just a good start from that perspective."
On rookie tackle Mike Adams (who stepped in when Marcus Gilbert was injured): "I thought he represented himself well. He had some trouble late at the extreme end of the game, as we all did. But we were in dire circumstances and somewhat one dimensional at that time. I'm not disappointed in the way he was able to represent himself. As a back-up, you have to be capable of getting in and performing at a variety of positions or in unique circumstances. He went and played solid ball for us at right tackle. Good start for him."