When Steelers coach Mike Tomlin addresses injuries, the typical response is the player's status is "week-to-week." So, imagine everyone's surprise when Tomlin expressed optimism that two former NFL defensive players of the year will be suiting up Sunday against the Eagles.
The Steelers have been without linebacker James Harrison (knee) for the entire season and safety Troy Polamalu (calf) for the past two weeks. Both practiced Monday. Harrison made it known Monday night that he was setting his sights on returning Sunday.
"Based on what I am looking at on how we worked yesterday, I think that is a safe assessment [they will play]," Tomlin said Tuesday, according to the team's website. "We will watch these guys as we proceed throughout the week. All guys have performed well and were able to get through practice and we're optimistic that they're going to be full participants."
If Harrison and Polamalu can play, their impact will be felt in two areas that have been disappointments so far this season: sacks and turnovers.
Without Harrison, the Steelers have recorded five sacks. Only the Raiders and Jaguars have fewer than Pittsburgh. Harrison has always been a difference-maker in putting pressure on the quarterback. Last season, he sacked the quarterback nine times in 11 games.
Without Polamalu, Pittsburgh has managed one interception. Only the Raiders and Lions have fewer than that. Polamalu adds unpredictability to the Steelers' defense because he lines up all over the field. That has led to his 19 interceptions over the previous four seasons.
This comes at a time when the Steelers will face Michael Vick and the Eagles on Sunday. Vick ranks third in the NFL in interceptions (six) and has been sacked 11 times. The Eagles have turned the ball over 12 times, which is the second-highest total in the league.
If both players, along with running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee), can come back, it will have been a very productive bye week for the Steelers.