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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will be without starting nose tackle Steve McLendon on Thursday night when they play the Baltimore Ravens in a crucial AFC North game for each team.
McLendon sprained his right ankle in a 27-11 win over the Cleveland Browns, and the Steelers are lucky they didn't lose the fourth-year veteran for the remainder of the season. The timing of McLendon's loss, though, doesn't help the Steelers (5-6), who have to play after a short week and could be without starting defensive end Brett Keisel and starting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley for a third consecutive game.
The two have been out with foot and calf injuries, respectively, but each will try to practice Tuesday in hopes of playing against the Steelers' biggest rivals. Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) also will try to practice Tuesday with an eye toward playing Thanksgiving night.
"What they're capable of doing tomorrow is going to be significant," coach Mike Tomlin said of the injured players. "Obviously their participation and how their body responds to practice participation will be our guide in terms of roles or whether or not we allow those guys to participate at all."
Hebron Fangupo is listed as McLendon's backup on the depth chart, but Al Woods played the majority of snaps at nose tackle after McLendon went down at the end of the first quarter in Cleveland.
Woods, a defensive end, registered two sacks and Tomlin said the fourth-year veteran will be prominent in discussions of how to replace McLendon. Defensive end Ziggy Hood also could play some nose tackle, Tomlin said, if Keisel is able to return to the starting lineup.
"We've got decent position flexibility with those guys," Tomlin said. "The reality is with Steve down we're going to need increased effort and contributions from all of the men."
The Steelers have won three games in a row for the first time this season. They will try to sweep the Ravens for the first time since 2008.
The rivals are among six AFC teams that are 5-6 and jockeying for position in the race for the conference's second wild-card berth.
The winner Thursday night will also keep pressure on the Cincinnati Bengals, who lead the AFC North by two games.