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Injuries to three starting linebackers (LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison and James Farrior) could force the Steelers to shift from their traditional 3-4 defense to a 4-3 look.
Pittsburgh hasn't ruled out Woodley (hamstring), Harrison (eye) and Farrior (calf), but none are expected to play Sunday against the Ravens. That leaves the Steelers with four healthy linebackers: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester and rookie Chris Carter. There is a chance that Jason Worilds (thigh) could return after missing four games.
The lack of depth at linebacker prompted coach Mike Tomlin to suggest that the Steelers are capable of playing four defensive linemen.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette came up with these options: stay in a 3-4 defense by moving defensive end Brett Keisel to linebacker and starting rookie first-round draft pick Cameron Heyward at end; go with a 4-3 defense with Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke on the inside and Keisel and Ziggy Hood at the ends; or go with six-man secondary that the Steelers frequently used against New England.
Hensley's slant: Pittsburgh has enough versatility with players that it will make due on first and second downs. Where the Steelers will really feel the loss is in passing situations. The Ravens, who have struggled to protect Joe Flacco the past three games, will let out a sigh of relief if Woodley and Harrison aren't bearing down on their quarterback.
BENGALS: The Bengals produced two punt returns of more than 50 yards in a game for the first time in team history when Adam Jones (65-yard return) and Brandon Tate (54-yarder for touchdown) did so last Sunday in Seattle. It was also the first time this has happened in the NFL since Reggie Bush returned a couple of punts for touchdowns on October 2008. Tate scored his touchdown after Jones tweaked his hamstring. The Cincinnati Enquirer asked special teams coach Darrin Simmons who would return punts if Jones is healthy. "I'll take it on a play-by-play basis," he said. "You think I'm going to tell you that?" Hensley's slant: This isn't a problem. It's a luxury. Jones provided the playmaking punch many expected when he came off the physically unable to perform list. But it's a nice situation for the team when they have competition, which seems to push both players.
BROWNS: Running back Peyton Hillis allegedly failed to show up for a scheduled appearance at the Cleveland Boys and Girls Club on Monday night, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The commitment was secured by former Browns center LeCharles Bentley, who is on the club's board. Bentley posted on his Twitter account: "Peyton Hillis looking for 10mil guaranteed from Browns and can't show up to kids charity event? #ManPlease." The Plain Dealer sent a text message to Hillis' agent seeking comment, but it wasn't returned. Hensley's slant: Another day, another controversy surrounding Hillis. This incident doesn't impact the team as much as Hillis speaking out about his contract and missing a game over strep throat. But the cumulative bad press is turning this season into a disaster for Hillis.
RAVENS: Paul Kruger is drawing praise after recording the first two-sack game of his career. He now has three in the past two weeks after having none in his first five games. "I think just even from the start of training camp, Paul is much improved," coach John Harbaugh said, via The Baltimore Sun. "He has added a couple of moves into his pass-rush repertoire, and he has been quick and explosive. I think he is a dangerous pass rusher right now.” Hensley's slant: The Ravens have been waiting for Kruger, a 2009 second-round pick, to make an impact after one sack in his first two seasons. One of the reasons Baltimore has struggled in the past to get a strong pass rush was because no one stepped up on the opposite side of Terrell Suggs. When offenses double-team Suggs and Haloti Ngata, others have to get pressure on the quarterback.