Steelers hope to feast on another rookie QB

PITTSBURGH -- What is good news for the Bills -- that quarterback E.J. Manuel has been cleared to return from a right knee sprain -- may also be good news for the Steelers.

Nothing could prove to be more of an elixir for an ailing defense than a rookie signal caller. The Steelers will face one in Manuel or Jeff Tuel, and they are expecting to play against the former in the 1 p.m. game Sunday at Heinz Field.

“With them releasing Matt Flynn you have to acknowledge that E.J. Manuel is probably back in action,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I’ve studied his tape quite a bit. He is worthy of a first-round selection. He is a talented guy.”

The former Florida State star is also a guy who has started just five NFL games, and the Steelers have feasted on rookie quarterbacks since Dick LeBeau returned for a second stint as defensive coordinator.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Steelers have averaged 3.4 sacks in 18 games against rookie quarterbacks since 2004 and limited them to an average of 167 passing yards in those contests.

The Steelers are 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, and both of those losses came when Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play.

The Steelers’ defense played its best game of the season last month when it kept the Jets out of the end zone and sacked Geno Smith three times and intercepted the rookie quarterback twice.

In other words, even in a season when so much has gone wrong for the defense it still shuts down rookie quarterbacks.

Not that the Steelers can take anything for granted following a 2-6 start and after the defense got ambushed in New England.

Manuel, despite bouts with inconsistency, has shown flashes, and it nothing will help him more Sunday than if the Steelers can’t stop C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, who lead a ground attack that is averaging almost 146 rushing yards per game.

“He has poise in the pocket for a young guy,” Tomlin said of Manuel. “He does a nice job of administering their offense and the no-huddle variety that they employ. Obviously his mobility and escapability is an asset.”

And if recent history is any guide, Manuel will need both on Sunday.