2 Steelers Starters Ruled ‘Out’ Against Bills

Joe Haden Steelers

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Terry McLaurin of the Washington Football Team attempts to catch a pass against Joe Haden of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) will be without two pivotal defensive starters when the team takes on the Buffalo Bills (9-3) on Sunday night. First and foremost, starting cornerback Joe Haden has been ruled out due to the concussion he suffered on Monday evening during the loss against Washington. Also out is inside linebacker Robert Spillane, who incurred a knee injury vs. Washington.

The good news is that starting cornerback Steven Nelson practiced for the third consecutive day after missing the game against Washington with a knee injury. With Nelson seemingly ready to return to the lineup, the Steelers won’t need to start two backup corners against the Bills, which could have been problematic against Buffalo QB Josh Allen, who already has 3,405 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes this season.

In other good news, placekicker Chris Boswell also seems poised to return to the lineup after missing the team’s last game with a hip injury. Practice squad kicker Matthew Wright converted three of three kicks in Boswell’s absence (including a pair of PATs), but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin chose to eschew a 45-yard field goal attempt in the second half vs. Washington, perhaps indicative of a lack of confidence in Wright—or at least a lack of confidence in his leg strength.

Meanwhile, defensive lineman Chris Wormley and rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool were full participants in practice on Friday, after both missed a practice earlier in the week due to illness.

Who Will Play Inside Linebacker for the Steelers on Sunday?

But the big question for the Steelers is: Who is going to play inside linebacker against the Bills? With Devin Bush and Robert Spillane both out with knee injuries—and Vince Williams now on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for the second time this season—Pittsburgh has just one ‘natural’ inside linebacker left on the active roster. That’s Avery Williamson, who was acquired for a draft pick at the trade deadline from the New York Jets, and recently told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com that he is “super excited and ready” for the opportunity to start.

“It’s kind of crazy the way the last week has spiraled. I have been a starter for a long time, and I am ready to go out there and prove myself again,” he added, reminding observers that he has started 81 games during the course of his six seasons in the league.

But beyond Williamson, the Steelers have little in the way of depth. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler could utilize converted safety Marcus Allen in an inside linebacker role.

The Steelers could also elevate Tegray Scales from the practice squad, or even Christian Kuntz, though both are recent signees and Kuntz was added to the practice squad to serve as a backup long snapper and would presumably only play linebacker in an emergency.

Buffalo Bills Injury Update

As for Sunday’s opposition, the Bills have one injured player who has already been ruled out of the game, that being safety Jaquan Johnson, who did not practice all week due to an ankle injury. Defensive end Mario Addison (NIR/knee) is the only other Buffalo player who missed practice on Friday.

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