It was just two games ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves very nearly fully healthy. The only player on the injury report was James Harrison, and there is reason to question whether or not he ever sincerely had a back injury that was credited to him.
That was the first game since all the way back in the second game of the 2014 season that the Steelers were able to field an offensive and defensive unit that included all 22 players that they intended all along to be the starters at their respective positions. In every single game in between, they were absent at least one intended starter, which seems to me an incredible run.
It also seems as though they tempted fate, because their good health quickly went by the wayside, and for tonight’s game, they could see no fewer than four starters—or five, depending on how you choose to classify one player—on the inactive or suspended list.
One player that we absolutely know will not be playing tonight is Marcus Gilbert, who has begun serving a four-game suspension after being caught using some undisclosed banned substance under the personal conduct policy pertaining to performance enhancers.
Also out on the offensive side of the ball is wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has become a starter for the team in the middle of his rookie season. The Steelers were not sure at the start of the season how much he would play for them this year, but now it’s hard to imagine them playing without him.
Defensively, cornerback Joe Haden remains out with a high fibular fracture. It could still be several weeks before he is able to return. Safety Mike Mitchell is questionable to play after missing the last game as well.
Tight end Vance McDonald looked like he was being transitioned into the starter at the position over Jesse James before he got injured. He has gotten injured a number of times already this year, this being the third unique instance that has resulted in him missing time, the fourth game in total.
That is a lot of replacement parts, but for the most part, those replacements have held up relatively well. Special credit must be given to Chris Hubbard starting for Gilbert at right tackle for most of the year, and holding his own in the process.
In the three total games based on man-hours that Mitchell and Haden have missed so far this season, their replacements have produced three interceptions. J.J. Wilcox and Robert Golden have each started a game for Mitchell and picked off a pass. Coty Sensabaugh did the same for Haden in the last game.
As for McDonald, James has still logged far more snaps this year, and we pretty much know what we’re getting with him—which is mediocre at best.
The real wildcard of sorts is Smith-Schuster’s absence. Of course we know the replacement parts, but we really don’t know what to expect in terms of the performance they will turn in. Against a Packers secondary that is getting healthier, to boot.