By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have patiently been crossing their fingers that three key cogs to their potent offense would be available to them on Sunday when they face the Denver Broncos in the divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. After missing two consecutive days of practice, the Steelers ruled out receiver Antonio Brown early. Running back DeAngelo Williams and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were ruled day-to-day early in the week, but Williams will not play and Roethlisberger is questionable.

Brown to miss first game since 2012

Brown, the Steelers’ All-Pro wide receiver, has had an exciting 2015 season, setting several franchise records and earning accolades across the league. On Sunday, Brown will miss his first game since 2012 after sustaining a concussion during the Steelers final offensive play in the 18-16 wild-card win against the Cincinnati Bengals last Saturday evening. Injured by a hit to the head by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, Brown was helped off of the field and later ridiculed by Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, also of the Bengals, as having faked the injury. The injury spurred discussion regarding NFL policies and whether a stronger statement needs to be made by the league in handing out harsher punishments for blatant illegal hits.

With 136 catches – tied for second-most in a season by a receiver in NFL history – Brown had set the tempo for the Steelers receivers. “He’s the leader…” Martavis Bryant said this week. “He’s one of the best players on the field, so not having him out there is going to be tough. But at the same time we have to step up.”

Wheaton and Bryant expected to step up

With Brown sidelined, the Steelers will get Markus Wheaton and Bryant involved more prominently in the passing game as veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey is promoted to the third wideout spot. Rookie Sammie Coates will be active after just one career catch in six games during the regular season. Brown finished the regular season tied as the NFL’s leading receiver and second in yards with 1,834.

Roethlisberger questionable

Roethlisberger is listed as questionable due to a shoulder injury sustained in the AFC Wild Card game. Roethlisberger had difficulty throwing the football during practice early this week, opening the door for Landry Jones and Mike Vick to be options for a start on Sunday.

“I thought he did a nice job,” said head coach Mike Tomlin of Roethlisberger’s Friday practice performance. “He did everything we asked him to do. I was very specific about what I asked him to do. I wanted to see a variety of throws. I wanted to see enough, no more.”

Williams’ ongoing injury

Williams continues to have issues with a foot injury and was ruled out after practice on Friday. With the announcement that Williams is out, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman look to be a one-two punch in the offensive backfield against the Broncos.

“We got to the point where we had enough information where we knew he would be unavailable to us so we made the decision,” said Tomlin of Brown. “We have been without people before. That is just the nature of this thing. This week will be no different from that perspective. (Brown) has been a significant contributor to our efforts over the course of the season. That is life. That is this game. I am excited to watch them adjust, adapt and watch the plays come from other places.”

Injuries to Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier set up more play from Sean Spence at the linebacker position.

Full Injury Report

Out

  • Antonio Brown (WR, concussion)
  • DeAngelo Williams (RB, foot)

Questionable

  • Will Johnson (FB, hamstring)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (QB, right shoulder)

Probable

  • Will Allen (S, not injury related)
  • Robert Golden (S, shoulder)
  • James Harrison (LB, not injury related)
  • Cameron Heyward (DE, back)
  • Ryan Shazier (LB, knee)
  • Matt Spaeth (TE, not injury related)
  • Vince Williams (LB, hamstring)

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.

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