With three big-name Steelers players making their return to the lineup on Sunday, one name stands out above the other two.
With all due respect to linebacker James Harrison and running back Rashard Mendenhall, the guy the Steelers need the most is safety Troy Polamalu.
Since 2009, Polamalu has missed 15 games, winning seven and losing eight. (In one other game, against the Bengals in 2009, Polamalu made a quick exit with an aggravated Achilles tendon injury, and the Steelers lost at home to Cincinnati.)
This year, the Steelers are 1-1 without Polamalu, who has missed the last two games with a calf injury.
In the Steelers’ 3-4 zone-blitzing defense, outside linebackers are, to a certain extent, interchangeable. Running backs are plentiful. But Polamalu’s skills and smarts create the kind of havoc that no “next man up” can duplicate.
Having him back will be the biggest difference between squaring things up at 2-2 or falling to 1-3.