It's far from a sure thing, but Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey could end up playing against Cincinnati Sunday, 10 days after injuring his knee on the first play from scrimmage in Week 6 at Tennessee.
Pouncey is easily the best Steelers' offensive linemen, and his absence could spell doom for a running game already struggling to produce. The Steelers rank 31st in the NFL on the ground, averaging 74 yards per game.
Doug Legursky will start in his place if Pouncey is unable to play.
Safety Troy Polamalu has also been ruled out Sunday, as expected.
Further limiting hope in the running game is the fact neither Rashard Mendenhall nor Isaac Redman practiced Thursday, putting in doubt their availability for the Steelers' first AFC North game in 2012. The loss of both players would likely lead to a rotation of Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch, neither of whom have run effectively this season.
Mendenhall had six yards on six carries before leaving the game against the Titans with an Achilles injury. Mendenhall is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL in January. He didn't dress for the first three games of the 2012 season.
Redman took a hit on his lower leg in the second half against Tennessee, and wasn't able to return. Batch replaced him, scoring a touchdown - the first of his career - and ended up with 22 yards on 10 carries.
Dwyer has battled injuries a bit after being active in each of the Steelers' first three games. Since Mendenhall's return in Week 5 against Philadelphia, Dwyer hasn't suited up. Some of his ineffectiveness could be attributed to those injuries.
On the positive side, the Steelers will get the return of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who missed most of the second half of Week 5, and all of Week 6, with a hamstring injury.
The Steelers have not had both its starting outside linebackers - Woodley and James Harrison - fully healthy and active for a full game since Week 3 of the 2011 season. The Steelers pass rush has sagged quite a bit in that time, only having 35 sacks in 2011 (middle of the NFL) and are currently tied for 24th in the league with 10 sacks.