The bitter cold in Pittsburgh is normally an ally in winter as the Steelers make their final push to the playoffs every year; but in week 15, another kind is plaguing the city's south side.
James Harrison missed both Wednesday and Thursday practices due to flu-like symptoms. However, he participated on Friday, and is listed as probable for Sunday's contest on the road against the Dallas Cowboys. While the return of Harrison eases fears about his availability, a similar illness forced receiver Antonio Brown, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, and longsnapper Greg Warrento sit.
While all three players are listed as probable, there is some room for concern. Certainly there is a difference between not feeling well enough to practice early in the week, and not feeling well enough to play in the game; but Harrison missed two practices due to his illness, and was most likely was feeling the early symptoms on Tuesday.
Cortez Allen provided the Steelers with even more bad news, as his groin issue also kept him out of practice on Friday. After missing all three practices this week, Allen is listed as doubtful. At least Keenan Lewis was able to return after missing the previous two days with a hip flexor suffered last week in the loss to the San Diego Chargers.
He is expected to start and will be needed, as the Steelers will be forced to once again rely on Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian, and DeMarcus Van Dyke, if Allen cannot go. They will have to pull double duty on special teams as well, as the team awaits the return of Ike Taylor, who is already ruled out for week 15; as are OT Mike Adams and LGWillie Colon.
To compensate for the two missing linemen, the Steelers will be starting two rookies on the right side of their offensive line, in yet another configuration. David DeCastro will be making his first start, as he pushes Ramon Foster to left guard to replace Colon. Kelvin Beachum will start his third straight game in place of Adams at right tackle.
It has not been confirmed that this new outbreak is a spawn of Harrison's strain, but if it is, the recovery time could be similar. Even if he only gets half credit for Tuesday, Harrison gets the other half for Friday. He practiced fully, but did not sound completely over the illness when talking to reporters. He didn't sound like he was dying, mind you; but he did not sound 100%. However, his practice appearance means he will continue to improve until game time.
If the illness that sidelined the trio today is the same as Harrison's, that means they can look forward to three whole days of it. Counting Friday as day one, that means they will still be dealing with it on Sunday.
Nobody is speaking to a possibility of any of them missing time, anything is possible between then and now. The passing game struggled coincidentally when Brown missed three games earlier this season. Sylvester is a major player on special teams, his possible absence would downgrade the units. If Warren cannot play, the Steelers may be forced to rely on someone to step in, like Harrison did against the New York Giants a few seasons ago.
Steeler Nation will be offering up a collective, non-denominational prayer for their quick return.
Players who sat out earlier practices this week, returned in full on Friday and are expected to start: Troy Polamalu and Emmanuel Sanders. LaMarr Woodley completed the trifecta of practice participation, and also is expected to return to the starting lineup, allowing Jason Worilds to return to rotational duties on both ends of the line.
The only other player listed on the injury report was Plaxico Burress. The report says he was limited in practice today, but his limitation was not injury related. Perhaps he was sent to Wal-Mart, Alameda Ta'amu style, for a case of Lysol and some cold medicine.