Engulfed in a walking boot big enough to fit Andre the Giant, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey remains hopeful that he will return for his team in four days time. Pouncey was originally listed as a doubtful prospect for Mike Tomlin’s offense in Dallas, after sustaining a high ankle sprain during the Steelers AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets.
Shame on us for being fooled once.
As media day festivities took a delightfully humorous swing for the fences on Tuesday, Pouncey found himself standing tall whilst being interviewed by a barrage of analysts, one of whom included ESPN’s Chris Berman.
According to Pouncey, the chances of a return stand solid right now. When asked on how his sprained ankle feels, Pouncey replied with a smile on his face, and alluded to the bright shade of purple that still occupies his swollen foot.
None of that looks likely to stop the Pro Bowl rookie, mind you.
Interestingly enough, Pouncey has been undergoing intense rehabilitation in effort to make a comeback on Sunday. NFL centers have always been a tough breed, and after numerous ice baths and minor physical training, Pouncey’s chances of playing against the Packers are certainly climbing.
"I'm definitely not going to count that young man out," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "I don't think anything he's done this year would lead you to believe that he's incapable of showing up. So we're going to give him every opportunity to do so."
That "anything" Tomlin is referring to, acts as one of the main reasons for the Steelers third Super Bowl appearance in the past six years.
It would be silly to say that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been shaky in the pocket; however the addition of Pouncey in the past 12 months has solidified Pittsburgh’s protection immensely.
In 2009 Roethlisberger was sacked 50 times in the Steelers 16 games – and as a result Steel City missed the playoffs in entirely. In 2010, though, things have changed. Big Ben hit the turf only 32 times during the regular season, a credit to the Steelers diverse offensive line that somehow ranked 25th in the league.
Therefore, the Packers have some serious penetration concerns to ponder as they try and move from A to B in a frozen area of Dallas.
With all due respect to star linebacker Clay Matthews, Green Bay will have to rely on a heavy amount of pressure from Dom Capers’ other playmakers. Matthews himself called Roethlisberger one of the toughest quarterbacks to sack, but that doesn't mean fellow teammate Desmond Bishop can't lend a helping hand.
Amongst the quirky characters of media day, Bishop stole some of the focus from the Troy Polamalu’s hair. Bishop has been anointed one of Green Bay’s "keys to the game" on Sunday, and with three sacks to his name, it's hard to argue.
But Bishop isn't the only big man the Packers must rely on.
No, defensive end Cullen Jenkins is also expected to play well inside of Jerry Jones’ fort, Cowboys Stadium. Yet unfortunately Jenkins’ previous playmaking ability has landed him in some hot water at the present time.
For you see, Jenkins was responsible for allowing Roethlisberger a last minute comeback when the Packers and Steelers met in 2009. A missed sack in the dying stages allowed the clock to run for Pittsburgh, which eventually led to a Mike Wallace touchdown to seal it for the Steelers.
Obviously none of this can happen in four days’ time if the Packers expect to win.
Yes, it will take a true team effort on defense for the Packers to totally stop Roethlisberger. If there is one thing we learned from the Jets’ efforts two weeks ago, though, it’s that pressure on Big Ben can be sustained.
Capers will show no hesitation when it comes to blitzing on Sunday. But at the same time Green Bay must be wary of overusing this tactic.
Finding the balance has been an easy task for the Packers on defense all year long. With Roethlisberger matching up, the Packers must maintain the same stability.
"From last year, taking him (Ben Roethlisberger) down personally, you see quarterbacks who sometimes go down easily, and you can bring him down," Matthews stated on Monday. "But he’s one of those guys who will fight and gets out of a lot of sacks, and the sacks that he does give up, he’s still standing."
Pouncey remains a possibility to return on Sunday. But the need of crutches to walk down the stairs of Cowboys Stadium isn’t a very telling sign.
Still, it’s one more man Green Bay must account for. And with Roethlisberger dodging questions from reporters, one has to imagine that the Steelers will be at their bubbly best when testing the Packers 3-4 scheme for only the second time in the past four years.