Rams-Steelers Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers know they’re headed to the playoffs, but

after blowing a chance at putting themselves in the driver’s seat

for the AFC’s top seed, they’ll likely be playing on wild-card

weekend.

That might also be the next time Ben Roethlisberger takes the

field.

With the Steelers likely to finish as the AFC’s No. 5 seed and

Roethlisberger feeling the effects of a high ankle sprain, Charlie

Batch will start under center Saturday as the woeful Rams visit

Heinz Field.

Baltimore was dominated from start to finish by San Diego in a

34-14 loss Sunday night, leaving an opening for Pittsburgh (10-4)

to not only leapfrog the Ravens for the AFC North lead but

establish itself as the front-runner for the conference’s top

seed.

The Steelers, however, delivered their own prime-time no-show

Monday. With Roethlisberger’s mobility limited, he threw three

interceptions and was sacked three times in a 20-3 loss at San

Francisco.

Now, unless 10-4 Baltimore slips up again, Pittsburgh is headed

for the No. 5 seed and a likely visit to the AFC West winner in a

wild-card game.

“Yes, we had the ball in our court and we dropped it a little

bit,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “Having home field is a help but

it is not everything. We can still go on the road and win.”

The Steelers’ remaining schedule still gives them a strong

opportunity to keep the heat on the Ravens, who host Cleveland on

Saturday before closing the season at Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh closes on the road against the Browns after hosting

St. Louis (2-12), and the Steelers said Friday that Roethlisberger

wouldn’t start against the Rams. The QB said Wednesday that he

would prefer to play and believed his ankle was in pretty good

shape after throwing 45 times against the 49ers.

Roethlisberger last missed a start due to injury in 2009, when a

concussion forced him to sit out a loss to Baltimore.

Batch has gone 4-2 in spot starts with Pittsburgh, and he last

started Oct. 3, 2010. He could have Maurkice Pouncey snapping him

the ball, as the Pro Bowl center missed the San Francisco game with

a high ankle sprain but hopes to play Saturday after saying the

week off helped immensely.

James Harrison will definitely return after being suspended one

game for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy

in Week 14.

The Steelers have 25 of their 30 sacks at home – that’s where

seven of Harrison’s eight have come – but it’s not completely clear

who the defense will be chasing Saturday.

Sam Bradford has missed two of the last three games with – stop

if this sounds familiar – a high ankle sprain, and while A.J.

Feeley hardly made the offense any better in his three starts,

Kellen Clemens did a solid job in last week’s 20-13 loss to

Cincinnati.

Signed off waivers Dec. 7, Clemens – who had started one NFL

game since 2007 – went 25 of 36 for 229 yards, a touchdown and no

interceptions.

Clemens appears likely to get the call again unless, according

to coach Steve Spagnuolo, “all of a sudden Sam bounces in.”

“I thought he did a great job and I thought he handled it very

well,” Bradford said. “He made smart decisions all day, he got

them in and out of the huddle. I really can’t say enough about the

way he played.”

The Rams went 2 for 13 on third down, however, and are

converting just 26.9 percent of those chances this season. No NFC

team has finished with a worse mark since the 2004 Bears converted

25.1 percent.

With uncertainty under center, St. Louis figures to again feed

Steven Jackson the ball early. Jackson is 34 yards away from

becoming the seventh back in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards or

more in seven consecutive seasons.

Jackson has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry during the Rams’

five consecutive losses, though, as the offense has averaged a mere

240.0 yards per game.

Jackson ran 12 times for 85 yards and caught a touchdown pass in

his only game against the Steelers, but Pittsburgh prevailed 41-24

in St. Louis on Dec. 20, 2007, behind three TD passes and a perfect

158.3 passer rating from Roethlisberger.

Batch has thrown eight TDs and six interceptions in his six spot

starts.