Troy Polamalu changes a lot for the Ravens, who didn’t face him in their first meeting at the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago.
The safety has been hurt most of the season, playing in only two games because of a tear in his calf muscle.
It's not like the Steelers (6-5) have been lost without Polamalu. They still have the league’s top-ranked overall defense and held Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to just 164 yards passing.
Polamalu had targeted his return date for that 13-10 loss to Baltimore, but he’s almost certain to be on the field for the rematch Sunday.
For the second day in a row Thursday, Polamalu fully practiced as did receiver Antonio Brown, who also missed the first game with a high ankle sprain. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley (ankle) is looking increasingly doubtful as he sat out again.
Jason Worilds will be playing in place of Woodley. He didn’t play a defensive snap in the first game with Baltimore because Woodley took all 60.
"They obviously have a good defense with him,” Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said of Polamalu, in his 10th season. "They haven’t missed a beat without him, to be honest with you. But, he’s got a lot of flexibility, a lot of freedom in their system. … He knows that system better than anybody they have, so he’ll pick up right where he left off."
The Steelers' issues are on offense, where the running game has been inconsistent and they've been without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder/ribs) for more than two games. They're 1-2 since he went down and haven't scored more than 16 points.
To beat the Ravens, they'll need the defense to create turnovers -- something they failed to do in the first meeting -- to help manufacture points for third-string quarterback Charlie Batch who'll likely get the start. Turnovers are Polamalu's specialty.
"Troy is a great player, and he has his little things. He just has a good knack for the game of football. He usually can figure out where the ball is going,” said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who fumbled on a late-game sack by Polamalu that allowed the Steelers be the last team to win at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010. "There is always a certain amount that you really can’t account for what he is going to do. So you just have to go out there, play your game and take care of him by playing sound, fundamental football."