PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to work on Thursday following an unexpected day off and will almost certainly play on Sunday in Cincinnati.
Roethlisberger, who hit his right (throwing hand) on a New Orleans Saints player Sunday and skipped practice Wednesday "was sharp" in team drills, according to Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
"After tough, physical games like that, coming in here on the (indoor facility) turf, Coach (Mike Tomlin) wanted to give him a break yesterday," Haley said. "But today, he was sharp and throwing it around the field."
Roethlisberger did not speak with reporters but his performances recently point to the wear and tear of a long season. During the opening nine games, Roethlisberger threw 22 touchdown passes and was picked off just three times. He had a passer rating at 110.6.
That included a three-game stretch against Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore, all home games, when he had 14 TD passes and no interceptions. The past three games, Roethlisberger has been sub-par with just four scoring passes and five interceptions, a passer rating at 79.3.
"When you evaluate the quarterback, you need to look at the entire group," Haley said. "(But) the spotlight is always going to be on the quarterback on every play."
Haley referenced rookie wideout Martavis Bryant's dropped pass when he "had two hands on the ball" that could have resulted in a touchdown. Haley also said that running Le'Veon Bell, despite making a lot of plays, "twice had two hands on balls" and dropped them.
With a new group of receivers and backs joining standouts Antonio Bryant and Heath Miller, the Steelers need consistent production from Bell and more from wideouts such as Bryant, second-year player Markus Wheaton and veterans Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, in their first seasons in Pittsburgh.
"Ben looked good," Bell said. "(But) he performs at the same level every day, making sure we're all in the right spots, and he looked really good today. (But) we've definitely got to take it up a notch this week to help him out. On the road, everything is amplified, especially with a division game."
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau believes rookie Ryan Shazier (ankle) and second-year player Jarvis Jones (right wrist), the club's past two No. 1 picks, have a good chance to play at Cincinnati. Shazier has missed seven games with knee and ankle injuries, while Jones has been out since Game 3 after undergoing surgery. Jones practiced last week and expects to be active for the Steelers (7-5) this week.
Notes: Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), outside linebacker James Harrison (knee) and strong safety Troy Polamalu (illness) did not practice for the second straight day. . CB Cortez Allen (thumb), CB Brice McCain (hamstring), NT Steve McLendon (right shoulder), CB Ike Taylor (shoulder) and Shazier practiced Thursday and are expected to play.