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Tuesday November 1st, 2011

LaMarr Woodley has been a terror for opposing QBs this season; his 9 sacks are tied for third in the NFL. (Cal Sport Media)

Winners of four straight games, the AFC North-leading Steelers have arguably their biggest showdown of the season waiting in Week 9 -- a Sunday night matchup with the Ravens.

Baltimore demolished Pittsburgh in Week 1, 35-7, part of the Steelers' sluggish 2-2 start. They've been rolling since then, including Sunday's impressive win over New England. But maintaining that momentum will be a difficult task if Pittsburgh keeps losing key defenders to injury.

The Steelers played without linebackers James Farrior and James Harrison against New England -- and Harrison said Monday via Facebok that he won't play against Baltimore. They then lost LaMarr Woodley in the third quarter to a pulled hamstring.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday that Woodley could be out an extended period of time, citing a source who said Woodley's injury is "not good."

Woodley, though, posted a video on Tout.com shortly after that report came out. In it, he said: "Everybody counting me out ... don't count me out yet. Big game on Sunday."

That's consistent with Woodley's comments Monday, when he told reporters, "I'll be in there. I have a week."

Pittsburgh better hope he's right. No disrespect meant to Harrison or Farrior -- or Casey Hampton, who returned from injury to play against the Patriots -- but losing Woodley might be the biggest blow the Steelers' defense could suffer, short of another Troy Polamalu injury.

Woodley has been absolutely unblockable lately, recording 8.5 sacks during Pittsburgh's four-game win streak. He had two takedowns of Tom Brady Sunday and was constantly in the Patriots' backfield.

And while the Steelers overcame the Harrison and Farrior injuries by moving Lawrence Timmons around and giving playing time to veteran Larry Foote and athletic second-year man Stevenson Sylvester, they're almost out of options if Woodley is sidelined too. Replacing Woodley in the lineup against New England was fifth-round draft pick Chris Carter. That's a substantial drop-off and would leave two guys with a combined 22 tackles (Carter and Sylvester) to play major minutes against the Ravens. Pittsburgh then travels to Cincinnati in Week 10, so this is a gigantic two-game stretch -- and a terrible time for the Steelers to be without their biggest playmakers.

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