Steelers not ruling out Roethlisberger for Sunday’s game at Baltimore

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) stands on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) stands on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Tomlin isn’t underestimating Ben Roethlisberger’s healing powers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers coach is keeping the door open for his franchise quarterback and his surgically repaired left knee to return on Sunday in Baltimore.

Roethlisberger tore cartilage in the knee during the second quarter of a loss to Miami on Oct. 16 and underwent outpatient surgery the following day.

He stood on the sideline in sweatpants while backup Landry Jones played capably in a 27-16 loss to New England and was able to practice a bit during Pittsburgh’s bye week and again on Monday.

“I think all the cards are on the table,” Tomlin said on Tuesday.

The main issues for Roethlisberger are swelling and pain tolerance, things that have hardly been a deterrent to Roethlisberger in the past.

Tomlin called what he saw from Roethlisberger on Monday “generally positive”, but will wait to see how the knee responds during the week before making any sort of decision on Roethlisberger’s availability.

“I’m just looking at it day by day, deciding what opportunities we’re going to give him on a given day, like we did (Monday), what he’s able to do with it and then waiting for the next day to see the ramifications or the result of that work,” Tomlin said.

The prognosis for other starters appears more promising. Defensive end Cam Heyward (hamstring) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) have practiced regularly and appear to be on the verge of being in the lineup barring a setback.

Heyward missed the first two games of his career after going down in a win over the New York Jets on Oct. 9. Pittsburgh’s run defense crumbled without him, giving up 222 yards on the ground against the Dolphins and 140 to the Patriots. Heyward’s absence was hardly the only issue, but having in back would certainly help.

“We have to do a better job of being where we need to be and when we are, do a better job of functionally tackling,” Tomlin said.

“Sometimes, it’s just that sureness, that understanding of how what it is you do, fits in the bigger picture that will allow you to play with the energy and physicality that’s required to do the job.”

The problems on defense aren’t just limited to the run.

Pittsburgh has produced just eight sacks — last in the league — and eight turnovers so far, well off the pace the Steelers set last season on their way to the playoffs.

Tomlin pointed to several instances when his defensive backs saw potential interceptions bounce off their hands and harmlessly to the turf. Veteran William Gay let one get away early against the Dolphins when the Steelers were still leading.

If he brings it in, Pittsburgh has the ball in Miami territory with a chance to add to its advantage. Instead the Dolphins escaped and pretty soon were off to the races.

“There’s been a number of opportunities that haven’t been cashed in on,” Tomlin said. “There haven’t been enough opportunities because we’re not doing a good enough job of creating climate where those opportunities occur.”

NOTES: Tomlin praised tight end Ladarius Green’s mental preparation as he works his way back off the physically unable to perform list. Green has yet to play this season because of health issues that began with offseason ankle surgery. The team has a 21-day window to determine whether to activate Green or not. … WR Eli Rogers will be in the mix against the Ravens. Rogers dressed, but did not see the field against New England, though Tomlin said the decision not to play Rogers was not due to an off-the-field issue. Rogers has 13 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown in four games.