Ward, Hampton, Polamalu Out vs. Seahawks

The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they'd be facing the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field without their primary receiver, but the news broke on Sunday morning that they will be missing their starting nose tackle and strong safety. Opportunities abound for the Seahawks, should they choose to take advantage…

Receiver Hines Ward is confirmed out, and reports now indicate that Casey Hampton, and Troy Polamalu, who haven't practiced all week, will miss the game as well.

Scout.com's Adam Caplan said early this morning that Hampton and Polamalu would be game-time decisions, and both players were listed as inactive on Sunday morning.

Ward will miss his second straight game with a sprained knee. The 10-year veteran isn't just the main threat in the passing game – his outstanding blocking helps Pittsburgh's run game. Without Ward in the game last week, Willie Parker rushed for only 37 yards on 19 carries against the Arizona Cardinals, after gaining 109, 126, and 133 yards in the first three weeks.

The one factor to watch for here is that after catching four passes in the first three weeks, Parker caught four balls for 29 yards against Arizona. Still, the Steelers live and die with their run game, and Ward is a big component. The Seahawks will still have to contend with receiver Santonio Holmes and Pittsburgh's excellent tight ends.

The Seahawks' rushing attack got a big break when it was announced that nose tackle Casey Hampton would miss the game with a hamstring injury. The 6'1", 325-pound tackle is regarded as one of the best in the game, and he's chaired the usually strong Pittsburgh run defense once again. The Steelers are ranked fourth in DVOA against the run, and they've given up only 82 yards per game on the ground, good for eighth in the league. Hampton will be replaced by Chris Hoke, who suffered a spinal cord concussion against the Cardinals but will play anyway.

This is a huge factor for Seattle, as the formerly stellar run game led by Shaun Alexander has seen some downswing over the last season-and-a-half behind Alexander's injuries and an average offensive line. Seattle's running back has enjoyed two 100-yard games out of four this season, but his best performance came against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have trouble putting three healthy linebackers on the field and may have the worst run defense in the NFL. Alexander hasn't been able to break the four yards-per-carry barrier in any other game this season, and the Seahawks offensive line currently ranks 24th in Adjusted Line Yards.

The third Steeler who will be out of the lineup might be the most important. Safety Troy Polamalu is the pointman of a Pittsburgh offense ranked first in the NFL in DVOA against the pass. Polamalu will miss the game with a strained abdominal muscle, but when he's in the game, he's a triple-threat player with major impact. He can cover, pressure the quarterback and come up in the box as the eighth man to prevent big plays from enemy running backs.

Pittsburgh lost Hampton and Polamalu in the second half of the Arizona game, and the Cardinals scored 21 unanswered points (though one of three touchdowns was a kickoff return) in an 18-minute stretch in the third and fourth quarters after being shut out in the first half. The resulting 21-14 score marked the Steelers' first loss of the season, putting the Seahawks and Steelers in the same boat – both teams suffered their only defeat this season to Arizona.

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