The team ruled Dalton out on Friday after he was unable to practice this week while recovering from a fractured thumb suffered a month ago to these very Steelers. There was an outside shot that Dalton could suit up Saturday night and be the backup behind AJ McCarron, but Dalton simply isn't ready to be active in a game, even if it is just to hand the ball off.
Speaking of McCarron, this will be just his fourth NFL start and his first in the postseason. He's played admirably with Dalton out of the lineup, so much so that he actually looks like someone who may end up a full-time starter in this league. In his past four games (three starts), McCarron has completed 76 of 115 (66.1%) passes for 832 yards with six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 97.4 passer rating.
Still, Dalton was having a great season and was playing like one of the four or five best quarterbacks in the league this season. Losing him has led to the Bengals' offense taking a step back. McCarron and his supporting cast will really have to step up for the offense to keep pace with the Steelers' high-powered offense.
While Dalton and the Bengals have remained hopeful Dalton could potentially return for a Divisional Round game if they're able to win this weekend, even that is no longer a certainty. Dalton just had his cast removed from his broken thumb this week, and it's not clear if he's been able to throw with that hand. As of Wednesday he had not thrown a pass with his right hand.
The Bengals also ruled out fullback/h-back Ryan Hewitt due to a knee injury he originally suffered in Week 16 against the Denver Broncos. Hewitt hasn't practiced since the injury, and it's unclear if/when he'll return to the team this postseason; but, it won't happen this week.
With Hewitt out, that led to offensive tackle Jake Fisher moving to h-back and getting 25 snaps during Sunday's 24-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Expect to see him there a lot this Saturday night when the Bengals may need to run the ball more with rain likely affecting the game and making it harder to pass.