Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy out; Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster expected to play

PITTSBURGH -- The New England Patriots downgraded linebacker Kyle Van Noy to out for Sunday's AFC showdown against Pittsburgh because of a calf injury, while Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will play.

Smith-Schuster had been listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.

Sunday marks the second straight game that Van Noy, who has played more defensive snaps than any Patriots linebacker this season, will miss. He ranks second on the team in tackles (73) and sacks (5.5).

Van Noy's versatility to play both off and on the line of scrimmage has great value to the Patriots, as he had assumed even more responsibility after linebacker and captain Dont'a Hightower was placed on injured reserve after Week 7.

Van Noy had injured his calf Nov. 26 against the Miami Dolphins, and then tried to play through it Dec. 3 against the Buffalo Bills in a limited role. He came up limping that day after contributing to a sack, and hasn't played since.

The Patriots are thin at linebacker, with 2016 sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts and four-year veteran Marquis Flowers having taken on larger roles in recent weeks.

New England also downgraded core special-teams player Brandon King (hamstring) on Saturday, after having already ruled out defensive tackle Alan Branch (knee) on Friday.