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Tomlin Report - Heading to Houston

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After barely escaping with a win in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh will continue its tour of the AFC South with a trip to Houston to play the 2-1 Texans and their high-flying offense.

2011 Week 4
NEXT GAME
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) vs. Houston Texans (2-1) at
Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX
Sunday, October 2 – 1:00 PM on CBS

LAST WEEK
Texans: Houston led for much of the game and pushed its lead to eleven with a score early in the fourth quarter, only to see the New Orleans Saints battle back and defeat the Texans 40-33. The Texans surrendered three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to New Orleans, who pulled ahead for good with a Mark Ingram rushing touchdown in the game’s final three minutes.

Steelers: Pittsburgh survived a squeaker with Shaun Suisham hitting a game-winning 38-yard field goal in the game’s final seconds for a 23-20 Steelers victory. The black-and-gold fired on all cylinders early, but gave the Colts 13 easy points on three consecutive turnovers. Troy Polamalu’s fumble return (set up by a James Harrison sack) put Pittsburgh back on top in the fourth quarter, but the defense let Colts QB Curtis Painter march down the field for a tying score. However, Big Ben and the offense shined in a two-minute drill to set up what would by the game-winning field goal.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES
A Look Around the AFC North
Baltimore (2-1) evoked memories of week one with a dominant 37-7 win over the St. Louis Rams, which helped to cover up the letdown at the hands of the Titans one week earlier. Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith opened some eyes, turning his first three professional catches into his first three professional touchdowns. He would finish with five grabs for 152 yards and the three scores.

One thing to look at going forward: Joe Flacco dropped back to pass more than twice as much as Baltimore ran the ball, despite the success that Ray Rice has had this season. Rice, of course, did as much as he could with his nine carries (81 yards, not too shabby) to go with his five grabs as a receiver (for another 85 yards). Despite the success, the Ravens might want to balance out their offense a bit with the New York Jets coming to town in week four.

Cincinnati (1-2) found itself on the wrong end of what may turn out to be the least exciting game of the 2011 season, losing 13-8 to the San Francisco 49ers. QB Andy Dalton had his worst game as a professional, racking up only 157 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He’ll need to be much better against a red-hot Buffalo team that is one of just three undefeated teams left in the NFL.

Unfortunately, hosting the undefeated Bills might be the least of the team’s worries. The Bengals’ penchant for building around character-deficient players is catching up with them yet again. RB Cedric Benson, who served a week of jail time before the season for a misdemeanor assault charge in the offseason, may be facing a three-game suspension from the league. The Bengals may also lose WR Jerome Simpson to a suspension, after it was found that he was in possession of eight(!) pounds of marijuana (that includes the two-pounds that was mailed to his home; the same package that tipped the fuzz off in the first place).

Cleveland (2-1) pulled out a last-minute 17-16 win over the Miami Dolphins to keep pace with the Steelers and Bengals in the AFC North. QB Colt McCoy had an ugly game early on, but made up for it with the game-winning throw to Mohamed Massaquoi with 43 seconds remaining.

The Browns will prepare to host the Tennessee Titans in week four, likely with the help of RB Peyton Hillis, who missed the Miami game with an illness. Even if Hillis returns, he may yield some carries to fellow-rusher Montario Hardesty, who ran strong in his absence.

MIKE LIKED…
That the team made big plays when it had to, even though the overall performance wasn’t up to snuff.

STEELERS INJURY UPDATE
OLB Chris Carter (hamstring), RT Marcus Gilbert (shoulder), WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring), CB Bryant McFadden (hamstring), and WR Mike Wallace (ribs) are all PROBABLE for Sunday’s contest.

Offensive linemen Jonathan Scott (ankle sprain) and Doug Legursky (shoulder) are both QUESTIONABLE along with DE Brett Keisel (PCL sprain) and WR Arnaz Battle (knee)

TEXANS INJURY UPDATE
Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday that RB Arian Foster (hamstring) is "chomping at the bit today to get back on the field full-time," HoustonTexans.com's Nick Scurfield reports.

According to coach Gary Kubiak, RB Derrick Ward is "pretty close to getting back on the field," HoustonTexans.com's Nick Scurfield reports.

CB Kareem Jackson suffered a knee injury during Week 3's loss to New Orleans, but should be fine for this coming week, according to Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, the Texans' official site reports.

LB Mario Williams is day-to-day with a knee injury, but Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said the linebacker is "going to be OK," Fox Sports Houston reports.

MAIN STORYLINE FOR SUNDAY
Can Pittsburgh get its running game on track and take pressure off of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger?

TEXANS TO WATCH
RB Arian Foster – The undrafted Foster was a revelation for the Texans last season, emerging from nowhere to claim the starting running back job in week one, eventually becoming the league’s best rusher by season’s end. The all-purpose runner has just 10 carries this season and was inactive in weeks one and three because of a lingering hamstring injury. Foster’s status is starting to look up coming into week four and he will likely take the lion’s share of the carries against the Steelers. The question is: will he be as dominant as the Foster of last season, or will that hamstring still limit him?

WR Andre Johnson – No disrespect to Reggie Wayne, but Johnson will be Ike Taylor’s biggest challenge in the young season. Taylor is having his best season as a professional and has shut down the opponent’s best receiver in all three of his games this year. Johnson, however, has proven that he is a near impossible assignment for opposing cover-men. Johnson is averaging seven catches and 100+ yards per game this season. If Ike can hold him below that mark, he can consider it a job well done.

DE/LB Mario Williams – With Pittsburgh’s offensive line ailing and possibly starting a third-string tackle in Trai Essex on Sunday, Williams could emerge as a major problem. The former first-overall pick is in his first season as a 3-4 outside linebacker after beginning his career as a defensive end. Williams, at 6’6” and 280 lbs, needs to be kept far away from Ben Roethlisberger if Pittsburgh wants to win its third game of the season.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

  • Texans offensive line coach John Benton coached at California University (Pa.) from 2000-2004.
  • Texans wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey coached for the University of Pittsburgh in 1989.


ACCORDING TO TOMLIN
In regards to some of the offensive line things, we may be open to bring someone in. We haven’t made any definitive plans in that regard yet. We will let the participation of these men dictate what we do in that area. I am swapping our padded practices up this week.” Tomlin on his plans for the offensive line with three starters nicked up from last week. He did mention that any acquisition would be for depth/practice and not a starter, so no Max Starks or Flozell Adams yet.

“No, Marcus Gilbert will be at right tackle.  We are comfortable with what he is doing and with Trai Essex lining up on the left side, and what he is capable of doing on the left side of our offensive line. We have played a lot of football with Trai in the past, and he has generally been above the line and that is what we anticipate him playing.” When asked if Gilbert would move to left tackle in the event that Jonathan Scott doesn’t play.

“When I talk about us being a team in development that is one of the things that I point to; we are still very much a team in development in that area. I try not to frame it at this early juncture, but when you look at it we got behind in Baltimore so we didn’t have a productive day there. I thought we did have a functional day running the football versus Seattle. Although the sledding did get a little tough at the end of the game when they knew we weren’t going to throw it. Then we didn’t do well the other night. So I am not ready to start talking about trends in that area. I don’t know that we have a big enough body of work at this juncture. I’ll acknowledge that we didn’t do well the other night. And that we better improve in that area and improve in a hurry because we desire to be balanced offensively and be a good offense and be able to win games in a lot of ways and be able to win in that area. One things that I didn’t mention about Sunday’s performance was that even though we struggled in terms of running the football, our ability to convert third downs, I think helped us in that area in terms of moving the football and not allowing it to be a detriment of what we were trying to do offensively in terms of possessing the football and in terms of scoring.” On the team’s running woes through three weeks. Pittsburgh has averages just 85.7 yards per game on the ground to go with 3.3 yards per carry.

“This is why they concern me: we are not doing a good enough job of protecting the ball, and we are not doing a good enough job of getting it. Those two things together make you extremely uncomfortable. We are a blessed group to be sitting here 2-1 after being minus-nine after three games. We have to be near the bottom of the NFL, if not the worst. We got to get better in that area, and preserve and protect the football, and getting it. Thankfully when it mattered on Sunday, at significant moments we were able to maintain the ball offensively and get the ball defensively. That’s why we were able to get out of that stadium with the necessary win.” Discussing his team’s turnovers woes. The offense has turned the ball over 10 times in three games; the defense has only one takeaway this season – the fumble return TD by Troy Polamalu late against the Colts.

“I take a cerebral approach in terms of participation week-to-week. The health of the men that are scheduled to play, being an element of it, our areas of need in terms of our team in compared to the other team weighs into that decision. That is a week-to-week decision and I try not to let things that have occurred in the past guide me in terms of that because if you do this job long enough there are things that will scare you and you will try to suit 53 and of course that is not allowed.” When asked if the team’s injury-riddled week three made him re-evaluate how many lineman to dress on gameday.

LOOK FOR…
William Gay to remain as a starter at cornerback, even if Bryant McFadden is active. Gay has shined through his first three weeks and may have earned the job going forward.

SPLASH TALK
“I think it is important to get to him but I think in order to get to him the first thing you need to do is be sound against the running game.  If you are sound against the running game I think that will help in terms of the misdirection pass and then it will help you solidify a launch point, if you will. As long as they are running the football, they are going to attack you with the misdirection pass and the launch point is going to change.  It is going to be tough to find rhythm in terms of getting to him.  No question we would like to do that.  We would like to get to any quarterback we play.  But specifically this week is starts with utilizing their running game.” When asked if it’s important to get to Houston quarterback Matt Schaub.

“He is a sandbagger. We expect him to be James when he steps into the stadiums.” When asked if he sees any improvement in linebacker James Harrison, who is playing while he regains his strength from offseason back surgeries.

“I am sure it did. The silent count helps their pass rush. Their pass rush helps their pass rush. Having Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis helps your pass rush.” On whether Pittsburgh’s tendency to snap the ball as the play clock expires aided Indianapolis’ pass rush in the week three win.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…
Remember when Mike Wallace made the bold prediction that he’d finish the season with 2,000 receiving yards (and over 100 catches).

It’s still early, but he’s actually on pace to do it. If Wallace maintains his averages throughout the season, he’ll finish with 117 catches for 2,011 yards.

Of course, maintaining that pace is not as easy as it sounds. No receiver has crossed the 2,000 yard barrier, with Jerry Rice’s 1848 in 1995 standing as the current NFL record.

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