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Tomlin Report - Familiar Foe

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Troy Polamalu looks to be "good to go" for the Steelers' week-seven matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, a contest that features two teams that are very familiar with one another despite playing in different conferences.

2011 Week 7
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals at
University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ
Sunday, October 23 – 4:05 PM on CBS

Cardinals: BYE WEEK

Steelers: Pittsburgh started fast, but couldn't put the Jaguars away in a game that began as a blowout and ended as a 17-13 squeaker and the Steelers' fourth win of the season. Rashard Mendenhall ran like a man possessed, racking up 146 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, and the Steelers defense hassled rookie Blaine Gabbert to the tune of five sacks.

A Look Around the AFC North
Baltimore (4-1) boasts the AFC North’s best record (by a half-game over the Bengals and Steelers) and the NFL’s best defense (allowing 14.2 points per game) and can now be considered one of the few teams on the inside track to a first-round bye in this year’s playoffs.

After a convincing 29-14 win over the Houston Texans last week, the Ravens will square off against the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars this week at home on Monday Night Football, their first home game on Monday night since the 2007 season.

Cincinnati (4-2) has surprised on three fronts this month. First, that they’re actually 4-2 and tied with the Steelers for second in AFC North despite starting a rookie quarterback. Second, that their defense has stellar, ranking 5th in ppg and second (behind the Steelers) in yards per game.

Third, that Mike Brown’s stubbornness actually won out in the end. The Bengals turned Carson Palmer, who hasn’t played a snap this season after threatening retirement, into two first-round picks in a trade with the Raiders. While Oakland certainly needed a QB, giving up two first-rounders for a player who has been in decline for the past few seasons means the deal is a coup for Cincinnati.

They’ll revel in their good luck over a bye week.

Cleveland (2-3) lost the emotionally-charged Oakland Raiders 27-14. Colt McCoy has been struggling of late and completed less than 50% of his passes against the Raiders.

More troubling is the continued drama swirling around RB Peyton Hillis. Hillis rode the pine for much of Sunday’s loss, for what was termed as a “coach’s decision.” Then it was said that Hillis had a hamstring injury. Then, he actually took the field and played. On Tuesday, it was rumored that Hillis was on the trade block, but then that report was refuted saying that the Browns has no interest in trading the runner and that they hadn’t been fielding calls. Good luck sorting that mess out.

This week, the Browns draw the Seahawks at home.

What most fans liked: the performance of the team right out of the gate. Pittsburgh scored on its first three possessions and the defense held the fort early.

Unfortunately, while the defense held up for the most part afterwards, the offense completely stalled out through the final two quarters.

S Troy Polamalu is “good to go” after leaving Sunday’s contest with concussion-like symptoms. Troy, who has already passed concussion tests, is expected to resume practicing on Wednesday. He is PROBABLE for this week’s road game.

OL Doug Legursky will be OUT for a number of weeks with a dislocated toe.

NT Casey Hampton (shoulder), OLB James Harrison (eye), and DE Aaron Smith (foot) will likely be OUT again this week.

OT Marcus Gilbert, RB Mewelde Moore, LB Jason Worilds, and OG Chris Kemoeatu are all candidates to resume practicing this week and can be listed as QUESTIONABLE against the Cardinals.

DT Chris Hoke suffered a stinger against the Jaguars and is experiencing some lack of strength in his shoulder. He can be characterized as QUESTIONABLE, though his participation could go either way.

WR Mike Wallace has a minor hamstring injury and is PROBABLE for Sunday.

TE Todd Heap was absent from practice on Monday and is the only injury of note thus far, though more information could surface before the end of the week.
For being in two different conferences, Arizona and Pittsburgh are awfully familiar with each other (just take a look at this week’s Local Connections). With that in mind, which team benefits the most from knowing their opponent?
RB Beanie Wells – Drafted near the end of the first round in 2009, Wells was expected to be the feature back that Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals were looking for.  Early in his career, Wells struggled as a runner and showed a lack of ball security. Beginning this season, however, Wells is looking like the power back Arizona dreamed of. Wells has a third-best 95.3 yards per game this season to go with six touchdowns (in only four games). With Pittsburgh looking vulnerable to the run this season, there could be a big day waiting for Beanie.

WR Larry Fitzgerald – The former-Pitt star remains one of the best receivers in the league, and is a matchup nightmare for any NFL team. He has the range and hands to make any catch, regardless of how many defenders are covering him. Ike Taylor will be blanketing Fitzgerald all afternoon, but I’d expect LeBeau and company to send help his way more often than not.

DL Darnell Dockett – Dockett is the type of lineman who can give the Steelers fits as a size-speed pass rusher. In fact, he’s given them fits before – most notably when the two teams met in Super Bowl 43. Dockett tied a Super Bowl record (also held by Reggie White) with three sacks against the Steelers. With Pittsburgh again shuffling its line for a seventh straight game, Dockett could find an easy path to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
• Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt spent six seasons on the Steelers’ coaching staff (2001-2006). He served as the tight ends coach for his first three seasons with the team, before moving on to offensive coordinator for the remaining three years.
• Assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm was on the Steelers’ coaching staff from 2001-2006. He coached the offensive line all six seasons with the Steelers, and earned the assistant head coach title for his final three seasons with the team.  Grimm is a native of Scottdale, Pa. and attended the University of Pittsburgh.
• Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was on the Steelers’ coaching staff from 2004-2010. Horton coached under Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau during his seven years with the team.
• Offensive coordinator Mike Miller is a native of Pittsburgh. He attended Plum High School and local Clarion University. Miller served as the public relations and operations intern with the Steelers from 1994-1995 and got his start in coaching at local Robert Morris University. Miller also served as the offensive quality control coach for the Steelers from 1999-2003.
• Linebackers coach Matt Raich is a native of Monaca, Pa. Raich played collegiately at Westminster College and got his start in coaching at Westminster from 1993-1994. Miller also had coaching stints with Robert Morris University from 1996-1998 and 2000-2002. He also was an offensive assistant for the Steelers from 2004-2006.
• Special teams coach Kevin Spencer was the Steelers special teams coach from 2002-2006.
• Assistant defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend played for the Steelers from 1998-2009.
• Strength and conditioning coach John Lott played one NFL season, 1987, and it was with the Steelers.
• Scout Mike Boni was born in Moon, Pa., and attended local Moon High School.
• Scout Luke Palko was born in Imperial, Pa. and attended West Allegheny High School. Tyler, his brother, played at the University of Pittsburgh and spent time with the Steelers and Cardinals. Luke was the player personnel intern for the Steelers for two seasons from 2007-2008.
• LB Joey Porter played eight seasons with the Steelers from 1999-2006, playing in 122 games with 106 starts. His 60 sacks are fourth all time in Steelers’ history.
• LB Clark Haggans spent eight seasons with the Steelers from 2000-2007, playing in 107 games with 61 starts.
• DE Nick Eason spent four seasons with the Steelers from 2007-2010, playing in 55 games with 11 starts.
WR Larry Fitzgerald played for the University of Pittsburgh from 2002-2003. He is the first and only player in school history to have back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2003, along with earning All-America honors, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and Biletnikoff Award.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling was born in Johnstown, Pa. and played for the University of Pittsburgh from 2005-2008.
• Video director Rob Brakel spent nine seasons as a video assistant for the Steelers from 1998-2007. Brakel attended local Robert Morris University.
• OT Levi Brown played collegiately at Penn State University from 2002-2005.
• Wide receivers coach John McNulty played at Penn State University from 1988-1990.

“Defensively, I thought we lacked a signature play, the defining play, turnover play. That has been our signature moment when we are trying to put games away. We weren’t able to do that defensively. Offensively, we didn’t convert third downs in the second half. I think we were 2-of-7 in the second half. We converted the very first one to Hines Ward, and then we didn’t convert another one until the second-to-last attempt, when it was third-and-two and Ben Roethlisberger scrambled for roughly three yards. When you aren’t converting third downs, you are not going to put drives together, and you are not going to ring up scoreboards. We’ve been good on third downs all year. For whatever reason, we were not up to par in the second half of that football game.” Listing the reasons why the Steelers allowed Jacksonville to climb back into the game after a red-hot start.

“No, I can’t pinpoint it, but what I can say is that you generally are opportunistic when you are on the minute details and you are playing extremely hard. So that is all we are going to do. We are going to remain focused on the minute details of our assignment. We are going to try to play together within the scheme, and we are going to play extremely hard. We think that those opportunities will increase as you do those things. That has always been my philosophy in regards to those types of plays, so I am not going to change in that regard. What we are not going to do is start taking calculated risks and doing things that are unsound in the effort to make those things happen. We are playing good defense. We just need some of those signature type plays that will make the ends of games more comfortable.” On his defense’s lack of turnovers at this point in the season. Through six games, the team has just two turnovers, a staggeringly low number for a team that is sitting at 4-2.

“There are some similarities, no doubt, in terms of what he is doing out there schematically, and with what we are doing, but Ray is a very sharp coach. We have great deal of respect for what he is capable of. He always had strong opinions when he was here, and you see some of those things on tape. It is Ray Horton and the Arizona Cardinals’ defense. There will be familiarity. It will help us a little bit in preparation, because the guys that will be on our offense will be able to get a better, more quality look.” Discussing whether defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defense is the same type of defense that the Steelers are using in Pittsburgh. Before accepting a coordinator position with the Cardinals this offseason, Horton was Pittsburgh’s defensive backs coach.

“But I am sure they will have that same advantage as they prepare for our defense. I think that the Arizona scout team defense will be able to mirror some of the things that we do defensively better than some of the other opponents that they play.” Continuing his discussion on defensive similarities.

The Steelers to field their seventh different starting offensive line this week in their seventh game against the Cardinals this week, regardless of who starts at LG from Kemoeatu/Essex and RT from Scott/Gilbert.

“One-fifth if you are just talking about the offensive line, and one-eleventh if you are talking about our offense.” On how big of a role Max Starks has had in the turn-around of the team’s running game.

“Sometimes you can just throw to him. This guy is big, and he is even bigger down the field. When you get him in one-on-one situations down the field, chances are he is going to catch the football. Sometimes, when you give him two-on-one situations, he catches the football. He is unquestionably the best in the world at that. So, you couldn’t argue with throws to him in any juncture, really.” Talking about Cardinals’ WR Larry Fitzgerald.

“We will take this show on the road, and see if we can get a good road performance, the one we desire to have if we want to be a good football team. I think it’s very obvious that we’ve performed to a winning level at home. We haven’t done so on the road. We understand that if we want to be a contender, be a winning team, a January-type team, we have to perform better on the road than we have. We will proceed and prepare this week with that in mind.” Concluding the opening statement of his weekly press conference. The Steelers are 1-2 on the road this season, with the lone victory coming as a sloppy win over the Manning-less Indianapolis Colts.

Mike Wallace is off to one of the hottest starts of any Steeler receiver in team history. No other Pittsburgh wideout accumulated more yards in the first six games of a season than Wallace’s 612 yards to kick off 2011.

Not surprisingly, Hines Ward is second on the list with 599 yards, though the year he did it might come as a bit of a shock: 2009, when Ward was at the tender age of 33.

As far as top six-game stretches at any point in a season for a Steeler, Wallace is bested by three receivers: Ward (2002), Plaxico Burress (2002), and Yancey Thigpen (1997). Ward set the benchmark with 684 yards and seven touchdowns in a six-game stretch (games 6-11) back in 2002.

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