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Tomlin Report - Mid-Term Exam

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The Steelers find themselves back in first place in the AFC North with a 5-2 record and boast a league-best 171.9 passing yards allowed per game, but they'll face their toughest test of the season in a home date against the high-scoring offense of the New England Patriots.

2011 Week 8
NEXT GAME
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) vs. New England Patriots (5-1)
at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA
Sunday, October 30 – 4:15 PM on CBS

LAST WEEK
Patriots: BYE WEEK

Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns, including a 95-yard scoring strike to Mike Wallace, as the Steelers thumped the Arizona Cardinals 32-20 in Glendale on Sunday afternoon.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES
A Look Around the AFC North
Baltimore (4-2) finds itself out of first place in the AFC North after an embarrassing 12-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game where the birds racked up only 146 yards. Joe Flacco looked terrible, Ray Rice barely touched the ball, and an overall solid day by the Ravens defense was wasted.

LB Terrell Suggs, in particular, questioned why the offense didn’t flow through Rice, even through some early fumble issues.

Baltimore draws Arizona (1-5) this week.

Cincinnati (4-2) had the benefit of watching a week of awful quarterback play from home thanks to a bye week. Their own quarterback, Andy Dalton, has been solid for the team this season. Equally surprising has been the play of the team’s defense, which finds itself at 2nd in terms of yards allowed this season (right behind Baltimore and in front of Pittsburgh, oddly enough). That side of the ball could receive a boost with the improving health of CB Adam Jones.

The Bengals will head across the country to face the Seahawks in Seattle.

Cleveland (3-3) eked out a 6-3 victory over the Seahawks in what may have been the season’s worst game so far (it set the bar so low that the abysmal Ravens-Jaguars game couldn’t reach it). Cleveland held the ball for 43 minutes and came away with six points… and still won.

They’ll also take a cross-country trip to face the 5-1 49ers over in San Francisco.

MIKE LIKED…
The sense of urgency shown by his team in all three phases of the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Tomlin said it was the closest they’ve been to a 60-minute performance all season.

STEELERS INJURY UPDATE
LB James Harrison (eye), NT Chris Hoke (neck), LG Doug Legursky (toe), and LB Jason Worilds (quad) are all “status quo” according to Tomling. Unfortunately, since all of them have been unable to reach the practice field yet, status quo isn’t a good thing. Consider all of them as OUT at this point in the week.

NT Casey Hampton is scheduled to practice on Wednesday and could be QUESTIONABLE after missing last week’s contest.

WR Hines Ward left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and should be QUESTIONABLE at this point.

CB Curtis Brown has been dealing with back spasms. With Brown being a rookie, any missed practice time puts his game-day activity in doubt. Consider him QUESTIONABLE tentatively.

PATRIOTS INJURY UPDATE
LB Jerrod Mayo has missed the team’s last two games before the bye week and has yet to get into consistent practice reps. Consider him DOUBTFUL for Sunday.

DT Albert Haynesworth resumed practicing with the team at the end of their bye week, and should be PROBABLE against the Steelers.

MAIN STORYLINE FOR SUNDAY
Can the Steelers beat Tom Brady for the first time since 2004, or will the Patriots quarterback, once again, shred the defense en route to a victory?

PATRIOTS TO WATCH
TE Aaron Hernandez – Coming into last year’s game, it looked like Hernandez was New England’s biggest threat at the tight end position. That was before Rob Gronkowski shelled the Steelers defense for three touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s defense won’t let that happen again and will undoubtedly keep an eye on Gronkowski this time around, which could lead to some free room for Hernandez.

DB Kyle Arrington – Arrington might not be New England’s best corner, but he has shown he’s the team’s best ball-hawk this season, with four interceptions in six games. Big Ben has avoided interceptions recently, throwing just one in his last three contests, but he’ll still need to watch out for Arrington on Sunday.

QB Tom Brady – Duh. New England will prevail or fail based on the play of Brady, who has been exceptional against the Steelers in his career. If Pittsburgh can’t find a way to pressure Brady, he’ll be able to power his way to yet another win.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS
• Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien coached for the University of Pittsburgh from 1987-1990.
• Patriots CB Leigh Bodden attended local Duquesne University. He still holds the record for career interceptions for the Dukes with 28.
• Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. but he moved to Buffalo at an early age. He returned to Pittsburgh in 2006 to attend Woodland Hills High School for his senior season. Rob’s brother is TE Dan Gronkowski, who also plays for the Patriots.
• Patriots S Ross Ventrone was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He attended Chartiers Valley High School but he did not play football until he was a senior. He was a walk-on at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a redshirt in 2005. He made the Panthers’ scout team in 2006 before transferring to Villanova.

ACCORDING TO TOMLIN
“They are very multiple. They can attack you in a variety of ways. They can line up and play empty no-huddle football. They can put two or three tight end type bodies on the field and pound you. They are very multiple. They have been together, of course, for a long time. They have great continuity between core players and coaches.  It just depends on what personality they choose to be this week.” When asked what he might see from the Patriots this Sunday.

“I don’t want to make more out of that than what has already been made but that is what we do every week. We look at what people do against our opponents and what they have success at and if it is in our comfort zone, we consider utilizing it. So this week is no different than any other.” On whether he plans to look at what other teams do to beat the Patriots and “copy their blueprint.”

“They do, but that’s no different than a lot of teams. We use a lot of two tight end personnel groups.  It’s not necessarily that they do it, it is how effective they are at doing it and how they utilize those guys and how they are capable of getting them down the field. It’s a special relationship that they are forming there with their signal caller.” Answering whether the availability of Gronkowski and Hernandez has led to more two tight end sets for the Patriots.

“As I sit here right now I am not comfortable with saying that Ike is going to follow him down-in and down-out. That might be a little bit out of Ike’s comfort zone. This guy spends a lot of time in interior formations at the number two position, number three position and slot formations. Ike is an outside corner so I am not ready at this juncture to even say that this is going to be an element of this thing.” On who will cover the league’s top receiver, Wes Welker, in Sunday’s game.

LOOK FOR…
Pittsburgh to compete more than it did against the Patriots last season, who buried the Steelers early in what turned out to be a rout.

SPLASH TALK
“They really don’t turn the football over. There was a game a few weeks back with Buffalo, where they got their hands on some footballs but let’s be honest, that probably happens once every five years. So we have about four years and nine months before we see that again. We are not anticipating Brady is going to throw us four footballs. We better be prepared to get off the field the hard way, and that’s simply by stopping them.” Discussing New England’s ability to avoid turnovers. The one game they didn’t, a four interception performance against Buffalo, is their one loss this season.

“That is a function of them just whacking people and being way out in front.  So if you come in and you think they are the 32nd best defense in football you are kidding yourself. They are whacking people pretty good. People are throwing the ball every down and they accumulate some yards, it is insignificant.” Dispelling the notion that the Patriots pass defense is the league’s worst.

“We are going to encourage him to not do that. That makes execution even a little bit more difficult. That goes along with some of the pre-snap penalties, the false starts on guys such as David Johnson and Weslye Saunders. We cannot have pre and post-snap penalties if we want to be the kind of offense we desire to be. We stated just that. These guys are professionals. We expect them to correct their mistakes and move forward.” On how he’ll deal with guard Chris Kemoeatu, who took some unfortunate penalties after the play against Arizona.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…
After seven games, Pittsburgh’s defense is allowing a league-low 171.9 yards per game, but just how realistic is that number?

While Ike Taylor, William Gay, and Keenan Lewis have all stepped up their play this season, for sure, the offenses Pittsburgh has played has a part in the awfully low average.

A complete list of quarterbacks the Steelers have faced off against this season: Joe Flacco, Tarvaris Jackson, Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter (who relieved an injured Collins), Matt Schaub, Matt Hasselbeck, Blaine Gabbert, and Kevin Kolb.

That QB group netted only 233.9 passing yards in their other contests this season, an average which would rank 21st in the NFL after seven weeks.

By the way, Tom Brady is averaging 360.5 yards this season.

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