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Tomlin Report - Linebackers Wanted

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James Harrison has been cleared to practice. The team will need to hope he's on the fast track, though, as two other starting linebackers could be out of the lineup for a crucial rematch with the Baltimore Ravens.

2011 Week 9
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) at
Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA
Sunday, November 6 – 8:20 PM on NBC

Ravens: Baltimore fell behind 24-3 at one point in the second quarter, and faced a 24-6 halftime deficit at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, but outscored the opponent 24-3 in the second half and earned a victory with a last-second field goal by Billy Cundiff. Running back Ray Rice was the catalyst for the Ravens offensively, and scored all three of their second-half touchdowns.

Steelers: The Pittsburgh Steelers exercised some demons with a 25-17 victory over the New England Patriots and handed QB Tom Brady his first loss at Heinz Field since the 2004 season. Ben Roethlisberger, not Brady, went all-out in the passing game, racking up 365 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh doubled up on New England offensively (427 to 213 yards) and nearly doubled up in time of possession (39:22 to 20:38).

A Look Around the AFC North
Cincinnati (5-2) continues to win thanks to an opportunistic offense and a quietly efficient defense, which seemingly scores a touchdown each and every week. However, Cincinnati has yet to face the meat of its schedule. In the next five weeks, the Bengals draw the Ravens once and the Steelers twice.

This week, they’ll head down to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans.

Cleveland (3-4) finds itself buried in one of the better divisions in the NFL, which is an issue considering they’ve only played one division opponent (week one vs. Cincinnati) so far this season. Second-year quarterback Colt McCoy hasn’t had the type of production many have expected from him this season, most likely because the team’s running game is in Shambles.

With Peyton Hillis nursing a hamstring and Montario Hardesty likely out this Sunday, the Browns could end up starting Chris Ogbonnaya, who spent most of the season on Houston’s practice squad, which is ironic because the Browns will travel to face the Texans this weekend.

The team’s performance on third down on both sides of the ball against New England. Pittsburgh’s offense converted 10 of its 16 third down attempts, including its first five to control the game early. Meanwhile, the Patriots managed only 3 conversions on 10 attempts.

OG Doug Legursky (toe) is the only player that is officially OUT at this point in the week.

LB James Farrior (calf) is DOUBTFUL for Sunday’s game and might not return until after the team’s bye week.

NT Chris Hoke (neck stinger) is also DOUBTFUL and likely following the same timeline.

LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) should be QUESTIONABLE to DOUBTFUL for this week’s action, though the Post-Gazette has reported that he may not return until next week or after the team’s bye week in week 11.

LB James Harrison (eye) has been cleared to practice and is QUESTIONABLE to DOUBTFUL against the Ravens. His participation Sunday is up in the air at this point in the week.

WR Hines Ward (ankle) is expected to practice this week and is QUESTIONABLE.

WR Emmanuel Sanders suffered a knee injury against the Patriots, but continued to play through it. He looks to be QUESTIONABLE at this point, but the knee coupled with the recent death of his mother (she passed Tuesday morning), could put his participation in doubt.

LB Jason Worilds (quad) has missed the last few weeks, but is expected to practice this week. Consider him QUESTIONABLE.

LB Prescott Burgess was placed on injured reserve with a thigh injury.

Since the season opener, these two teams have been trending in opposite directions. The Steelers are riding a four-game winning streak and the Ravens struggled in an ugly loss to the Jaguars and a last-second win over the one-win Cardinals. Do those trends continue or will Baltimore overwhelm Pittsburgh once again?

RB Ray Rice – Rice was the first to expose Pittsburgh’s struggles in defending the run this season, and has historically had some nice production against the Steelers. If the Ravens want to sweep their rival, their offense has to run through Rice. If the Steelers can shut the all-purpose threat down, it will throw a wrench in the Ravens’ plans offensively.

LB Terrell Suggs – This is a man who racked up a hat-trick of sacks in the first meeting between these two teams. He’ll see Max Starks instead of Jonathan Scott this time around. Pittsburgh will have to hope that Starks can at least slow the pass-rusher down.

FS Ed Reed – With the Steelers defense still in a season-long turnover funk, the offense can’t afford to give the ball away to the Ravens. If it’s not Suggs taking the ball away, it almost certainly will be Reed, who notched two interceptions in the opener. Simply put, Big Ben needs to keep the ball out of Reed’s hands.

• Ravens QB Joe Flacco played for the University of Pittsburgh from 2003-2004 before transferring to the University of Delaware.
• Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh coached tight ends for the University of Pittsburgh in 1987.
• Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin was born in Sharon, Pa. and played collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh from 1984-1987.
• Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler was born in Pittsburgh and played collegiately for Indiana (Pa.) from 1986-1989. He coached at his alma mater from 1990-1992, 1994-1999 and at nearby Juniata (Pa.) in 1993.
• Ravens TE Kris Wilson played for the University of Pittsburgh from 2000-2003. Wilson was born in Harrisburg, Pa. and moved to Lancaster, Pa. to attend high school.
“I think we would have to if that is the case. But we will deal with that when we come to it. We also have some flexibility like a lot of people. We might be capable of playing with four defensive linemen. We are not going to leave anything out. What we do know is that our answers generally are in-house. So if we are out of in-house linebackers then some of those answers might have to be in the d-line.” On whether the Steelers will look outside for linebacker health in the event that Woodley, Harrison, and Worilds are unable to play.

“Their play hasn’t been perfect and quite frankly it has been far from it. But they have competed, they played hard and they haven’t been scared of the stage. When you are talking about young players, particularly playing offense and defense, not special teams, that is a good place to start. We are talking about Chris Carter, Cortez Allen, and Stevenson Sylvester can be included in that, some others, Steve McClendon. We are getting good solid contributions from guys putting their hand in the pile and showing us at the very least that they are competitors.” Discussing the young players who have stepped in for injured veterans this season.

“I think first and foremost he is a tough guy to get away from on the practice field. Usually that is always the thing that kind of grabs our attention, guys that distinguish themselves on service teams. He has done that and played well in special teams. That formula usually leads us to giving them defensive opportunities or offensive opportunities and that has been the case with him and he has done a nice job thus far.” Talking about rookie cornerback Cortez Allen, who saw significant action covering Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski this past Sunday.

“It’s two fold when you start talking about time of possession. It’s our offense possessing the ball but it is also our defense getting off the field. Brett was being complimentary to our offense and rightfully so, but he also has to realize that we did a nice job of winning on third down against them. I think they were three of ten and that had a lot to do with the time of possession as well.” On Brett Keisel’s comments that the defense plays best when the offense is winning in time of possession.

“It’s probably a coincidence at this juncture. I am not ready to at least put us in the conversation with the Ravens’ defense. We are not even close to doing what they are doing right now. Maybe statistically but the way they are generating splash plays sets them apart. I am not ready to speak on behalf of Cincinnati or Cleveland, but we are not ready to have that conversation right now.” On the fact that all four of the AFC North’s defenses are ranked in the top five in terms of yards allowed.

A much closer contest than the one we saw in week one, the type of game that usually materializes when these two teams meet later in the season.

“Defensively, I didn’t like the way we took the field under sudden-change conditions. As a defense, you have very little control at times on what circumstances when you take the field. You have all the control over how you get off the field. I didn’t think we were stout or competitive enough in those instances. They scored pretty quickly after that turnover, in two plays. We gave up seven. We desire, under those circumstances, to give up three.”  - On one thing that his team could improve when looking at the win over the Patriots.

“They are slaying people and we are a part of that. We contributed six or seven of those turnovers to that tally. They are playing extremely fast, they are really talented, they know what they are doing and they are very rarely out of place. They have uniquely talented people at every level of their defense. They are the best in the world right now.” On the Ravens defense, which has 16 takeaways in seven games this season.

“I am sure they will because I am sure they are going to be asked about it. We have enough motivating us this week. We are a 6-2 team playing a 5-2 team for the AFC North lead. We are at the turn. These things are starting to get some clarity. We have a little winning streak going here. We want that to continue. You can pick them. There’s enough to motivate you for this game. So we are less concerned about that. We are living in the here-and-now. There are awesome challenges this week. So we don’t have to manufacture anything in regards to that.” When asked if his team is still thinking about the season-opening loss to Baltimore and whether he plans to remind them of it.

The Steelers currently boast a horrific turnover differential of -10, which currently ranks dead last in the NFL, and yet the team sits at 6-2 and in the pole position of the AFC North and the conference as a whole.

If Pittsburgh maintains its -10 margin for the next eight games, it will tie for the worst in that category by the Steelers post-merger. Oddly enough, the last Steelers team to post a -10 turnover margin was the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, they are also the last Steelers team to make the playoffs with a negative turnover differential.


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