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Tomlin Report- Sunday Night in Kansas City

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Ben Roethlisberger looks to be good to go for Sunday night, despite a fractured thumb on his throwing hand. He'll square off against Tyler Palko, a local product taking over for the Chiefs's Matt Cassel, who was placed on IR with a hand injury of his own.

2011 Week 12
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (4-6) at
Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri
Sunday, November 27 – 8:20 PM on NBC

Chiefs: The debut of Tyler Palko against New England went about as well as you might expect, with the Patriots drubbing the Chiefs 34-3 on Monday night. Palko actually passed for 236 yards and completed over 65% of his attempts, but he also threw three interceptions.

Steelers: BYE WEEK

A Look Around the AFC North
Baltimore (7-3) is back in first place after a 31-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but will need a quick turnaround with a game looming Thanksgiving night. This Thursday, the Ravens will host the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers, who are already in a clinching scenario (a win and a Seahawks loss equals a playoff berth) thanks to a weak division.

The Ravens got big contributions from Ray Rice (100+ yards and two TDs) and Torrey Smith (165 yards and a TD) in the win, but had to withstand a fourth-quarter rally by the Bengals to secure the victory. The biggest question for Baltimore right now is the status of Ray Lewis, who could miss Thursday’s contest with a foot injury.

Cincinnati (6-4) tried to make a valiant comeback against the Ravens on Sunday, but ultimately fell short. The team lost out on a touchdown in the fourth quarter when the “Calvin Johnson rule” flared up on an endzone grab by Jermaine Gresham. The Bengals sent a tape of the play to the league for clarification.

While Cincinnati is still in the playoff picture (they’d be the AFC’s 6th seed right now), they’ve lost to both Pittsburgh and Baltimore, putting them behind in the tiebreaker department. They’ll draw Cleveland this week.

Cleveland (4-6) finally snagged a win as its inept offense did just enough to sneak by a Jaguars team with an equally inept offense. Colt McCoy looked better than he has in recent weeks, but the offense is still struggling without a healthy and motivated Peyton Hillis, who will miss yet another game this weekend.

If the Browns can improve their act, they have a real chance at playing spoiler, with five of their six remaining games inside of the division, including two each against the Steelers and Ravens.

The performance and attitude of former Pitt Panther quarterback Tyler Palko, who had a brief stint with the Steelers back in 2009.

“He learned our offense extremely quickly,” said Tomlin. “He is a very intelligent young man, of course. He is a son of a coach. I think that oozes out of him in conversation. He is just a good football man and one that we respect.”

QB Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a broken thumb on his right hand, similar to the one he played through in 2005. According to Tomlin, he’ll be able to play Sunday. List him as PROBABLE.

LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) continues to work in a limited capacity. Tomlin referred to his status as “day-to-day,” so mark him as QUESTIONABLE at this point in the week.

SS Troy Polamalu was slowed by a rib injury during the bye week, but is PROBABLE and expected to play on Sunday.

WR Emmanuel Sanders (foot) will be available according to how he responds to the work moving forward. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be a go this week and should be DOUBTFUL for Sunday.

WR Arnaz Battle (hamstring) is on the same timetable as Woodley and can be considered QUESTIONABLE against the Chiefs.

QB Matt Cassel was placed on injured reserve by the Chiefs on Monday with a hand injury, effectively ending his season.

DE Glenn Dorsey missed Monday’s game with a knee injury and should be QUESTIONABLE at this point in the week.

We know that Ben Roethlisberger will play with his broken thumb on Sunday. The bigger question is: how well will he play?

LB Tamba Hali – If Kansas City can find a pass-rushing bookend for Hali, he’d go from a double-digit sacker to putting up elite pass-rushing numbers. Unfortunately, the Chiefs haven’t found that complement, leaving Hali as the team’s only threat from a rush standpoint. If the Steelers can focus down Hali, Big Ben should have a clean day in the pocket.

WR Jonathan Baldwin – Baldwin isn’t Kansas City’s best receiver – that would be redzone-demon Dwayne Bowe, but he could be its most exciting playmaker at the position. The rookie had a late start to the season due to injuries, but he has put the NFL on notice with a handful of unbelievable catches this season. With Ike Taylor and William Gay locking down Bowe and Steve Breaston, Baldwin could become a primary target for Tyler Palko.

CB Brandon Flowers– Flowers’ biggest weakness – his size (he checks in at 5’9”) isn’t much of an issue against a Steelers’ receiving group that’s built more on speed and shiftiness than height. Despite his diminutive frame, he plays a physical brand of football and has strong ball skills, which earned him four interceptions already this season.

• Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley was raised in Pittsburgh. Todd’s father, Dick Haley, was the Steelers’ Director of Player Personnel from 1971-1990. Todd was a ball boy for the Steelers and attended Steelers’ training camps as a kid. Todd attended local Upper St. Clair High School. Todd was also the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator when they faced the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
• Chiefs QB Tyler Palko was born in Imperial, Pa. He attended West Allegheny High School and the University of Pittsburgh. Palko’s father, Bob, was his high school football coach, and Bob is still the head coach of West Allegheny. Palko was on both the Steelers’ practice squad and active roster during the 2009 season. Palko’s brother, Luke, was the Steelers’ player personnel intern from 2007-2008.
• Chiefs wide receivers coach Richie Anderson played at Penn State University from 1989-1992.
• Chiefs offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir was born in Pittsburgh.
• Chiefs offensive quality control coach Nick Sirianni coached at local Indiana University of Pennsylvania from 2006-2008.
• Chiefs LB Tamba Hali played at Penn State University from 2002-2005.
• Chiefs WR Jonathan Baldwin was born in Aliquippa, Pa. Baldwin attended Aliquippa High School and the University of Pittsburgh. He was the Chiefs’ first round selection (26th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft, becoming the first Pittsburgh wide receiver to be drafted in the first round since Larry Fitzgerald in 2004.
• Chiefs WR Steve Breaston was born in North Braddock, Pa. Steve attended Woodland Hills High School with Steelers S Ryan Mundy.

It’s been a productive bye week for us. We take a simple approach to that. We wanted to provide all the men with what they need to move forward. In some instances, it’s simply rest. In other instances, it’s recuperation. In some instances, it’s snaps. We had an opportunity to get some work in, particularly in situational football areas, red zone, third downs and so forth last week, particularly with some of our younger, less experienced players. I think it was a very productive week from that standpoint.” On what happened with the Pittsburgh Steelers during their week off from NFL action.

“I thought he threw it pretty well. There is a pain tolerance issue. A comfortability issue.  All of those things I think will be sorted out over the course of the week. To be honest with you, I am not overly concerned about his ability to be effective in the midst of this.” Discussing how Big Ben threw the ball with his injured thumb during Monday’s practice.

“There are a lot of areas that are on my radar. I think the most obvious thing is that we are probably fortunate to be a 7-3 football team being minus 10 in the turnover ratio. That is what jumps out at me.  We have to continue to do a better job of getting the football, particularly in significant moments defensively. We also have to do a better job at protecting the football offensively. What is in our rear view is in our rear view. We are not going to tote the minus 10 like luggage, don’t get me wrong there.  But when you look at it, it is pretty amazing that we are 7-3 with that little bit of information. We understand how significant turnovers are for winning football games.” When asked if he has any areas of concern with his team as they come off the bye week.

"Certainly you do. I think it’s about continuing to grow, continuing to be on the details. It’s part of being opportunistic or productive.  Being where you are supposed be, seeing what it is you are supposed to see and doing what it is you are supposed to do, individually and collectively.  Also doing it with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm.  We are still a team in development in some of those areas.  Hopefully we will continue to grow in those areas. We have had some production in regards to turnovers as of late, but it needs to continue. – Answering whether you have to do something in practice to cure such turnover woes.

Some more turnovers to come Pittsburgh’s way on Sunday night with the inexperienced Tyler Palko at the helm of Kansas City’s offense.

“If you look at their running game, the things that concern you are that Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster, both of them are averaging 4.6 yards per tote. Obviously with the inexperience with a new quarterback, we should anticipate them potentially leaning heavily on that running game. We can’t allow these guys to run off clips of 4.6 per and play the kind of ball we desire to play. I think it starts there with us.” On Kansas City’s running game, which has been plugging along without the services of Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, who went on IR early in the season.

“I’d imagine that every player that plays that position in this league has a gory story about how it started for them. That’s just the nature of this game in that position. One thing I know is that that young man is up to the task, because I know him personally.” When asked if making back-to-back starts against the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers qualifies as a daunting task for a young quarterback. Tyler Palko made his first career start against the Pats on Monday and will likely make his second at home against Pittsburgh.

If the playoffs ended today, the AFC North would send three teams to the playoffs. The Ravens, by virtue of head-to-head tiebreaks, would go as the division winner with the Steelers and Bengals representing the division as the two wild cards in the AFC.

Since the league adopted its current division format (eight divisions, four teams in each), the AFC North has sent two teams to the playoffs more often than not (five times in nine seasons). The division has shipped two teams into postseason play for the past three seasons as well.

However, the AFC North has never sent three teams to the playoffs in a single season.

In fact, in the nine seasons under the current format, there have only been three instances of a trio of teams all making the postseason in one go. The first instance occurred in the 2006 season, when Philadelphia, Dallas, and the New York Giants all represented the NFC East in postseason play.

The AFC East repeated the feat in 2007 with Dallas, New York, and Washington as its three playoff-bound franchises. Oddly enough, the same thing happened in the AFC that same year. Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Tennessee all played into January from the AFC South.

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