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Tomlin Report - Happy Returns

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The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't played at Heinz Field in nearly a month. They'll return home to face the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals, possibly with the help of injured star LaMarr Woodley.

2011 Week 13
NEXT GAME
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) vs. Cincinnati at
Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA
Sunday, December 4 – 1:00 PM on CBS

LAST WEEK
Bengals: Cincinnati came back from a ten-point deficit in the second half and pulled out a 23-20 win over Cleveland with a Mike Nugent field goal in the final minute. Wide receiver A.J. Green was outstanding, notching 110 receiving yards on only three catches.

Steelers: Pittsburgh barely snuck by a struggling Kansas City team in an ugly 13-9 win on the road. The teams combined for six turnovers and neither quarterback broke the 200-yard mark. The Steelers were sub-par on third down offensively, converting only three of their eleven chances.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES
A Look Around the AFC North
Baltimore (8-3) ensured that they would remain in first place in the AFC North with a win over San Francisco Thanksgiving night. Dennis Pitta scored the game’s only touchdown as each team lived up to its defense-first mentality in a low-scoring affair.

Baltimore controls its own destiny, and will win the division if they win out over the final five games, a feat which is certainly doable. Baltimore draws Cleveland twice (including this week), the winless Indianapolis Colts, and the sinking San Diego Chargers. Their biggest threat is a week 17 road contest against the Bengals.

Cleveland (4-7) dropped a close one to the Bengals – one that they easily could have one without some key mistakes. Rookie receiver Greg Little dropped five passes and the long snapper botched another snap to eliminate a field goal chance.

The team released the struggling snapper, Ryan Pontbriand, and replaced him with Christian Yount. LB Scott Fujita and DL Emmanuel Stepens also ended up on injured reserve on Tuesday.

Cleveland will host Baltimore this week.

MIKE LIKED…
Getting contributions from his young players in Sunday’s win over Kansas City. TE Weslye Saunders, an undrafted rookie, scored the game’s only touchdown; LB Jason Worilds notched his first career sack; and defensive backs Ryan Mundy and Keenan Lewis both came up with interceptions.

STEELERS INJURY UPDATE
LB LaMarr Woodley could make his return from a hamstring injury this week against the Bengals. Mark him down as QUESTIONABLE at this juncture.

LB Chris Carter left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and Tomlin classified him as “QUESTIONABLE at best.” The coach won’t play a rookie unless he practices, so his participation is definitely in doubt.

LB Larry Foote is also QUESTIONABLE with a hamstring injury, though he is more likely to play than Carter.

SS Troy Polamalu appears to be symptom-free after looking woozy after a hit in Kansas City. It looks like he dodged another concussion and should be PROBABLE for Sunday.

C Maurkice Pouncey left Sunday’s game with a stomach virus. He should be available against the Bengals and is PROBABLE to start.

LB Stevenson Sylvester and WR Arnaz Battle both missed the game against the Chiefs, and are anywhere from PROBABLE to QUESTIONABLE for this week’s action.

BENGALS INJURY UPDATE
DE Pat Sims was walking better Monday after suffering an ankle injury during the second half of the Bengals' 23-20 win over Cleveland. He is questionable to practice Wednesday.

DE Carlos Dunlap is questionable for Sunday's game against the Steelers. He has missed two of the past three games due to a hamstring injury.

LB Keith Rivers has been placed on IR with a wrist injury. The linebacker has surgery on the wrist late in the offseason and the team had been holding out hope that he might return.

MAIN STORYLINE FOR SUNDAY
Can Pittsburgh’s defense continue its surge of takeaways against a rookie QB in Andy Dalton?

BENGALS TO WATCH
WR A.J. Green – He’s been a stud at receiver for the Bengals in his rookie season, leading the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He managed to get behind Pittsburgh’s defense for a score in the first meeting before suffering an injury that ended his participation. Expect Ike Taylor to keep a closer eye on him this time around.

CB Adam Jones – Leon Hall was the starter in the last matchup, which ended up as his last game of the season – he’s now on IR. Insert Jones, who just recently returned to health. If he struggles to fill Hall’s shoes, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace could find a big play or two. Watch out though, he could also factor in as a punt returner.

TE Jermaine Gresham – Gresham is starting to see more action in the Bengals offense, especially in the red zone – he’s score twice in the last three games. If Ike eliminates Green, Gresham will be the next man Andy Dalton looks to, and for good reason. He’s another young Bengal on the rise.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS
• Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis was born in McDonald, Pa., thirty minutes southwest of Pittsburgh. Lewis coached for the University of Pittsburgh from 1990-1991. Lewis also served as the Steelers linebackers coach from 1992-1995.
• Bengals assistant head coach/offensive line coach Paul Alexander coached at Penn State University from 1982-1984.
• Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes and tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes, who are brothers, were born in South Fayette, Pa., just minutes southwest of Pittsburgh. Jonathan coached with the Steelers from 1994-1996 and Jay coached with the Steelers from 1999-2001.
• Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban coached at local Clarion University from 1997-1998.
• Bengals QB Bruce Gradkowski was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He attended local Seton-LaSalle High School, where he set then-WPIAL and PIAA by throwing 30 touchdowns in a single season.
• Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins was born in Johnstown, Pa.
• Bengals C/G Mike McGlynn attended the University of Pittsburgh. He started at right tackle for the Panthers from 2004-2007.

ACCORDING TO TOMLIN
“I think if you are talking specifically about third downs, you start by acknowledging that [Kansas City] did a nice job in terms of putting together a plan and executing it. Coach Crennel has experience going against us. I think that was utilized in terms of their preparation. Those guys did a nice job of staying close to people. We acknowledge that we have to be better than we were on Sunday night. We need more separation. We need to make more competitive catches in order to keep the chains moving and keep ourselves on the field, to give us more snaps, to keep the drive alive and ultimately, to put more points on the board.” When asked if his receivers struggled to get separation against Kansas City.

“It’s probably both. In one instance you are talking about a second-year guy [Brown] that we acknowledge is emerging, and not only in terms of what he is capable of doing but how we utilize him and how we plan to utilize him. Also, you are talking about another guy [Wallace] that got behind a lot of defenses and racked up a lot of statistics early in the season. I’d imagine defenses are adjusting to that. It’s probably a little bit of both. What it is specifically, I don’t have the answer to it. I am more concerned about us consistently moving the ball as a unit, and ringing up the scoreboard.” On whether the emergence of Antonio Brown is about his own performance or the fact that defenses are keying more and more on Mike Wallace.

“It does but they are different from the last time we played them because of the lack of Leon Hall. I wouldn’t make any judgments based on how we are formulating a plan based on the last matchup, because we are a little bit different and they are obviously different.” – Discussing whether the opponent dictates which receivers he rolls with each game.

“He’s doing some nice things. More than anything, he’s doing a nice job of not only getting some extra reps on defense but his special teams performance hasn’t waned. We have a no job too small mentality. It’s good to see a young guy emerge and get more snaps with the first-unit defense, but also continue to embrace the job that he’s had for quite some time, being a special teams player for us.” On LB Jason Worilds, who earned his first career sack on Sunday as a starter for the injured LaMarr Woodley.

LOOK FOR…
Mike Wallace to break loose for a big play after a few weeks of shorter, quieter action. He’s due to break one.

SPLASH TALK
“I am confident that he is going to work to do that but I will let his performance speak for his performance.” On whether he’s confident Mike Wallace will bounce back from a quiet, two-catch performance in Kansas City.

“I think it provides advantages and disadvantages. Stature is just an element of the game. In some instances it provides rush lane or passing lane issues, in terms of the guys ability to get his hands up. It probably also limits them some in short area quickness in terms of coverage. That’s the thing that you go through all the time when you are talking about the height of a man, whether we are talking about the defensive front, linebackers or even on the perimeter. There are positives and negatives. I am sure there are valid arguments on either side of the equation.” Discussing the height of Cincinnati’s front seven, which includes a number of tall defenders – highlighted by 6’7” DE Michael Johnson.

“If you look at them offensively, Andrew Hawkins appears to be an emerging player, not only in terms of what he’s capable of doing but how they utilize him. He was significant in our game. He caught five or six footballs. They utilize him as a slot receiver on the weak side of empty formations, or coming out of bunches on the strong side. Quite frankly, they are utilizing him to break down pressure. They are getting him in favorable matchups versus non cornerback-like bodies, be it linebackers in zone coverage or safeties in some pressure packages. He’s got the kind of short area quickness that’s going to make him a consistent winner. He’s done a nice job for them in that area. He is similar to how some people would use a Wes Welker-like guy, in terms of being in the interior of formations, and getting favorable and physical matchups from a quickness standpoint versus defenders. It showed initially in our game, and it’s continued and even evolved some.” On receiver Andrew Hawkins, who led the Bengals with five receptions in the first meeting between the two teams.
 

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…
Remember all those years Aaron Smith was regarded as Pittsburgh’s most underrated player? He might have an heir apparent.

Brett Keisel gets more attention for his beard than his on-field production, but maybe the latter is more impressive.

Keisel has registered at least one hurry/pressure in all but two games this season – the two games he was injured and inactive. In the nine games he has played, he has led the team in hurries/pressures six times. He currently leads the team in the category with 27 pressures, eight more than second-place Ziggy Hood (who is also having a quietly strong season).

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