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Tomlin Report - Wild Card Weekend

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With Rashard Mendenhall on IR and Ryan Clark being held out as a precaution, the Steelers will need Isaac Redman and Ryan Mundy - among others - to step up in a postseason road battle with Tim Tebow and the Broncos on Wild Card Weekend.

2011 Wild Card Weekend
NEXT GAME
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) vs. Denver Broncos (8-8) at
Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, CO
Sunday, January 8 – 4:30 PM on CBS

LAST WEEK
Broncos: Tim Tebow was completely shut down as the Broncos suffered a 7-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Tebow completed only 6 of his 22 passes for 60 yards, while chipping in a meager 16 yards on the ground. The quarterback also accounted for two turnovers – one interception and one fumble.

Steelers: Isaac Redman fumbled twice, but ended up scoring the game’s only touchdown in a 13-9 win over the Cleveland Browns. The offense struggled to move the ball consistently, especially in the red zone, which allowed the Browns to stick around despite their own offensive woes.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES
A Look Around the AFC North
Baltimore (12-4) sealed up the AFC North on the final day of the season with a 24-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Ray Rice opened the play with a 70-yard touchdown run and sealed the win with a score from 51-yards out. The Ravens will now watch the first round of the playoffs at home to see if it will be the Texans, Broncos, or Steelers coming to town in round two.

Cincinnati (9-7) lost its game and cost the Steelers a chance to steal the AFC North, but ended up backing into the playoffs anyways thanks to a few breaks falling their way. One troubling note about the Bengals: they are 9-0 against non-playoff teams, but 0-7 against playoff teams.

All the same, they could pull off an upset of the third-seeded Houston Texans, who are banged-up and playing in their first playoff game ever.

Cleveland (4-12) managed to finish its season with a six-game losing streak, with five losses coming at the hands of the other three AFC North teams. All in all, the Browns failed to beat any member of the AFC North thanks to a putrid offense that scored only 13.6 points per game.

The team secured the fourth overall pick for their efforts and have a decision to make. Do they proceed with QB Colt McCoy and hope he can return to the track he was on in 2010, or do they draft the freak, Robert Griffin III, in hopes that his play solidifies the quarterback position and sparks the offense like Cam Newton did for the Panthers this year.

STEELERS BRING BACK MADISON
With Curtis Brown on IR, Cortez Allen banged up, and Ryan Mundy set to take on a larger role in the defense, the team had need of “gunner-like bodies” on special teams.

As such, the Steelers brought back CB and special teams ace Anthony Madison, who spent part of this season with the Detroit Lions after filling a similar role with the Steelers in 2010.

To make room for Madison on the active roster, the team placed RB Rashard Mendenhall on the reserve/injured list, officially ending his season.

MIKE LIKED…
Being a part of the NFL postseason for yet another year.

“Like I stated the other night in Cleveland, we are excited about being in the final field of 12. It’s something we don’t take for granted. Thirty-two teams started on this journey. We realize at the end of this thing there is only going to be one. To still have a horse in that race is exciting. We will take it one day, one step at a time.”

ROAD TO THE SUPER BOWL
The road through the AFC goes through New England, who sealed up home-field advantage. In addition, AFC North champion Baltimore earned a week off as the conference’s second seed.

A third AFC North team, the Cincinnati Bengals, will square off against the banged up Texans in Houston, one day before the Steelers and Broncos butt heads. Both players will be operating with rookie quarterbacks – Andy Dalton for the Bengals and the undrafted T.J. Yates for the Texans.

After years of defensive ineptitude, Houston is finally challenging opposing offenses and is second only to the Steelers in yards allowed. One of the biggest reasons was the offseason addition of CB Jonathan Joseph, who used to be the property of the Bengals. On the other side, Cincinnati’s defense is good, but not great, and has struggled slightly since the loss of CB Leon Hall.

Assuming the Steelers win, a win by Cincinnati will send the Bengals to face the Patriots next week. As such, the Steelers would travel to Baltimore for one more meeting with the Ravens, who swept the season series.

In the event of a Texans win, the Steelers will travel to New England for one more meeting with the Patriots, who were bested in the regular season by the Black and Gold.

STEELERS INJURY UPDATE
RB Rashard Mendenhall suffered an ACL injury in the team’s final game of the regular season and has been placed on Injured Reserve. There is no timetable for his return to health at this point, but his season is officially over.

FS Ryan Clark is OUT for Sunday’s playoff battle. Clark possesses a sickle cell trait that reacts poorly to the low oxygen levels that come with playing in the high altitude in Denver. Clark had to have his spleen and gall bladder removed after a 2007 contest where the trait reacted violently. He was held out of the last two contests in Denver. Ryan Mundy will make the start in place of Clark.

Rookie CB Cortez Allen (right shoulder) and veteran RB Mewelde Moore (MCL sprain) are both “QUESTIONABLE at best” according to Tomlin.

QB Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) should be good to go for Sunday. He came out of the Browns’ game no worse for wear and is PROBABLE to be under center against the Broncos.

LG Doug Legursky (shoulder) and LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) will be “back in action” according to Tomlin. List both as PROBABLE.

TE/FB David Johnson hyperextended his elbow against the Browns, but should be fine going forward. He’ll be PROBABLE for Sunday.

BRONCOS INJURY UPDATE
FB Spencer Larsensprained his MCL in the season finale and is DOUBTFUL against the Steelers.

RG Chris Kuperwill undergo surgery this week to repair a broken leg. As such, he is OUT for Sunday.

SS Brian Dawkins(neck) was inactive for last week’s game with a pinched nerve. He should be QUESTIONABLE at the least for this weekend’s contest.

LB Von Miller has been playing in a cast since breaking his right thumb. He hasn’t missed any time since the injury and should be PROBABLE this Sunday.

MAIN STORYLINE FOR SUNDAY
Can the Steelers start fast enough to take Tim Tebow and the Denver offense away from what they do best?

BRONCOS TO WATCH
QB Tim Tebow – Tebow remains an enigma to fans and experts alike. He looked near unbeatable after taking over as a starter, but his last three games have left him exposed. In the last three contests – all losses –  Tebow has seven giveaways and just one touchdown. He’s a strong runner, but a suspect thrower, and he can be rattled by a team that is able to shutdown his ground game. If he can avoid turnovers and make plays with his legs, he can be dangerous.

LB Von Miller – While he has been slowed somewhat by a broken thumb that has him playing in a cast, Miller remains a candidate to win Defensive Rookie of the Year with 11.5 sacks in his first season. When he’s right, he has a chance to make an impact early and often.

Denver Offensive Line – The option, centered around Tebow and RB Willis McGahee, works as well as it does because of the performance of the big uglies up front. Outside of the right guard position, the entire line is young players who are still years away from their primes. Two of the players, Zane Beadles and Orlando Franklin, were on Tomlin’s radar in their respective drafts.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS
• Broncos Head Coach John Fox coached at the University of Pittsburgh from 1986-1988. Fox also coached for the Steelers from 1989-1991.
• Broncos OT Tony Hills played for the Steelers from 2008-2010. He was originally drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round (130th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft.

ACCORDING TO TOMLIN
What you heard about Von Miller is very true. From the tape I’ve been looking at over the last 48 hours, he is as good physically as any defender in football. He has all the physical attributes of a standout football player. He is good versus the run and pass. He is good playing through injury. He has a club (cast) on his right hand, and that hasn’t slowed down his productivity whatsoever. We have to be prepared to deal with this young man. They are going to find ways to get him on running backs. They will bring him off the edge against tackles. They are going to move him around. We have our hands full there.” On rookie LB Von Miller, who finished his first regular season with 11.5 sacks.

“Potentially, but not something we intend to do as I sit here today. We are going to look at the men here that we have working, prepare those guys, and then maybe add to those guys as the week proceeds, but not as I sit here in front of you today.” When asked if he was planning on adding a running back to the roster with Rashard Mendenhall out for the playoffs and Mewelde Moore’s status up in the air.

“It’s more read, and things of that nature. Some of the spread football-type option, not the classic dive option, Oklahoma and Nebraska type option that you think about when you think about college football option. This is more of spread attack.” Differentiating Denver’s option attack from the option offenses currently run by a large chunk of college teams.

“There is a strong chance that he will be. We will determine those things as we look at his level of health, and so forth throughout the week. Obviously we are excited about getting Doug back into the lineup if he is 100%.” Answering whether Doug Legursky will return to the lineup as the team’s starting left guard, instead of Chris Kemoeatu.

“Not anymore than we have with our other backs, and we won’t in reaction to what happened in Cleveland. We are very comfortable with his ball security and how he runs.” On whether he and the staff have been working with Isaac Redman on ball security. Redman fumbled twice in the season finale.

LOOK FOR…
The Steelers to roll on through the Broncos, who effectively backed into the postseason with three straight losses.

SPLASH TALK
“Not much of a conversation. I talked to the medical experts. I called Ryan in, and I told him he wasn’t playing. He said, okay.” On his conversation with safety Ryan Clark, who will be held out of the team’s first playoff game as a precaution.

“Clark will be there to support us. Clark is a very good communicator. He might have a little coaching in his future. We will put that to the test this week. Let’s see if he can put his hand in the pile and help the group towards this week’s challenge.” Continuing to discuss Ryan Clark, who will still make the trip to Denver with the team even though he won’t play.

“Anybody that is a running back on our roster, we are confident that they are capable of playing winning football for us. We don’t do charity. Everyone that sits in that room is capable of helping us win, whether they are active roster or practice squad guys. We have been consistent in that mentality, and relaying those messages, and it is unchanging.” On whether he believes the backs currently on his roster (Redman, John Clay) are capable of carrying the bulk of Pittsburgh’s rushing attack in the playoffs.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…
Pittsburgh allowed three running backs (Ray Rice, Steven Jackson, Arian Foster) to cross the 100-yard mark this season, the most against the Steelers defense in a single year since 2003, when four backs (Curtis Martin, William Green, Warrick Dunn, Priest Holmes) all accomplished the feat.

However, the defense did not allow a 100-yard receiver all season, something that hasn’t happened since the 70’s (they did it in 1971, 72, 74, and 78). The closest player to the century mark this season was New England TE Rob Gronkowski, who finished with 94 yards.

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