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Tomlin Report - Week 4 vs. Baltimore

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The undefeated Steelers prepare to host the 2-1 Ravens, a game Mike Tomlin called "the best rivalry in the NFL." The Steelers enter the game with a defense playing at a fever pitch and an offense starting to click... the same can be said about Baltimore, whose D leads the league in fewest first downs allowed and an offense hitting its rhythm.

Steelers (3-0)  vs. Baltimore Ravens (2-1)
at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA
Sunday, October 3 – 1:00 PM on CBS

Steelers: First place, AFC North
Favorite: Steelers by 1.5
Ravens: Beat the Browns 24-17 in Baltimore
· Baltimore handled the Browns as Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense finally started to click.
· Baltimore quickly answered an early field goal by Cleveland with an efficient drive led by QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice. Flacco capped off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown strike to WR Anquan Boldin. Near the end of the drive, Flacco began a streak of 10 straight completions for either a first down or a touchdown.
· Flacco hit Boldin again in the midst of that streak for his second touchdown of the day, a 12-yard reception that put Baltimore up 14-3.
· Cleveland responded with a drive featuring a ton of RB Peyton Hillis, who eventually punched it into the endzone for a one-yard touchdown right before halftime.
· Flacco’s streak ended on his first drive of the third quarter, though he managed to set the Ravens up for a field goal. However, kicker Billy Cundiff missed the 51-yard try.
· Both offenses failed to move the ball for the remainder of the quarter. Browns QB Seneca Wallace broke that funk on the first play of the fourth quarter, hitting TE Benjamin Watson for a one-yard TD and a 17-14 lead for Cleveland.
· The Ravens responded with a touchdown of their own thanks to the day’s most productive combo. For a third time, Joe Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for a touchdown, this time a 27-yarder to retake the lead for Baltimore.
· From there, the Baltimore defense did its job, forcing the Browns to go three-and-out on their two final possessions. A late field goal mixed in by Baltimore gave the Ravens their 24-17 margin of victory.
· Joe Flacco played very well and finished the day 22-of-31 for 262 yards and three touchdowns, all of which went to WR Anquan Boldin, who also led the team with eight catches for 142 yards.
· RB Ray Rice chipped in 96 total yards on 19 touches offensively before exiting the game with a knee injury.
· Safety Dawan Landry led the team with nine total tackles and registered one of the team’s two sacks (the other was by Terrell Suggs).

Steelers: Beat the Buccaneers 38-13 in Tampa Bay
· Charlie Batch took over as starting quarterback and sparked an offense that had been lackluster in the first two games of the season. That, paired with the NFL’s most dangerous defense gave the Steelers a very convincing win against a fellow undefeated team.
· Charlie Batch was intercepted on his very first pass, leading to a Tampa Bay field goal, but he quickly redeemed himself thanks to a 46-yard touchdown bomb to WR Mike Wallace.
· Tampa Bay responded with a 15-play drive, but the Steelers defense held in the red zone, forcing the Bucs to settle for a second field goal.
· Batch and RB Rashard Mendenhall powered the team to a touchdown on the ensuing drive, largely thanks to their legs. A 24-yard scramble by Batch on third-and-six set up Mendenhall for a three-yard touchdown run, which put Pittsburgh up 14-6. Mendenhall finished the day with 19 carries for 143 yards and a TD.
· A forced fumble by James Farrior, recovered by Ryan Clark, set up another strike from Batch to Wallace. Tampa Bay CB Aqib Talib tipped the pass, but it still found the hands of Wallace in the endzone. Wallace led the team with 3 catches for 100 yards and two TDs.
· Batch and the Pittsburgh offense capitalized one more time before the half, this time on a throw to WR Hines Ward, who hauled in the 9-yard pass for a TD and a 28-6 halftime lead.
· Both defenses dominated the third quarter, which was only broken up by a 24-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.
· The fourth quarter started off with a bang, though, as DE Brett Kiesel pulled down a tipped screen pass and followed a convoy of defenders into the endzone for a 79-yard touchdown. It was the first interception of his career.
· A second interception by Charlie Batch set Tampa Bay up for a one-yard touchdown run by Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount, but it was not enough to overcome a huge deficit as Pittsburgh ran out the clock for a 38-13 win.
· Batch finished the day 12-of-17 for 186 yards and three touchdowns, with two picks and two runs for 26 yards, both of which converted third downs.
· Pittsburgh’s defense registered four sacks – one each by LB Lawrence Timmons, DE Nick Eason, CB William Gay, and rookie LB Jason Worilds.

A Look Around the AFC North

Cincinnati (2-1) continues a seemingly soft part of their schedule by traveling to Cleveland this Sunday; the Bengals escaped Carolina with a 20-7 win last week that may have done more harm to the Bengals image than good.

The problem is the Bengals' offense. Cedric Benson toted the ball 27 times but only came out with 81 yards, though he did score a touchdown. Chad Ochocinco was targeted 12 times in the game, but only came up with 4 catches for 34 yards. The Batman to his Robin, Terrell Owens, registered four catches for 42 yards -- actually right around what his per-game averages are for the season. Owens’ number of the week must be 42, considering that’s the percentage of passes he’s actually caught this season.

The biggest mystery on offense remains QB Carson Palmer, who is regressing from the start of the season. Against a punchless Panthers defense, Palmer completed only 19 of his 37 passes for 195 yards and two interceptions.

Cleveland (0-3) remains winless on the season thanks to a loss against Division-rival Baltimore. RB Peyton Hillis capitalized on an opportunity to start with an injury to RB Jerome Harrison, and racked up 144 yards on 19 carries against a very good Baltimore run defense. Considering Harrison was halfway in Eric Mangini’s doghouse before this performance, bet on Hillis to be the starter of the future. On a negative note, the Browns defense suffered a huge blow, losing linebacker D’Qwell Jackson for the season.

Personnel changes aside, the Browns might not get their first win until week 10 of the season, thanks to a daunting schedule. The Browns will face off against Cincinnati, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and New Orleans before their bye week. Once they return, they’ll draw New England and the New York Jets before finally receiving a winnable game against Jacksonville.

The rivalry between the Steelers and the Ravens, one that he says is the best in the NFL. “It’s football the way it’s supposed to be played,” explained Tomlin. “Those guys put a lot into it on both sides. Both teams are spent when it’s over. And I would think mutual respect is a big part of it. They bring the best out in us. We love playing against them. Regardless of what happens in the stadium you’re going to know a little bit about yourself after having played the Baltimore Ravens.”

NT Chris Hoke suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s game and will be QUESTIONABLE against Baltimore. He was at the Steelers practice facility on Tuesday and appeared to be walking without a noticeable limp, which bodes well for the veteran lineman.

RG Trai Essex is still recovering from an ankle sprain that caused him to miss last week’s game. He is also QUESTIONABLE for week 4.

DE Ziggy Hood (ankle sprain), S Will Allen (ankle sprain), and CB Anthony Madison (hamstring) will practice this week and are PROBABLE for Sunday’s game.

RB Ray Rice left Sunday’s game with a knee injury, which turned out to be a severe knee bruise. Rice claims the knee is “feeling a lot better,” and will be QUESTIONABLE for Sunday’s game.

Will the Steelers be able to conquer the Ravens defense and hand Ben Roethlisberger a 4-0 team when he returns from his suspension?

QB Joe Flacco; RBs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee; RB/FB LeRon McClain; TE Todd Heap; WRs Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason; OTs Michael Oher and Jared Gaither, OG Ben Grubbs; NTs Kelly Gregg and Terrance Cody; DE/DT Haloti Ngata; LBs Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, and Jameel McClain; FS Tom Zbikowski; SS Dawan Landry; CBs Fabian Washington and Chris Carr

· QB Joe Flacco started his collegiate career at Pitt before transferring to Delaware.
· Strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki coached at Penn State (1981), while assistant strength and conditioning coach John Dunn played at Penn State (1974-77) and later coached for the Nittany Lions (1978).
· Wide receivers coach Jim Hostler was born in Pittsburgh and played (1986-89) and coached (1990-92, 94-99) at IUP.

“Boldin of course is at the top of the charts in terms of receptions. He has more receptions than our receiving corps. He’s second in the NFL in third-down catches. He blistered Cleveland pretty good last weekend. I just finished watching that this morning. That was a horror show if you sit in my position.” – Discussing WR Anquan Boldin, a former Pro-Bowl receiver that the Ravens acquired in a trade this offseason. Boldin currently has 20 catches on the season for 287 yards; both totals are top ten in the league. In fact, Boldin’s 20 receptions are two more than Pittsburgh’s two leading pass-catches (Hines Ward and Heath Miller) combined.

“He is. He’s doing a nice job. Guys got a great deal of confidence in him. He’s simply a man that’s taken advantage of an opportunity. You’ve got to be happy for him. It’s an awesome lesson learned for our young players, one that I hope they take heed to. It’s about perseverance. This profession’s about perseverance. It’s about taking advantage of opportunities when they’re given and he’s given them a shiny, clear-cut example of that.” – When asked if Charlie Batch would be leading the team into the Baltimore game.

“We did… He’s started and been here for nine or ten years. He’s 35 years old. It’s all a rerun to Charlie Batch.” – On whether he trusted Charlie Batch a little more with the playbook than he did Dennis Dixon.

“The fact that Cleveland had success a week ago doesn’t bode well for us. It just doesn’t. I’d have felt better had Peyton Hillis run for 40 yards instead of 140 because I know the type of men that play for that team. I know how prideful they are. I know they’ll bounce back. Anytime you play football on defense, every now and then people are going to have days on you. The great defenses like the Baltimore Ravens usually bounce back pretty quickly, so we’ve got a tall task this week given what happened to them a week ago.” – Discussing the performance of Browns RB Peyton Hillis, who put up 144 yards on 19 carries against the Ravens defense. Tomlin believes that the Ravens will certainly work to prevent more of the same against Rashard Mendenhall.

“I tease Mike [Wallace] openly a little bit. I call him 'one-trick pony' because he’s searching for a ceiling in all elements of his game. This is a young guy who’s extremely humble, who works very hard, who has a distinguishing characteristic but also has a desire to develop a well-rounded game. He’s a man in development in some of those other areas but I like how he works at it. I’m going to continue to challenge him in those areas.” – When asked how the other areas of Wallace’s game are rounding out (other areas being everything other than his famous deep threat abilities).

The Ravens to focus heavily on shutting down RB Rashard Mendenhall for two reasons. First, as Tomlin surmised, they aren’t going to let two big rushing games slide by their defense in back-to-back weeks without a fight. Second, they might take their chances and force QB Charlie Batch to win the game for Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got no new injuries at quarterback.” – Tomlin’s opening joke for his weekly injury report and one that drew some laughs from the crowd.

“I thought he represented himself very well. I think that’s one of the reasons Trai’s feeling better.” – On the performance of backup guard Doug Legursky, who started in place of Trai Essex in Tampa Bay. When asked if Legursky played well enough that Essex has to win his spot back, all Tomlin had to say was “he played good.”

“You know, if they expand to an 18-game schedule, that means everybody’s gotta play 18 games, so I’m not concerned about it. If we’re playing 18 and others are playing 16, then I’ve got a problem.” – Discussing the possibility of an 18-game schedule, a change that Colts’ team president Bill Polian believes is "a done deal."

The two defenses that take the field on Sunday might be the best two units in the NFL, but they’re dominating in different ways.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have held opponents to fewer points per game (11.0) thanks to a league leading +6 in turnover differential. Pittsburgh’s defense has pulled in five fumbles and pulled down five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. The Steelers also boast the league’s third best run defense (59.7 yards allowed per game)

The Ravens, on the other hand, feature the league’s best pass defense (116.7 yards allowed per game) and the best total defense (244.3 ypg). However, they’ve forced only one fumble and have no interceptions in three games. 

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