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Tomlin Report - Halloween at New Orleans

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The Steelers play the second of three straight road games on Halloween Night in New Orleans, and the AFC-North leaders must do so without All-Pro DE Aaron Smith, likely out for the season after tearing his triceps. Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley and Flozell Adams are also battling injuries.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1) at New Orleans Saints (4-3)

at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, LA

Sunday, October 31 – 8:20 PM on NBC

Steelers: 5-1, first place AFC North

Favorite: Saints by 1


Saints: Lost to the Browns 17-30 in New Orleans

· New Orleans could not overcome a handful of costly turnovers as two defensive touchdowns gave the Browns their second win of the season.

· Cleveland used some trickery right out of the gate, executing a lateral on the first punt of the game. Josh Cribbs tossed the ball across the field to CB Eric Wright, who rumbled 62 yards to the Saints’ 19-yard line. New Orleans' defense held, though, limiting the Browns to a 23-yard Phil Dawson field goal.

· A three-and-out and a 38-yard pass interference call later, New Orleans allowed Cleveland RB Peyton Hillis to push his way into the endzone for a four-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Browns lead.

· The Saints drove into the redzone on their next time out, but former-Saint Scott Fujita picked off Drew Brees, preventing a score for New Orleans.

· New Orleans finally got on the board two drives later thanks to a 32-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley, though Cleveland’s Phil Dawson matched those three points with a 21-yarder of his own on the following drive, thanks to a 68-yard run by punter Reggie Hodges on a fake punt.

· The end of the first half was a nightmare for Drew Brees, as he was intercepted twice in the final two minutes. LB David Bowens took one of those picks to house for a 30-yard touchdown, giving Cleveland a 20-3 halftime lead.

· Brees finally found the endzone early in the fourth quarter, hitting TE David Thomas for an 11-yard touchdown.

· Cleveland then turned to its ground game, pounding out a 15-play drive, of which the only passing play was a pass from RB Peyton Hillis to QB Colt McCoy (yes, you read that right). The drive ended with a 48-yard field goal by Dawson.

· Brees attempted to lead the Saints down the field but was again thwarted by Bowens, who picked off another pass and returned it for yet another touchdown, this time from 64-yards away, putting Cleveland up 30-10 with just over three minutes remaining. Brees completed 66% of his passes for 356 yards and two TDs, but was intercepted four times.

· That second touchdown pass came one drive later on an eight-yard pass to WR Marques Colston, who finished with 10 catches for 102 yards. However, it was too little, too late as the clock ran out on the defending champs.

Steelers: Beat the Dolphins 23-22 in Miami

· Pittsburgh eeked out a win thanks to great defense in the redzone and a controversial call on a Ben Roethlisberger fumble late in the game, but suffered a major blow as DE Aaron Smith left the game with a torn triceps.

· The Steelers gifted the Dolphins with two easy possessions within the Pittsburgh 30-yard line thanks to two early fumbles, one by rookie WR Emmanuel Sanders on the opening kickoff and one by Roethilsberger on the team’s first offensive drive. The defense came up big, however, limiting Miami to two field goals.

· Miami’s defense did a little redzone work of their own, limiting Pittsburgh to a 22-yard Jeff Reed field goal on the team’s first crack at the scoring area.

· A forced fumble by CB Bryant McFadden (recovered by James Farrior) on the following drive gave Pittsburgh’s offense the ball and they capitalized, finding WR Hines Ward, who spun his way into the endzone for a 21-yard touchdown. Ward led all receivers with seven catches for 131 yards and a TD.

· After another redzone stop by Pittsburgh resulting in a 22-yard Dan Carpenter field goal, Roethisberger needed just one play to hit WR Mike Wallace for a 53-yard touchdown and a 17-9 Steelers lead. Roethlisberger finished the day with 302 yards on 19-of-27 passing with two touchdowns, but lost one of three fumbles.

· Miami would answer on the next drive with a touchdown of its own on a 26-yard pass from QB Chad Henne to shifty slot receiver Davone Bess, leaving the score at 17-16 in favor of Pittsburgh at the half.

· The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, but Miami added one more in the fourth giving the lead back to the Dolphins with just over five minutes left in the game.

· After a 48-yard kickoff return by Sanders, the Pittsburgh offense bulled its way to Miami’s two-yard line and appeared to score a touchdown on a run by Ben Roethlisberger, even though he fumbled on the play. After a review, it was ruled that he lost the ball before he crossed the plane but that there was not enough video evidence to determine who recovered the fumble. As such, Pittsburgh retained possession and took the lead with an 18-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.

· Miami failed to pick up a first down on the ensuing drive, allowing Pittsburgh to escape Florida with a 23-22 win.

· Larry Foote registered Pittsburgh’s only sack. Bryant McFadden led the team with six total tackles.


A Look Around the AFC North

(5-2) won on Sunday, but needed overtime to put away the winless Buffalo Bills in a 37-34 shootout. The Ravens passing defense was abused by Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Fabian Washington was burned so badly throughout the game that he was benched and may not regain his starting job next week.

All this occurred despite the return of playmaking safety Ed Reed, who did all he could in his first start, picking off two passes and forcing a fumble. Reed looked fantastic, but the Ravens need to sort out the rest of their secondary as they hold on to second place in the division going into their bye week.

Cincinnati (2-4) finally received a great game from QB Carson Palmer, who took a peek out of the deep, dark abyss he was sinking into to pass for 412 yard and three touchdowns. In typical fashion, the Bengals lost anyways in a 39-32 battle against Atlanta. That might have had something to do with Falcons WR Roddy White catching 11 passes for 201 yard and two touchdowns, which in turn may have resulted from the Bengals missing the services of starting corner Jonathan Joseph.

White did make one mistake, losing a fumble to Adam “Pacman” Jones who returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Jones left the game with a neck injury and was placed on IR. Cincinnati can’t get all of its pistons firing at the same time, with one or two units floundering each week. This week, the passing offense flourished while the pass defense and running game struggled. They’ll need to turn things around in a hurry. After a home matchup against Miami this week, they draw Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and the New York Jets in three of their next four.

Cleveland (2-5) enters its bye week with a great win over the defending champs on its résumé. Cleveland gained its second win of the season on the strength of an opportunistic defense and a bevy of trick plays on offense and special teams. They’ve been competitive in every game save one, a 28-10 drubbing at the hands of the Steelers.

QB Colt McCoy only passed for 72 yards in the win, but will likely remain the starter when the team exits its bye week, largely on the strength of his ball security. Neither Seneca Wallace nor Jake Delhomme has excelled in that area this season.


The challenge of taking on the defending champs in their house during primetime. “Our team gets excited about these kinds of challenges; they embrace these kinds of challenges,” offered Tomlin. “We’re really excited about the opportunity; we take it as such to play the defending world champs at their place on prime time television. It’s going to be an awesome atmosphere, one that’s going to challenge us I’m sure. But one that I am thinking our team will really be enthused about and hopefully we’ll put a winning performance together.”


DE Aaron Smith suffered a partially torn triceps in Miami and underwent surgery to repair it on Monday. Similar injuries in the past have sidelined players for six-to-eight weeks or longer. However, the team will not place Smith on injured reserve and will continue to hold out hope that he can return before the end of the season and/or the playoffs. Regardless, he is definitely OUT for this Sunday.

DE Brett Kiesel will be limited in the early part of the week with a hamstring injury after missing the game in Miami. He will be QUESTIONABLE against New Orleans.

OLB LaMarr Woodley suffered his own hamstring injury on Sunday and will also be QUESTIONABLE for Sunday night.

RT Flozell Adams left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, but is PROBABLE to start in New Orleans.

RG Trai Essex looks to be ready to return from an ankle sprain that has caused him to miss a handful of games this season. He is PROBABLE for this weekend, but it is unsure whether he will start or if the job will remain in the hands of his replacement, Doug Legursky.


There is a chance that New Orleans might be without its top two corners come Sunday, as both Jabari Greer (shoulder) and Tracy Porter (knee) are listed as QUESTIONABLE this week.

There is a similar chance that the Saints could be without their top two running backs as well. Pierre Thomas (ankle) is listed as QUESTIONABLE, as is Reggie Bush (leg). Bush may be closer to game action as he has been cleared to play. However, he has yet to test the leg in a live practice situation according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.


How will the Steelers defense handle the loss of star defensive end Aaron Smith?


QB Drew Brees; RBs Chris Ivory and Reggie Bush; WRs Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem; TEs Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas; OGs Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks; DT Sedrick Ellis; DEs Alex Brown and Will Smith; LB Jonathan Vilma; CBs Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter; CB/FS Malcolm Jenkins.


“[Saints QB Drew Brees] throws the ball around to a bunch of guys. I think that’s probably the most disturbing thing as you look at them. They’ve got three to four wideouts that have more catches than Mike Wallace. They got two tight ends that've got more catches than Heath Miller. They’ve got three running backs with more catches than [Rashard] Mendenhall. You've got to defend all the eligibles when you play these guys.”
– On what makes the Saints passing attack so dangerous. He’s not kidding about the reception-count either. In total, eight players on the Saints have more receptions than Mike Wallace (14) and Heath Miller (15), a group that includes two running backs and two tight ends. However, thanks to his high average per catch (25.3), Wallace still has more yards than any New Orleans player other than Marques Colston.

“We will, but chances are we will find those answers in house, like we always do. Steve McLendon has stepped up when given the opportunity. At other parts this season, position flexibility, some of the things we talk about continually, not only with Steve but with others. Chris Hoke has proven that he is capable of playing defensive end. We’ll have a mix-and-match concept that will hopefully see us through. The guys just got to play football.” – Discussing his plan for filling the holes left by Aaron Smith and (possibly) Brett Kiesel. McLendon will likely make his return from the practice squad sometime before Sunday’s game.

“Larry Foote is a veteran backup. He has logged many man hours at the linebacker position. Lawrence Timmons is a talented guy that has the chance to affect the game regardless of where he plays. I’d probably be more inclined to slide Lawrence to the outside and play Foote inside. We might potentially play Jason Worilds some in passing situations just like he did last Sunday.” – On the plan for replacing OLB LaMarr Woodley if he is unable to play on Sunday. Timmons has had practice reps as an outside linebacker and received playing time at that position in the preseason. Worilds, who saw a larger share of game action when Woodley went down in Miami, led the team with four quarterback pressures.

“Those are questions we ask ourselves on a week-to-week basis. Whether we have backups or not based on the physical matchups of the people that we play. What’s a good matchup, what’s a bad matchup, who needs help, those are questions that we continually ask ourselves regardless if it is a quote-un quote front line defender or offensive player in there or a backup. That is just a natural development of game plans where you try to play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses in an effort to win the football games.” – When asked if he adjusts in-game responsibilities based on the capabilities of the players he has available to him (ex: less responsibility for a backup as opposed to a starter).

“We have been up on some people. Some people got one dimensional. We have been very strong against the run. I’m not overly concerned with stats. When people are behind and they can’t run the football, they are going to through the football on you, and they’re probably going to pick up yards. The thing that’s most exciting is that we don’t allow people to score touchdowns. We lead the league in scoring defense even in the red areas we make people kick field goals. To me that’s a formula for winning defense. I’m less concerned about what stats may potentially tell us. We all know in many instances they lie.” – Discussing why the team is 24th in the league in terms of passing yards against per game. The Steelers are, in fact, leading the league in scoring defense, allowing just 13.7 points per game. The redzone defense is also a point of pride, as Pittsburgh has allowed touchdowns from that area just 33% of the time, second best in the league.

“He is a dynamic playmaker. Not only in the run game but also in the passing game. He is a special player. I would imagine that what they call is not going to change but the manner in which it unfolds will because he is that special of a guy. You have to acknowledge him and how he is capable of changing the game, not only offensively but in the punt return game. Reggie Bush is a special, special player.” – On New Orleans RB Reggie Bush, who could return from injury this week.


Ziggy Hood to receive the lion’s share of duties at defensive end, even if Brett Kiesel is active on Sunday.


“I think what Ronnie Brown did had more to do with it than anything else. James took his normal approach and angled towards the football; Ronnie Brown caught the ball clean and got down like a savvy veteran does when he is in harm’s way. I am less concerned about Ray Anderson’s evaluation of James’ performance than I am just evaluating James’ performance myself.”
– Responding to a question regarding NFL executive Ray Anderson’s praising of James Harrison for his “safer” play. During the play referenced, it appeared as though Harrison pulled up instead of swooping in to dislodge the ball as the second tackler. When asked about the play, Harrison himself confirmed he pulled up.

“It would be tough for me to care less about their opinion to be quite honest with you.” ­ When asked if he cared about NFL executives’ opinions of his players' performances.

“You let me know when you hear a whistle. That has been one of my contentions. There has been a de-emphasis on the whistle as far as I am concerned in the National Football League and I don’t agree with it. We talk about player safety, yet we don’t blow whistles at the end of football plays.” – Discussing how referees withholding the blowing of the whistle in order to make the correct call could result in potential injuries for NFL players. The blowing of the whistle is an important concept in terms of video replay, as the timing of the whistle could change whether or not a play is reviewable.


A total of 737 points were scored in the 14 NFL games over Sunday and Monday, an average of 52.6 per game. That was the second-highest average in any NFL week since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Is it causation or coincidence that a week like this arrived after the NFL’s war on vicious hits? Hmm, indeed.

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