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Tomlin Report - Bloodbath III

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The Steelers and the Ravens square off in the ultimate rubber match this Saturday afternoon at 4:30: An AFC Divisional Round Playoff Game at Heinz Field. The visitors won the two prior games this season, each time by three points.

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens (13-4)

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA, Saturday, 4:30 PM, CBS

LAST WEEK


Ravens: Beat the Chiefs 30-7 in Kansas City

· A young Kansas City team was no match for Ray Lewis’ Ravens defense, turning the ball over five times after just fourteen turnovers total in the regular season. With the win, Baltimore was able to move on to the divisional round.

· Baltimore possessed the ball for a staggering 41:44, more than double Kansas City’s 18:16.

· TE Todd Heap stole the show on offense, catching ten passes for 108 yards.

· S Dawan Landry, S Haruki Nakamura, and CB Josh Wilson all netted interceptions. Terrell Suggs notched two sacks while Ray Lewis added one. Lewis and rookie NT Terrence Cody both registered a forced fumble in the game.

Steelers: PLAYOFF BYE

BEHIND ENEMY LINES


A Look Around the AFC North

Baltimore (13-4)
received big contributions on Sunday from Pro-Bowl safety Ed Reed, who played despite facing some troubling circumstances in his personal life. Reed’s younger brother Brian, disappeared on Friday after jumping into the Mississippi River to evade authorities, who pulled him over in a car that they believed was stolen. The search was called off on Saturday and, as of this writing, Brian has not been found. Baltimore gave Ed Reed the game ball after the win in Kansas City.

Cleveland (5-11) continues its search for a new head coach following the firing of Eric Mangini. Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and former-Steelers OC Mike Mularkey (currently filling the same role with the Falcons) have already interviewed for the position. New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who served as interim head coach of the Bills at the end of the 2009 season is expected to interview with the team this week and it is also rumored that the team wants to have a look at Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, though no interview is scheduled.

Cincinnati (4-12) will move forward this offseason with Marvin Lewis at the helm, who will sit down with owner Mike Brown to determine the fates of some of his assistants. The biggest name rumored to be on the way out is offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, who has overseen an offense that has failed to crack the top-20 in the NFL over the last three seasons.

With the season finished for the Bengals, they’ve begun to look hard at next season. Marvin Lewis and the Bengals’ coaching staff will likely reprise their roles coaching one side of the annual Senior Bowl, giving them a great look at some of the top prospects entering this April’s draft. The Bengals will have the fourth-overall pick this season.

ROAD TO THE SUPER BOWL

With one playoff weekend in the books, the postseason field has been pared from twelve to eight; only four teams remain in the ultra-competitive AFC, which will feature two heated battles between divisional opponents.

One day after the Ravens-Steelers third matchup of the season, the New England Patriots will host the New York Jets in the third meeting between those two opponents. The two split the regular season series with the Jets nabbing an impressive win early in the season and the Patriots humiliating the Jets in a 45-3 blowout in the second half of the season. The Patriots enter the game on a hot streak, though they might have cooled a bit thanks to a week off. The Jets backed into the playoffs, but pulled off a last-minute win over the Indianapolis Colts to arrive in the second round.

If the Jets win on Sunday, they’ll help Pittsburgh out on two fronts. First, they’ll eliminate the Patriots, who are widely regarded as the favorite to win the Super Bowl and are a team that matches up very well with the Steelers. Second, a Jets win means that the winner of the Steelers-Ravens game on Saturday will get to host the AFC Championship as its own stadium.

Over in the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks travel to Chicago after knocking off the defending-champion New Orleans Saints. The Seahawks, who became the first team to make the postseason with a losing record, took advantage of some shoddy defensive play by the Saints to advance to the second round. They won’t have that luxury against a highly-touted Bears defense this weekend.

The other game in the NFC will feature the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons against the red-hot Green Bay Packers in a matchup between two of the top quarterbacks in the conference. Green Bay knocked off the No. 3 seed in Philadelphia by harassing Michael Vick on defense while controlling the other side of the ball with efficient performances by QB Aaron Rodgers and rookie RB James Starks.

MIKE LIKED…

Getting a week off from NFL action to prepare for the playoffs and rest up some banged-up bodies.

“We had a great week last week of both meetings and practice,” said Tomlin. “It was a week that was catered toward the needs of the group, individually and collectively. Those that needed work got work and those who needed rehabilitation or rest got that.”

STEELERS INJURY UPDATE

As has become standard towards the end of this season, S Troy Polamalu will not practice early in the week. He is listed as PROBABLE for Saturday’s game, though I highly doubt he’d consider missing the contest unless he suffers a major setback.

CB Bryant McFadden will also be limited in practice early in the week as he rehabs an abdomen injury. Regardless, he should be good to go for this week and is PROBABLE.

DE Aaron Smith is still an unknown at this point in the week, though he has resumed practicing. The team plans to give him a few scans to see his progress as he works through a triceps injury, and the coaching staff will act based on that information. He’ll be anywhere from QUESTIONABLE to DOUBTFUL for this weekend’s game.

RAVENS INJURY UPDATE

LB Terrell Suggs (knee) and DT Haloti Ngata (thigh) both missed practice on Friday, but played Sunday against the Chiefs. The team will likely keep an eye on the two early this week, but both should be PROBABLE for Saturday’s game.

MAIN STORYLINE FOR SATURDAY

Who will survive a third meeting between two physical AFC North rivals and will that survivor have enough left in the tank when it contends for a Super Bowl spot the following week?

RAVENS TO WATCH

QB Joe Flacco; RBs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee; RB/FB LeRon McClain; TE Todd Heap; WRs Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason; OT Michael Oher, OGs Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester; NTs Kelly Gregg and Terrance Cody; DE/DT Haloti Ngata; LBs Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, and Jameel McClain; FS Ed Reed; SS Dawan Landry; CBs Chris Carr, Josh Wilson, and Lardarius Webb; K Billy Cundiff; P Sam Koch

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

· 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.

· QB Marc Bulger grew up in Pittsburgh, played at Central Catholic High School, and played collegiately at West Virginia.

ACCORDING TO TOMLIN

“Offensively I think it starts with Todd Heap. He was injured early, maybe the second or third play of the game the last time we played them. He is back. He is healthy. Those of you who saw the game this weekend you see how he is capable of impacting a football game and helping their offense. He is a multi-talented guy. He is capable of splitting out and running receiver-type routes. He is matchup issue and problem for a lot of people. Are linebackers athletic enough to cover him; are safeties or defensive backs in general big enough to cover him? I saw Kansas City going through some of those issues like we have in the past.”
– Discussing the talents of Baltimore TE Todd Heap, who shredded the Chiefs for ten catches and 108 yards on Sunday and was a major weapon in the redzone and on third down. Heap was injured early in the teams’ last meeting and did not return to the game.

“Billy Cundiff is a legitimate weapon. I think he is a Pro Bowl guy. If he’s not then he should be. He leads the league in touchbacks. When you’ve got a great defense and you have a kickoff man that kicks a bunch of touchbacks it’s an awesome weapon.” – On Baltimore’s kicker, whose powerful leg helped the Ravens lead the league in kickoff distance (68.8 yards per kickoff) and touchbacks (40 with the next closest team at 29). Cundiff was selected to this year’s Pro Bowl roster.

“It’s difficult every week.  It just presents a different set of difficult circumstances.  Knowledge of one’s opponent and of course the opponents’ knowledge of you presents a different set of circumstances than the unknown.  All are challenging, just different.” – When asked if it’s easier or more difficult to prepare for an opponent you know (and one that knows you), rather than an opponent the team doesn’t see as often.

“If given an opportunity, I’ll play at Heinz Field in front of Steeler Nation, no question. I look forward to seeing you guys on Saturday.” – On his preferences for the location of his playoff games, after a Wild Card weekend which featured three of the four road teams advancing to the next round.

LOOK FOR…

Some scrums between the two teams after the whistle. While these teams share a mutual respect as two physical teams at the top of the division, they absolutely hate each other on the field.

SPLASH TALK

“It is, but that is the tight-rope we walk all of the time.  I live by a cliché if you will.  I’d rather say whoa, than sic ‘em.  I’ve had to say whoa a little bit, and that is ok.” –
Answering whether the team needs to find a balance between practicing with an edge and going beyond that edge when preparing for such a heated game.

“They are just a salty group and I don’t care where you play them, when you play them, under what circumstances you play them, you know what you are going to get from them from that standpoint.  They are going to run to the ball, they are going to hit people, they are going to turn ball carriers around.  They are going to give ground very grudgingly.” – On Baltimore’s linebacking corps, which features two Pro Bowlers this year in ILB Ray Lewis and OLB Terrell Suggs.

“In my opinion he is still a thrower.  He buys time to find eligibles down the field.  By no means is he a lawn deer, he is not an immobile target if you will, his escapability is underrated.” Discussing Joe Flacco’s ability to run the ball and avoid pressure with his legs.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…

Since the merger, Pittsburgh has been involved in eight instances where the team has taken on a division rival for a third time in the postseason. They are a perfect 8-0 in such games with a 2-0 mark against the Baltimore Ravens. The two teams last met for a third matchup in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, with Pittsburgh beating their rival en route to its sixth Super Bowl championship.

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