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Tomlin Report - Week 5 Bye

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Coming off their first loss of the season, the Steelers welcome Ben Roethlisberger back to the fold and get to enjoy an off-week before hosting Cleveland on Oct. 17.

Steelers (3-1)
Tied with Baltimore for first place AFC North
 


 


BYE WEEK EDITION


LAST WEEK
Steelers: Lost to the Ravens 17-14 in Pittsburgh

· Pittsburgh gave up a late-game lead thanks to some missed opportunities and untimely penalties as the Ravens prevailed to take the division lead thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker.
· Both teams missed on their first drives of the game with Pittsburgh going three-and-out and Baltimore missing a 46-yard Billy Cundiff field goal.
· A huge third-down conversion on a catch by WR Antwaan Randle El set up a one-yard touchdown run by RB Rashard Mendenhall, breaking the tie in favor of the Steelers. Randle El led the team with two catches for 50 yards.
· Baltimore responded with a touchdown drive capped off by a nine-yard run by RB Willis McGahee, who received a majority of the workload with Ray Rice limited by an injury.
· The Ravens got one more chance at some points before halftime. This time around, Cundiff converted on a 33-yard field goal to give Baltimore a 10-7 lead at the half.
· A forced fumble by James Harrison after halftime set up the Steelers with a scoring chance, but the offense stalled and Jeff Reed missed a 49-yard field goal. Ike Taylor came up with an interception later in the quarter, but Reed missed again, this time from 45 yards out.
· Charlie Batch took over on the next offensive drive, leading the Steelers on a 93-yard foray that ended with Rashard Mendenhall scoring from seven yards out. Mendenhall finished with 79 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns.
· Baltimore’s offense attempted to answer with a drive of its own, but the Steelers' defense held on fourth down in the redzone, giving the ball back to the Steelers offense, which needed one first down to run out the clock.
· That first down never came thanks to some untimely penalties. The ensuing punt also carried a penalty with it, giving Baltimore once last chance to win with a drive that started at midfield.
· The Ravens capitalized on that second chance as QB Joe Flacco hit WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh for an 18-yard touchdown with half a minute remaining in the game.
· Pittsburgh had 30 seconds to try and tie things up, but QB Charlie Batch was intercepted by Ravens LB Ray Lewis, ending the game. Batch finished the day 12-of-21 for 141 yards and the one late-game pick.
· Casey Hampton registered the team’s only sack. LB Lawrence Timmons led the team with 13 total tackles.


BEHIND ENEMY LINES
A Look Around the AFC North
Baltimore
(3-1) is in the driver’s seat of the division after four weeks, and the defense is fifth in points allowed and second in yards allowed, but the team is dead last in turnover differential (-7). The interception by Ray Lewis in the last 30 seconds of the game on Sunday was actually Baltimore’s first pick of the year.


Cincinnati (2-2) saw Carson Palmer have his best game of the season in a loss, albeit against one of the weaker pass defenses in the NFL. Terrell Owens exploded for 222 yards on 10 catches after posting a combined 152 yards in the first three games. Chad Ochocinco has been trending the other direction, recording just 137 yards in his last three games after an opening night that saw him run wild for 159 yards in the second-half of a blowout loss.


The running game is also faltering, with running back Cedric Benson averaging just 3.3 yards per carry after a season in which he became the focal point of the offense. The Bengals inability to get everyone on the same page at the same time will make it tough sledding for the team as it tries to catch up with Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North.


Cleveland (1-3) claimed its first win of the season over division-rival Cincinnati. Despite leading the team to the win on Sunday, QB Seneca Wallace could find himself riding the pine yet again with the impending return of QB Jake Delhomme. It’s always possible that head coach Eric Mangini would continue riding the hot hand. While Wallace isn’t a world-beater, he has shown a bit more ball security than Delhomme this season (and in the last two seasons).


Cleveland’s bottom-ten pass defense could be an issue in the coming stretch of games, as they’ll match up against Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady in their next four games.


STEELERS INJURY UPDATE
QB Dennis Dixon was placed on Injured Reserve and will miss the remainder of the season. Dixon left game two with a knee injury and the resulting surgery carried a recovery time of 4-6 weeks. However, the team needed a roster spot for defensive line depth and would need to get rid of a quarterback whenever Roethlisberger returned, so placing Dixon on IR made the most sense.


DT Chris Hoke is recovering from a knee sprain and is aiming to make his return in week six.


RG Trai Essex (ankle) also hopes to be active for week six, but the impressive play of backup Doug Legursky means that it isn’t clear whether Essex will dress as a starter or a reserve when he is re-activated.


TEAM POSITIVES
It all starts with the defense. Pittsburgh’s revamped unit ranks first in points allowed, fifth in yards allowed, and first in rush defense. Overall, the team boasts a turnover differential (+7) that ranks second the in the NFL, thanks to a league-leading eight forced fumbles.


The defense might actually get better in the red zone, as they’ve allowed touchdowns on about 36% of all red zone trips, good for fourth in the league. That number looks even better considering two of those touchdowns (one in Tennessee and one in Tampa Bay) came very late in two convincing wins.


Rashard Mendenhall, as expected, was the workhorse of the offense during Big Ben’s absence. Mendenhall’s 89 carries ranks second in the league behind Chris Johnson’s 94. He also ranks second in yardage with 411, behind only to Arian Foster’s 537. He’s tied with Foster, Johnson, and three others for the league lead with four touchdowns. Mendenhall should be in line for similar numbers with less carries as the return of Roethlisberger opens up Pittsburgh’s offense once again.


Contrary to the established norm, Pittsburgh is receiving immediate help from its rookie class. The marquee name is Maurkice Pouncey, who played so well in the preseason that he cost incumbent starter Justin Hartwig his job and roster spot. Pouncey has continued that level of production into the regular season, anchoring an offensive line that might have improved from last season. LBs Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester have made their presences known on the coverage units on special teams, and WR Antonio Brown has already taken a kickoff return back to the house, something the team failed to do all last season.


TEAM NEGATIVES
The passing offense was one of the league’s worst without Ben Roethlisberger, though that is a problem that should be rectified with his return. Expect him to erase the stench of a unit that produced a second-worst 136.0 yards per game and a league-worst 25.9% rate of picking up first downs through the air.


Pittsburgh’s penalty issues late in the game against Baltimore may have cost them a win and a chance at going undefeated in the first quarter of the season. Like the passing offense, this problem is correctable. Expect the coaching staff and the players to rededicate themselves in terms of discipline to prevent this issue from becoming a trend.


Jeff Reed has missed four field goals in as many games, including two last week in a three-point loss against Baltimore. Reed missed four field goals all of last season.


PRE-BYE WEEK MVPs
Offense: Rashard Mendenhall, RB
– 89 carries, 411 yards, four touchdowns, and a 4.6 yards per carry average is already good until you consider how much attention Mendenhall received with Dixon and Batch as his passing threats. Mendenhall needed to be the focal point of the offense, and he was, shouldering the load and keeping the team in the hunt.


Defense: Lawrence Timmons, LB – The returns of Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith have been huge boosts as expected. Timmons, however, has developed into one of the team’s most dangerous playmakers this season. After four weeks, Timmons leads the league with 48 total tackles while contributing one sack, two passes defensed, and a forced fumble and recovery.


UPCOMING SCHEDULE
(Home games in BOLD)
Sunday, Oct. 17 CLEVELAND 1 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Oct. 24 at Miami 1 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Oct. 31 at New Orleans 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Monday, Nov. 8 at Cincinnati 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday, Nov. 14 NEW ENGLAND 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Sunday, Nov. 21 OAKLAND 1 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Nov. 28 at Buffalo 1 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Dec. 5 at Baltimore 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Sunday, Dec. 12 CINCINNATI 1 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Dec. 19 NEW YORK JETS 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
Thursday, Dec. 23 CAROLINA 8:20 p.m. (NFL Net./KDKA)
Sunday, Jan. 2 at Cleveland 1 p.m. (CBS)


Football Outsiders rates this schedule as the 27th easiest for the remainder of the season, and common sense tends to agree. Pittsburgh is set to face just four teams with winning records this season (New Orleans, New England, Baltimore, and New York).


The rest consists of two games against a 2-2 football team in Cincinnati and one against another .500 club, Miami. Pittsburgh also will receive three games against 1-3 teams (two against the Browns, one against the Raiders), and two games against teams still looking for their first wins (Buffalo, Carolina).


Baltimore remains the Steelers’ only true threat in the division. Winning that Sunday Night game on the road should clear a path for Pittsburgh to take the AFC North and return to the playoffs.


PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THE SECOND HALF
Offense: Mike Wallace, WR
– Can he really become the all-around receiver that the Steelers lost when they traded Santonio Holmes or will he peak as a deep threat? He hasn’t had a chance to show off his skill-set with Batch and Dixon as his quarterback, so Roethlisberger's return will also allow fans to see whether Wallace truly can take that next step.


Defense: Ziggy Hood, DE – Timmons’ breakout leaves Ziggy Hood as the “next man up” in terms of development. Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel continue to play at a high level, but when they need a breather, Hood will be the player they turn to. He was one of stars of training camp, dominating one-on-one drills, but barring injuries to the men ahead of him, there won’t be too many opportunities to make plays this season. It’s up to him to capitalize on whatever chances he does receive.


LOOK FOR…
Poor Cleveland to be on the wrong end of a shellacking by a Pittsburgh offense featuring a quarterback looking to regain the trust of his team and the rest of the NFL.


THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…
The longest run of the season against Pittsburgh’s defense? 12 yards.

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