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Tomlin Report - Sunday Night Showdown

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The Steelers play the third of three straight primetime games this Sunday when the New England Patriots come to town. The Steelers and Pats both sit at 6-2, tied atop the AFC standings with Baltimore and the Jets.

New England Patriots (6-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)

at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA

Sunday, November 14 – 8:20 PM on NBC

Steelers 6-2; second place AFC North


Favorite: Steelers by 4.5

LAST WEEK

Patriots: Lost to the Browns 34-14 in Cleveland


· New England fell under the weight of a 184-yard rushing day by Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis as the Patriots offense struggled to find rhythm.

· After a field goal on the opening drive by Cleveland, New England shot itself in the foot early as RB Sammy Morris fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Two plays later, Peyton Hillis rumbled into the endzone for a two-yard touchdown, putting the Patriots down by 10 points less than four minutes into the contest.

· New England’s offense went three-and-out on two of their next three drives before finally clicking in the second quarter. Tom Brady extended an 11-play drive with a 22-yard completion on fourth-and-one before hitting rookie TE Aaron Hernandez in the endzone for a two-yard touchdown.

· Cleveland went back up by 10 on the next drive, opening up the playbook and allowing WR Chansi Stuckey to take the ball on a trick play for an 11-yard score and a 17-7 lead.

· Brady and the Patriots offense got one last sniff in the redzone before halftime but a fumble by rookie TE Rob Gronkowski ended the drive and the half.

· After a stall drive by New England, the Browns extended their lead with a drive capped off by a 16-yard touchdown scramble by rookie QB Colt McCoy, putting Cleveland up 24-7. A 37-yard Phil Dawson field goal shortly after further extended the lead to 27-7.

· On the ensuing drive, New England’s offense converted two separate fourth downs before Brady hooked up with Hernandez once more, this time for a one-yard touchdown. Brady finished the day with 224 yards on 19-of-36 passing with two touchdowns. Hernandez led the team with five catches and 48 yards.

· From there, it was all Peyton Hillis. The back carried the ball six straight times, with the sixth carry leading him to the endzone for a 35-yard touchdown and a 34-14 Browns lead.

· With the game out of hand, Brian Hoyer came in to finish out the game for New England, but threw a pick on his second pass attempt allowing Cleveland to run out the clock for a win.

Steelers: Beat the Bengals 27-21 in Cincinnati

· Two special teams plays--a forced fumble by rookie WR Emmanuel Sanders (recovered by rookie LB Jason Worilds) which set up a one-yard touchdown run by RB Rashard Mendenhall, and a blocked punt by CB William Gay that set up a 25-yard field goal by Jeff Reed--allowed Pittsburgh to sneak out to a quick 10-0 lead.

· The game remained under Pittsburgh’s control until a nightmare of a drive in the second quarter which saw both LG Chris Kemoeatu and rookie C Maurkice Pouncey go down with injuries (though Pouncey would later return) before a Hines Ward fumble gave the ball back to Cleveland.

· Bengals QB Carson Palmer wasted no time, hitting WR Terrell Owens down the middle for a 19-yard touchdown.

· A Pittsburgh three-and-out seemed to spell further doom for the Steelers, but LB Lawrence Timmons managed to spark the team with an interception.

· Six plays later, Hines Ward atoned for his fumble with an eight-yard touchdown catch courtesy of QB Ben Roethlisberger. A 53-yard career-record-tying field goal by Jeff Reed game the team a 20-7 cushion at the half.

· After a scoreless third quarter, Pittsburgh looked to put the game away with a bit of trickery. WR Antwaan Randle El took the ball on a reverse and showed off his old quarterbacking skills, hitting WR Mike Wallace in the endzone for a 39-yard touchdown and a 27-7 Steelers lead. Wallace led the team with five catches and 110 yards.

· Cincinnati responded with a 27-yard touchdown from Palmer to T.O., but the Bengals made it a game by intercepting Roethlisberger. Big Ben hit 17 of his 27 passes on the day for 163 yards, one touchdown, and one pick.

· That interception led to a one-yard touchdown run by RB Cedric Benson, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 27-21.

· The Steelers attempted to run out the clock with seven-straight carries by RB Rashard Mendenhall, but a stalled drive led to a 46-yard field goal attempt by Reed, who sent it wide left. Mendenhall finished with 99 yards on 22 carries.

· Cincinnati mounted one last drive, but a big hit by LB James Harrison on WR Jordan Shipley sent the ball tumbling to the turf on fourth-and-five, preserving a win for the Steelers.

· Harrison and LB James Farrior both registered sacks, with LB LaMarr Woodley adding two more. Farrior also led the team in tackles with nine.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

A Look Around the AFC North

Baltimore
(6-2) easily shrugged off the Miami Dolphins thanks to a stout defense led by safety Ed Reed, who now leads the team with three interceptions despite missing the team’s first six games. The focus is on the future for Baltimore, though, as they’ll be on the road in the first Thursday night game of the NFL season in Atlanta.

Cleveland (3-5) is quickly earning respect around the league with two convincing wins over quality opponents, New England and New Orleans, in as many games. One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround has been the play of rookie QB Colt McCoy, who has avoided mistakes in the past two contests. Despite his play, head coach Eric Mangini has refused to name McCoy the starter.

The other big headline out of Cleveland is the play of RB Peyton Hillis, who was acquired in the offseason from Denver as an afterthought in the trade that shipped QB Brady Quinn out of town. Hillis is averaging 80 yards per game with seven touchdowns, despite not becoming the feature back until Week 3. Cleveland will get another crack at the league’s elite this week as they host the 6-2 New York Jets.

Cincinnati (2-6) dropped its fifth-straight game on Monday and now sits behind the Browns at last place in the AFC North. The Bengals have been plagued by inconsistency in all three phases of the game and have taken themselves out of contests with stupid mistakes week after week.

The big story this week will likely revolve around the receiving tandem of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. T.O. is in the midst of a career renaissance, ranking in the NFL’s top-five in receiving yards, receptions, and touchdowns. Ochocinco only caught one pass on Monday and has been held under 50-yards on five occasions this year. Predictably, he was visibly fuming throughout the game against the Steelers. He’d better get serious in a hurry as Cincinnati travels to Indianapolis this week.

MIKE LIKED…

The team’s dramatic turnaround on special teams for last year, when Pittsburgh boasted one of the NFL’s worst coverage units. This offseason, the Steelers switched special teams coordinators and brought in a handful of special teams contributors, many of them rookies.

“I liked the energy and know-how that [ST coordinator] Al Everest has brought to the table,” offered Tomlin. “I also like the contributions of some of the men we’ve added. Arnaz Battle has done a nice job in a lot of phases. William Gay has been a constant special teams’ core guy for us. Young guys like Stevenson Sylvester and Jason Worilds have antied-up and kicked in. Emmanuel Sanders put his hat on the ball and caused a fumble on the opening kickoff.”

Sanders and Worilds, both rookies, teamed up to force and recover a fumble on the opening kickoff of the game. Sylvester has been a special teams standout and is the only rookie other than first-rounder Maurkice Pouncey to be active for all eight games this season.

STEELERS INJURY UPDATE

LG Chris Kemoeatu headlines a long list of minor injuries for the Steelers this week. Kemoeatu suffered a knee sprain and left the game on Sunday. He is likely QUESTIONABLE for this week.

C Maurkice Pouncey left the game with a tibia bruise two plays after Kemoeatu went down, but did return to the game later and is PROBABLE for Sunday.

DE Brett Kiesel received some playing time against the Bengals, but was limited as he continues to work through a hamstring injury. Regardless, he is PROBABLE for this week, though his workload is up in the air.

S Will Allen, RB Mewelde Moore, and RB Isaac Redman all suffered concussions on Monday night and will be subjected to the NFL’s post-concussion testing before earning clearance to play. Coach Tomlin is optimistic about all three returning to action and they are PROBABLE for Sunday.

TE Heath Miller (fluid in the knee) and LT Max Starks (stingers) are also probable for this weekend’s game.

PATRIOTS INJURY UPDATE

K Stephen Gostkowski left Sunday’s game with a quad injury and is somewhere between QUESTIONABLE and DOUBTFUL for this week’s matchup. The team signed kicker Shayne Graham which likely means that Gostkowski will not see action on Sunday night.

WR Deion Branch continues to work through a hamstring injury. He has been active the past few weeks is PROBABLE for this week.

MAIN STORYLINE FOR SUNDAY

Who will come out on top in the AFC North with all four teams squaring off against other top teams? While Pittsburgh battles against the 6-2 Patriots, Cleveland will battle the 6-2 Jets, Baltimore will square off against the 6-2 Falcons, and Cincinnati will have its hands full with a 5-3 Colts team.

PATRIOTS TO WATCH

QB Tom Brady; RBs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead; WRs Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Brandon Tate; TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski; LT Matt Light; C Dan Koppen; NT Vince Wilfork; LBs Jerrod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Jermaine Cunningham; CB Devin McCourty; FSs Brandon Merriweather and James Sanders; SS Patrick Chung

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

· TE Rob Gronkowski spent one season at Woodland Hills High School.

· CB Leigh Bodden (who is on IR) played at Duquesne while OG Rich Ohrnberger played at Penn State.

· Special teams coach Scott O’Brien coached at Pitt from 1987-90.

ACCORDING TO TOMLIN

“It was exciting to see and particularly under the circumstances I was really concerned. Of course we had one back left and five offensive linemen.  We were able to chew the clock up; they made the necessary first downs and moved the ball down the field.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the field goal, you like to let that be a signature of how you finish the game, of course that wasn’t the case because we didn’t hit the field goal and our defense had to go out there and make a play or two, but I like the mentality of the group.”
– Discussing the performance of the rushing attack late in the game against the Bengals. Nearly half of Rashard Mendenhall’s yardage came on seven consecutive runs late in the fourth quarter that took a chunk of time off the clock.

“The only time that injuries are really a major factor are the in-game injuries because then you are dealing with 39 versus 46 when you are talking about suited and so forth.  During the course of a preparation work week, we have the opportunity to get the healthy guys prepared and we are not going to make excuses about the injuries, or who is available or who‘s not.  We believe to the core that we will go out and play with 46 guys that are capable to playing winning football and meet our standards.” – Further discussing the team’s injury situation. At one point in the game, the Steelers were down to just five healthy offensive linemen. By the end of the game, both of the team’s backup running backs were out of the game which led to a heavy workload late for RB Rashard Mendenhall.

“They are 6-2.  I think that speaks to a pretty good defense.  When you are ahead like they are, I am sure that, as they are, when you are 6-2 people are going to get yards and move up and down the field, but doing what’s necessary to keep them out of the end zone, I have always been impressed with Belichick’s group in terms of situational football, third-down, redzone, short-yardage and things of that nature. Points are a true measure of a defense and ultimately the record is a true measure of a team.” – On New England’s defense this season, which is made up of a wealth of young talent. In this particular quote, Tomlin draws comparisons to what he looks for in a defense in terms of situational football and a premium on points allowed.

“One noteworthy guy I think is Danny Woodhead, who has kind of taken the role of Kevin Faulk in terms of being a dual-threat guy, third-down kind of a back, matchup issues and problems out of the backfield, draw-runner and so forth. I really like the spark that he’s providing them in the games that we’ve studied thus far.” – Discussing one of the new faces on New England’s offense. Woodhead was plucked off the Jets’ practice squad earlier in the season and has enjoyed some success as a running and receiving threat out of the backfield.

LOOK FOR…

Tomlin to consider dressing eight offensive linemen this week after Monday’s debacle and with so many of the line’s contributors nicked up.

“We are always going to try to insulate ourselves with what we deem necessary,” said Tomlin.  “Last night we dressed six defensive linemen because of the status of Brett Kiesel and that proved to be an issue and we are glad that we did in that regard.  We will take a look at our issues this week and kind of see where that leads us.  Obviously the offensive line is a concern.”

SPLASH TALK

“Your ability to finish halves in games and really start halves in games is critical.  It kind of sets the tone if you will. You can steal points. People equate it to boxing as in stealing a round if you make a significant play or two and change field position and put points on the board.”
– Talking about key situations during game time. Pittsburgh excelled in those situations on Monday, jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first half and also ending that same half with a field goal.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…

Mike Wallace may not be catching 8-10 passes per game, but he’s quickly establishing himself as the team’s primary threat on offense. Wallace leads the league with 23.0 yards per reception. Of his 22 catches, 16 have gone for first downs and another five have gone for touchdowns, leaving one single unsuccessful play, which was a short dump-off on third down during Monday’s game.

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