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Tomlin Report - Jets Trip to Pittsburgh

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The Steelers aim to keep their winning streak going and secure a hold on the No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs when they host the suddenly struggling New York Jets this Sunday. Tight end Heath Miller is expected to return to the line-up this weekend.

New York Jets (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3)

Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Sunday Dec. 19 – 4:15 PM on CBS

Steelers: First place AFC North

Favorite: Steelers by 6

LAST WEEK

Jets: Lost to the Dolphins 10-6 in New York


· A sputtering offense doomed the Jets against an opponent that completed just five passes over the course of the game.

· Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense endured a terrible start in the game as their first three drives looked like this: three-and-out, interception, sack-fumble.

· Miami started the scoring with a 47-yard field goal after the interception, and extended its lead with a six-yard touchdown pass from QB Chad Henne to WR Brandon Marshall thanks to a shortened field after the interception.

· In the second quarter, New York drove to Miami’s 37-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-one. However, they were turn the ball over on downs as Shonn Greene was unable to pick up the yard after taking a handoff from WR Brad Smith (who took a direct snap on the play).

· New York received new life two plays later, though, as Calvin Pace sacked Henne, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Jets.

· Sanchez would have had a touchdown on the ensuing drive if not for a wide-open drop by Santonio Holmes in the end zone. As it was, the team was forced to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Nick Folk.

· In the second half, New York continued to flash defensive dominance as no Miami drive in the final two quarters lasted more than four plays. In fact, all but one of the Dolphins’ drives went three-and-out.

· Unfortunately, the Jets could not get into field goal range for much of the half despite winning the battle of field position. They failed to get on the board until the fourth quarter, when Nick Folk hit a 42-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four points.

· Of course, that scoring drive was sandwiched between a drive ending with a failed fourth-down conversion and the team’s final offensive drive, which saw Sanchez get taken down three times in nine plays and twice in the final three plays. After the third sack of the drive, Miami took over and ran out the clock for a 10-6 win.

· Sanchez finished with 216 yards, but hit just 38.6% of his passes (17 of 44) with one interception. He was also sacked six times, fumbled four times (with the Jets recovering three), and had a number of picks dropped during the game.

· LaDainian Tomlinson led the team with just 49 yards on 19 carries. Jerricho Cotchery was the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 69 yards.

· The Jets defense sacked Henne five times, held him to five completions (for 55 yards), and forced three turnovers in the loss.

Steelers: Beat the Bengals 23-7 in Pittsburgh

· Pittsburgh’s offense struggled to put points on the board but didn’t have to thanks to the scoring prowess of the team’s defense.

· The Steelers were an offsides call away from starting the game with a three-and-out on defense. Unfortunately, that call coupled with a pass interference penalty later in the drive allowed Cincinnati to take an early 7-0 lead on a pass from QB Carson Palmer to RT Andrew Whitworth, who reported as eligible on the play.

· After three straight punts by the offense, the Steelers defense decided to score itself. Troy Polamalu broke on a pass from Palmer to WR Terrell Owens, snagging an interception and returning it 45 yards for a touchdown, tying the game at 7-7.

· A three-and-out by the Bengals gave Pittsburgh’s offense a chance to score points of their own before halftime. The team drove into the redzone with an assist by WR Antwaan Randle El, who made an amazing one-handed grab to extend the drive, but ultimately came up short at the five-yard line. Shaun Suisham gave Pittsburgh its first lead of the game with a 23-yard field goal to finish off the drive.

· Suisham would tack on a second field goal to start the second half, this time from 35-yards out, to give the Steelers a 13-7 lead.

· The offense pushed its way into field goal range again one drive later, but back-to-back sacks of Big Ben forced the team to punt instead. On the very next play though, Pittsburgh’s defense struck again as LB LaMarr Woodley grabbed Palmer’s second interception of the afternoon and turned it into the Steelers’ second pick-six, a fourteen yard touchdown that put the team up 20-7.

· Suisham’s third field goal of the day, from 41-yards, finished the scoring and sealed a 23-7 Steelers victory.

· Ben Roethlisberger finished the day with 258 yards on 21-of-33 passing and added three rushes for 23 yards.

· Hines Ward led all receivers with eight catches for 115 yards. Mike Wallace chipped in five catches for 78 yards.

· LaMarr Woodley had two sacks and a pick (returned for a touchdown), Troy Polamalu had two picks (one returned for a touchdown), and CB William Gay picked up a sack.

· James Farrior led the team with ten total tackles.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

A Look Around the AFC North

Cleveland
(5-8) played perhaps its worst game of the season in a 13-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills, who came in with just two wins against ten losses. Peyton Hillis rushed for 100 yards in the loss, but was stuffed in key situations and put the ball on the ground three times (Cleveland recovered two of them); of course, all this came against a Bills run defense that has been one of the worst in the league this season. Another concern is the Browns’ own run defense, which was gashed for 192 yards on Sunday.

And then there’s the Jake Delhomme conundrum. Delhomme became the de facto starter when promising rookie Colt McCoy went down with an injury and continues to play poorly for the Browns. Delhomme notched only 86 yards on Sunday and turned the ball over twice (one pick, one fumble). While that level of play is an issue, perhaps the bigger question is why the coaching staff continues to look his way despite the return to health of Seneca Wallace. While Wallace certainly is not a star at quarterback, he still manages to avoid some of the turnovers that Delhomme has been committing. When the team is losing one-score games all season, one less turnover here or there could mean a win instead of a loss.

Cleveland draws Cincinnati this week and will hope to fix it woes in time for back-to-back spoiler games against playoff-contenders Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Baltimore (9-4) blew a 21-point lead in the second half against the Houston Texans before an overtime pick-six by CB Josh Wilson gave the Ravens a much-needed win. While the defense giving up a large lead is a pressing issue, the team might be more concerned about its offense, which failed to score a point after halftime despite squaring off against one of the worst defenses in the league in Houston. Of note: key-addition Anquan Boldin has registered more than 50 yards just once in his last six games.

The Ravens need to hope that TE Todd Heap, who missed Monday’s game, can return to health for a pivotal showdown against the Super-Bowl-champion Saints this week.

Cincinnati (2-11) dropped its tenth-straight game of the season to the Steelers on Sunday. Two trends that have haunted this team in 2010 continued last weekend. The first being some head-scratching play from QB Carson Palmer (three picks, two for touchdowns) and the second being yet another injury to the secondary as safety Chinedum Ndukwe was placed on IR this week (the team’s eight defensive back to be placed on IR this season).

The hot topic in Cincinnati continues to be the future of this team. Will this be Marvin Lewis’ final year as head coach? Will Carson Palmer, the former future of this franchise, be shipped off as he game continues to deteriorate? There will be some tough decisions to make in Cincinnati this offseason and we could be looking at a very different team come 2011.

This week, they’ll hope to sneak a win out of the Cleveland Browns. With San Diego and Baltimore looming afterwards, it could be their last legitimate chance at a victory this season.

THE PATH TO THE PLAYOFFS - AFC playoff picture

Division Leaders:
*New England Patriots (11-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3), Kansas City Chiefs (8-5), Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5)

Wild Cards: Baltimore Ravens (9-4), New York Jets (9-4)

In the Hunt: San Diego Chargers (7-6), Indianapolis Colts (7-6), Miami Dolphins (7-6), Oakland Raiders (6-7)

Since the official playoffs scenarios (with every possible situation listed, some of which involve win-loss combinations by three or more teams) aren’t printed until Wednesday mornings, I’ll focus on Pittsburgh’s most-important scenarios and touch on the other AFC contenders.

For Pittsburgh, it starts with a simple formula. A win against the New York Jets clinches a playoff berth. A win coupled with a loss by Baltimore against New Orleans clinches the division for the Steelers. A win coupled with losses by Baltimore, Kansas City, and Jacksonville will clinch a first-round bye for Pittsburgh and they’ll enter the playoffs as, at worst, the AFC’s second seed. In the long term, Pittsburgh doesn’t have to run the table to win the division. They can lose one game and win the division, as long as that game isn’t the week 17 matchup against Cleveland.

New England can clinch the AFC East and a first-round bye with a win on Sunday and a loss by the New York Jets. They have already clinched a playoff berth.

Kansas City lost its tiebreaker over San Diego as the Chargers tied the series between the two, but remains one game ahead in the AFC West. San Diego will need to run the table and the Chiefs lose at least once to have a shot at the division crown and a playoff berth.

Jacksonville will travel to Indianapolis for one of the most pivotal games of the season for both teams. While Jacksonville has the division lead, Indianapolis is still in control of its own destiny. If the Colts run the table (which includes Jacksonville this week), they will win the AFC South. If Jacksonville wins this Sunday, they will clinch the division. If Indianapolis loses, they will need a collapse by either the Jets or the Ravens (each would have to lose all three remaining games) to even have a sniff at a wild card berth.

While Miami boasts a better record than Oakland, Oakland has a better shot at making the playoffs, as they’re just two games back of their division leader and still could, theoretically, win the AFC West. Miami is out of striking distance in their division and, as such, their only chance of making the playoff is as a wild card team.

MIKE LIKED…

The progress of DE Aaron Smith as he recovers from a torn tricep. Smith is back lifting at the team’s practice facility and Tomlin is optimistic that his All-Pro end can return to the lineup in time for the postseason.

STEELERS INJURY UPDATE

RT Flozell Adams is still dealing with a high ankle sprain. He played through it against the Bengals and is PROBABLE to do the same on Sunday.

CB Bryant McFadden is also PROBABLE with a hamstring injury. Like Flozell, he played through it last week.

S Troy Polamalu (ankle) will be limited in practice as he has been the last few weeks, but is PROBABLE to play.

CB Anthony Madison suffered a knee contusion against the Bengals and is PROBABLE to go this week.

LB Keyaron Fox hyper-extended his elbow against Cincinnati, but did not miss any time and is PROBABLE to play this week.

TE Heath Miller has been cleared to play and is experience no symptoms after missing the last game with a concussion. He is PROBABLE for this weekend.

QB Ben Roethlisberger added a sprained ankle to his broken foot and broken nose, but is PROBABLE to start on Sunday.

JETS INJURY UPDATE

RT Damien Woody will have arthroscopic surgery on his knee Wednesday and will be OUT against Pittsburgh.

S Eric Smith suffered a concussion in Sunday's loss to Miami and is unlikely to play this week against Pittsburgh, Newsday's Bob Glauber reports. He is listed as DOUBTFUL.

S James Ihedigbo is PROBABLE for this week with a leg injury sustained against the Patriots.

MAIN STORYLINE FOR SUNDAY

Who will prevail in a matchup between two of the top defensive minds in football in Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and Jets head coach Rex Ryan?

JETS TO WATCH

QB Mark Sanchez; RBs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene; FB Tony Richardson; WRs Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Brad Smith; TE Dustin Keller; LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson; C Nick Mangold; DE Shaun Ellis; ILBs Bart Scott and David Harris; OLB Calvin Pace; CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

· WR Santonio Holmes was originally a first-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2006 and was the MVP of Pittsburgh’s 2008 Super Bowl win. Holmes was traded to the Jets during the offseason.

· CB Darrelle Revis is from Aliquippa High and played collegiately at Pitt.

· DE Jason Taylor is from Pittsburgh and played at Woodland Hills High.

· Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh was born in Youngstown (OH),quarterbacked Pitt to a national championship in 1976, and twice coached at Pitt (1991-93, 2005-08).

· Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine coached at Pitt from 1993-94.

ACCORDING TO TOMLIN

“We desire to educate our guys in situation football. It wasn’t a good situation football maneuver.  It was a two score game, there were two minutes left to go, we had gained possession of the football, we had a red-zone stop. So I think that is pretty self explanatory, that possession of the ball pretty much ensures a victory.  He put the possession of the ball at stake with the lateral.  His reaction pretty much sums up the situation.  It is something also to learn from and that is what you try to do this time of year when things come up such as that lateral, particularly when it doesn’t prevent you from winning… So I always, as a coach, try to look at situations like that that occur in a football game to use as a teach tool for our team moving forward.  It creates personal discomfort for the men involved, but I think we are all better for it and those types of things happen in every football game.  You hope they don’t get you beat, but when they do happen you do have an opportunity to use it as a teach tool moving forward and that is what I always try to do in those circumstances.”
– Discussing Troy Polamalu’s lateral attempt after picking off a pass late in Sunday’s game. When the safety went to the sidelines after the play, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau met him on the sidelines with the words “Don’t throw the ball away like that!” In the locker room after the game, Polamalu was hard on himself calling it “a foolish, arrogant play.”

“We’ve been holding and we need to stop, we need to cut down on holding.  No question that holding occurs just about on every snap in the National Football League.  I think anybody in this industry will acknowledge that.  What we need to do is stop, cut down on the actions that are triggering the flags of course, which is grabbing and restricting, the jersey coming away from the body and so forth.  We’ve got to do a better job of it, a more detailed job of playing technical.” – When asked what the team needs to do to cut down on its high number of holding penalties. The team has been penalty-crazed of late, with the most notable example being the Bills game which featured 150+ yards of penalties including four holding calls against LG Chris Kemoeatu.

“Troy had a tremendous break on the play.  Whether or not he was baiting Carson (Palmer) is debatable.  It was a route that he was familiar with.  I think T.O. (Terrell Owens) was the intended receiver; the first one is the one you were referring to, may have tripped or stumbled coming out of his break.  I think that provided the necessary grass that Troy needed to come down hill on the ball and make the play.  But no question, Troy was in great position and he had a great break on the ball.” – Discussing Polamalu’s first interception of the day, which he returned for a 45-yard game-tying touchdown. During the play, it appeared that T.O. stepped on the foot of the man covering him, causing him to stumble enough to give Troy a clean look.

“There is a definite difference, of course, two different offensive systems. I think that his unique skill set lends itself to some similarities of course.  Santonio is a great route runner, he is very good after the catch, he has strong hands and those things are X receiver like.  He’s capable of creating yards after the catch and individual route running.  So anytime you have a guy of his talents you are going to utilize him in similar ways because of his skill set.” – Discussing the differences in usage of former-Steeler Santonio Holmes between Pittsburgh and New York.

“It’s a talented bunch. They have a top-round draft pick in D’Brickashaw Ferguson at the left tackle. They have a first-round center in Nick Mangold. I always tease Maurkice Pouncey. He wants to be the best center in the world. He can try by being the best center in the stadium on Sunday. They have some quality players. Losing Damien Woody, a veteran right tackle, is going to require some adjustment, but they are not going to get any sympathy from us. We know about backup tackles playing. It’s that time of year, situations that all teams deal with. The good teams find ways to overcome them.” – On New York’s offensive line. Mangold is on the short list of best centers in the game.

LOOK FOR…

Rashard Mendenhall to continue to struggle this week as he squares off against a run defense that is second only to the one Pittsburgh fields every Sunday.

SPLASH TALK

“I assume he is that good because I don’t have a lot of video evidence because nobody is throwing the ball in his direction.”
– Discussing Jets CB Darrelle Revis, widely-regarded as the league’s best corner.

“I have no interest, whatsoever, in doing Hard Knocks. Hopefully Mr. Rooney feels the same way.” – Following a question in which he asked if he watched HBO’s hit series (he doesn’t). The Jets were the subject of this year’s “Hard Knocks,” which gave viewers a close-up look of an NFL team in the offseason, training camp, and preseason.

“We are not executing in that area to our liking because we are not executing in that area to our liking.” – On his team’s struggles in the redzone. Pittsburgh had three straight trips into the area against the Bengals, but only came up with two field goals.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM…

There’s no question that Roethlisberger has greatly improved the team’s passing offense. According to Football Outsiders, Pittsburgh boasted the 28th most-efficient offense without their starter (Weeks 1-4) and the second most-efficient with him (Weeks 6-14). So why is this team struggling to score points?

Perhaps because the team’s rushing offense declined from the sixth most-efficient unit without No. 7 to the league’s 28th in games with the QB in the lineup.

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