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fordfixer
09-27-2008, 01:11 AM
Steelers Team Report

Yahoo! Sports 5 hours, 24 minutes ago
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Inside Slant

Monday Night Football’s ping-pong display of scoring the past two weeks is about to end when two of the NFL’s top two defensive teams play in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.

The Steelers have the No. 2 defense in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens are No. 1. The Steelers offense is No. 29, the Ravens’ No. 19 after playing AFC North lightweights Cincinnati and Cleveland at home.

Can you say 6-3 final?

Pittsburgh has problems on offense, but its defense has been superb. The fact it won one game and was in another near the end even though the offense scored only a combined 16 points the past two games shows how good they are. The Steelers also have the top defense against the run after three games and coordinator Dick LeBeau’s schemes are known for giving rookie quarterbacks fits.

Part of the improvement is the return to full health of their two safeties, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, for different reasons. Polamalu plays strong safety but he lines up all over the field, bouncing around to different spots before the snap of the ball. He makes plays once the ball is snapped too—his three interceptions are three more than he had all last season when injuries slowed him down.

Clark is the team’s steady hand and last line of defense. He calls plays and puts people in position and rarely lets anything get over his head. He’s one reason Pittsburgh has not allowed a play as long as 25 yards this season. He missed half of last season when his spleen was removed.

That defense will be tested up front this week, not only because Baltimore likes to run and is good at it but because two-thirds of their line will be missing. Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton has a groin injury and defensive end Brett Keisel continues to rehab a calf injury. Chris Hoke has filled in well for Hampton in the past but they have no backup to him, and no one to spell him. Travis Kirschke replaced Keisel on the right side in Philly, and Orpheus Roye spelled him.

The Ravens have to think they can run on the Steelers with Hampton out especially.

“The standard of expectation will not change for us,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It is an opportunity for some people to step up. Brett Keisel got hurt and did not play last week; Orpheus Roye stepped up and did a very good job. As a matter of fact, his hustling caused the first turnover of the game. We expect those guys to step up and deliver for us and we know that they will.”

The good news for the Steelers is defensive end Aaron Smith is still playing. He is one of their most valuable defensive players, and it showed when he went out with a torn bicep last December 11 and the Steelers lost three of their next four games and were not very good against the run.

The real concern with the injuries is not as much Hampton’s replacement but what happens if Chris Hoke needs a blow. Tomlin has designated Kirschke as his backup but that’s not really viable because Kirschke is no nose tackle, although he did play some in San Francisco in the 4-3. They have one nose tackle, Scott Paxson, on their practice squad but seemed inclined not to add him to the 53-man roster this week.

Series History: 26th meeting. Pittsburgh leads the series, 15-10, with a 6-6 record in Baltimore and one victory in the playoffs. The Ravens won the last meeting, 27-21, their fifth straight victory over the Steelers in Baltimore, where the Steelers won six of their first seven games since the Ravens moved from Cleveland in 1996.

Notes, Quotes

• G Kendall Simmons’ wife gave birth Tuesday night to their third daughter, so that won’t keep him from playing against the Ravens. Simmons said last week that he would be with his wife, Celesta, for their daughter’s birth, even if it meant missing a game.

• QB Ben Roethlisberger sounded surprisingly upbeat, not to mention standing upright, after he was sacked nine times in Philadelphia and on pace for 64 this season.

“It doesn’t concern me,” he said of the pass protection, or lack thereof. “I think people made a lot out of it. I am standing here and we are good to go and we move on.”

• The Steelers are first in the AFC with a plus-five in turnover ratio. They have eight takeaways and lost only three.

• The Steelers have allowed just four 100-yard runners in their past 69 games, including the postseason.

By The Numbers: .722—Steelers’ winning percentage at home since the 1970 NFL merger, best in the league.

Quote To Note: “There is a concern of the cumulative effect of getting hit. I’m not willing to use the word skittish.”—Coach Mike Tomlin, on QB Ben Roethlisberger’s demeanor in the pocket after getting sacked nine times and hit many others in Philadelphia.

Strategy And Personnel

The Steelers may add a running back to their 53-man roster because as of Thursday, they were down two—Willie Parker is out with a knee injury and Gary Russell was released on Saturday. That left them with three—new starter Rashard Mendenhall, third-down back Mewelde Moore and fullback/halfback Carey Davis. Russell was signed to their practice squad this week and likely will be put back on the 53.

PLAYER NOTES

• CB Bryant McFadden will make his third straight start at left cornerback for Deshea Townsend, who practiced on Thursday and could suit up.

• SS Troy Polamalu has a bruised thigh but he will start on Monday against the Ravens. Polamalu has three interceptions.

• QB Ben Roethlisberger has been accountable for all four Steelers turnovers—one interception and three lost fumbles.

• DE Travis Kirschke will start in place of injured Brett Keisel on the right side and also back up new starting NT Chris Hoke, playing for injured Casey Hampton. Kirschke played one season as a nose in the four-man line of the 49ers.

• LB Lawrence Timmons played some snaps in the 3-4 defense last week, replacing Larry Foote, who had 1 1/2 sacks. Foote continues to start but the Steelers are working Timmons into the regular defense more often.

• WR Nate Washington, who led the Steelers last Sunday with his first five receptions of the season, was hobbled somewhat with a knee problem in practice Wednesday but is not on the official injury list.

• ILB Larry Foote had 1.5 sacks against the Eagles and continues to hold off 2007 first-round draft choice Lawrence Timmons. It’s the first time he’s had more than one sack in a game.

Game Plan: The Steelers want to protect their quarterback and run against Baltimore. Trouble is, those are two of the most difficult things to do against the Ravens. They expect a close game, so they likely will operate that way. On defense, they want to stop the run and put pressure and confuse rookie QB Joe Flacco.

Matchups To Watch: Steelers LOLB James Harrison vs. Ravens LT Jared Gaither. Harrison remains the Steelers’ best pass rusher even though all three of his sacks came in the opener.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ravens LB Bart Scott. Roethlisberger has been roughed up by Scott badly in the past.

Steelers rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall, making his first NFL start, against the NFL’s No. 5 rush defense. Mendenhall has no carries the past two games and just 28 yards on 10 in the opener.

Injury Impact: RB Willie Parker will miss at least two games (a bye after that) with a knee sprain. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall will make his first pro starter.

NT Chris Hoke will start for injured Pro Bowler Casey Hampton (groin) and starting right DE Travis Kirschke will back him up. Kirschke will make his second start for Brett Keisel (calf).