By Jim Wexell...
The Steelers are hoping for a Woodson-like recovery for Aaron Smith. Also, notes on the secondary, the Saints, and the NFL vice-president.
PITTSBURGH – Is this the case of Rod Woodson all over again? In 1995 the Steelers lost their best player, Woodson, to a torn ACL in the opener. Bill Cowher refrained from putting him on injured reserve and Woodson was able to make it back to play in the Super Bowl.
The Steelers are hoping the same circumstances come together this season with Aaron Smith.
The run-stopping left defensive end tore a left triceps tendon Sunday, underwent surgery Monday, but has not been placed on injured reserve yet by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“It was partially torn and fixed,” said Tomlin. “He’s going to be out an extended period of time and at this juncture we intend to wait that out. Aaron’s a quality player, a veteran leader for us. If there’s hope for his return, then of course we’re going to be hopeful as long as we possibly can. That is our mentality as we sit here today.”
Tomlin didn’t disclose any time frame for Smith’s recovery. He also refused to name the on-field replacements, although Ziggy Hood, who’s just recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered Sept. 26, will replace Smith, 34, with the first team.
“Chances are we’ll find those answers in-house like we always do,” Tomlin said. “Steve (McLendon) has stepped up when given the opportunity. (Chris) Hoke has proven he’s capable of playing the end. We’ll have a mix-and-match concept that hopefully will see us through.”
In other injury news, Tomlin expects RG Trai Essex and RT Flozell Adams to return to action this week. The coach is also hopeful that the hamstrings of RDE Brett Keisel and LOLB LaMarr Woodley are healthy enough for practice this week.
If Keisel can’t play Sunday night in New Orleans, veteran Nick Eason will replace him for a second consecutive game. If Woodley can’t play, Tomlin will turn to the combination of Larry Foote and rookie Jason Worilds as he did for two-plus quarters in Miami.
The Steelers are allowing a pass-completion percentage of 66.2 percent, which not only ranks 28th in the league but is on pace to smash the team record of 62.4 percent set in 1991.
In its 78 years in the league, Pittsburgh has allowed 60 percent of opponents’ passes to be completed only four times. The 1991 and 2003 teams had losing records; the 2006 team went 8-8; and the 1987 team went 8-7. These Steelers, of course, are 5-1.
“The thing that’s most exciting is we don’t allow people to score touchdowns,” Tomlin said. “We lead the league in scoring defense. Even in red areas we make people kick field goals. That’s the formula for winning defense. I’m less concerned about what stats may potentially tell us because we all know, in many instances, they lie.”
But the stat that best defines New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is his league-leading completion percentage of 69.7. He and the Saints are waiting on deck to dive into the Steelers’ secondary.
As for the quarterbacks who’ve compiled the 66.2 completion percentage against the Steelers, they’ve completed 60.2 percent against the rest of their opponents.
Tomlin was asked why the defending champion Saints were handled so easily at home Sunday by the Cleveland Browns.
“They probably weren’t as familiar with the kind of damage that Shawn Rodgers can do,” Tomlin said of the Browns’ backup nose tackle. “That’s probably the thing that jumped off the tape to me more than anything.”
While the tape may show a dominating performance, Rodgers was credited with only one tackle in the game.
RASBERRY FOR THE LEAGUE
In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, Steelers linebacker James Harrison pulled up from a potential hit on Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown as Brown was being tackled on the play. NFL vice-president Ray Anderson praised Harrison the next day, but Tomlin was less than enthusiastic.
“I think what Ronnie Brown did had more to do with it than anything else,” Tomlin said. “James took his normal approach and angle to the football. Ronnie Brown caught the ball clean and got down like a savvy veteran does when he’s in harm’s way. I’m less concerned about Ray Anderson’s evaluation of James’s performance than I am just evaluating James’s performance myself.”
Is Tomlin OK with the league office commenting on his players’ performances?
“It would be tough for me to care less about their opinion, to be honest with you,” he said.