Some good news coming

Mike Tomlin issued some relatively good news for his 5-2 Pittsburgh Steelers heading into their Monday night AFC North game at Cincinnati:

They are healthy, except, of course, for defensive end Aaron Smith.

Tomlin said he expects defensive end Brett Keisel to return to start against the Bengals after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury. He also said both offensive tackle Flozell Adams and running back Isaac Redman are likely to play; each left Sunday night's game in New Orleans with ankle injuries but returned to finish the game.

"Those guys might be limited somewhat here initially," Tomlin said of the practice week. "I don't know that at the early part of the week, but it should not be an issue because they came back in the game. Other than the known issues, Aaron Smith and so forth, we're a relatively healthy group, which is good. This is a big week for us."

It's big because the Steelers are tied again with Baltimore atop the division and because the Bengals, the defending division champs, beat them twice last season. The Steelers had won eight straight, including a playoff after the 2005 season, in Cincinnati before their loss last season.

"I know what their record is," Tomlin said. "They've been in some close games. They lost to Cleveland by three; they lost to Tampa Bay by three. They had control of that Tampa game, but it got away from them late. We realize sometimes games play themselves out like that. We're not going to read too much into their 2-5 record. We recognize what they're capable of. And that's getting after us. We got video evidence to prove that. They did it twice a year ago."

Tomlin admitted on Tuesday that he should have challenged a play in New Orleans in which replays showed Rashard Mendenhall had scored from the 2-yard line and officials ruled he had not. Instead of a touchdown and a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, the Steelers settled for a field goal in a 20-10 loss.

"Since the game I found out it was a potentially challengeable play," Tomlin said. "We didn't deem it to be one in the instance in which it occurred. There wasn't a bunch of video evidence available to us, and the guys on the field didn't seem to think it was a challengeable play, so we didn't."

* Pittsburgh's offensive line that played so surprisingly well early in the season showed some major cracks in New Orleans in a 20-10 loss Sunday night.

The line admittedly was confused by the Saints and by the crowd noise as it could not punch in a touchdown with a first down at the one-foot line and could not protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger much of the night.

"That was probably a difference-maker," tackle Max Starks said of the Saints' early goal-line stand against them. "We need to capitalize on those situations. It was a half-yard, if that. We have to punch it in."

The ball was practically touching the goal line after a replay challenge showed that wide receiver Antwaan Randle El did not score on a reception. Isaac Redman lost a yard on first down, and Rashard Mendenhall gained one on two carries.

It set a tone for the rest of the game as the Steelers lost for the first time on the road this season. They play their third straight on the road next Monday in Cincinnati, the first time they've played three straight away games since 1994.

Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers did not handle the "environment" in the Superdome well.

"We better get used to these kinds of environments," Tomlin said. "It comes with the territory when you're trying to be world champs. We have to play good people in their place, and play better than we played tonight, moving forward."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

* The last time the previous two Super Bowl winners met in the regular season was Sept. 4, 2000, when the Rams played the Broncos. … In AFC-NFC regular-season games matching the two previous Super Bowl winners, the most recent Super Bowl champ is now 6-0.

* Pittsburgh lost its first 2010 draft choice when it released rookie LB Thaddeus Gibson to make room for an extra defensive lineman, Steve McLendon, last Saturday. Gibson was their fourth-round choice, from Ohio State.

* Coach Mike Tomlin, on why he did not challenge a ruling that Rashard Mendenhall did not score Sunday night even though replays appeared to show he got into the end zone from the 2-yard line in the second quarter: "When you're on the road, you don't get the looks at replays. I didn't get that sense from our guys, particularly Rashard, that he thought he was in, so I didn't challenge."

* LB Thaddeus Gibson, waived by the Steelers on Saturday, was claimed by the 49ers. The Steelers added OLB Chris Ellis to their practice squad the same day they lost DE Al Woods off their practice squad to the active roster of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

* QB Ben Roethlisberger is 25-7 vs. AFC North teams in his career and had never lost in Cincinnati before the Bengals swept the Steelers twice last season.

* RB Rashard Mendenhall's average keeps slipping and now stands at 4.1 yards per carry. However, his six rushing touchdowns in seven games is one short of his brief career high of seven last season.

* RB Isaac Redman has a 4.3-yard average but his short-yardage attempts have failed for the most part in recent games, including a one-yard loss at the 1 (as a fullback) in Sunday night's loss in New Orleans.

* TE Heath Miller had just two passes thrown his way Sunday in New Orleans and his 17 receptions are way off his pace of 76, the team record for tight ends he set last season.

* WR Mike Wallace continues to lead the league with a 23.4-yard average per catch although he has been limited to just 17 receptions after replacing departed Santonio Holmes as the starting split end this season. He leads the team with 397 yards.

* WR Hines Ward, who leads the Steelers with 27 receptions, caught just three passes for 15 yards in New Orleans. He did keep his streak alive with 185 consecutive games with a catch, tying Terrell Owens for third-longest in NFL history.

* WR Emmanuel Sanders, a rookie, has been worked into the rotation more often the past several games. Last Sunday, he was the No. 3 receiver on several occasions after serving strictly as No. 4. He has four receptions for 76 yards, all in the past three games.

* LB James Harrison picked up his team-leading sixth sack vs. the Saints after accumulating 10 all of last season. He also may get fined for a personal foul when he roughed passer Drew Brees.

* LB LaMarr Woodley has not missed a start but he missed more than half the game Oct. 24 in Miami with a hamstring injury and he has no sacks or passes defensed in the past two games. He has 3.5 sacks this season.

* LB Lawrence Timmons had another double-digit tackle day in New Orleans and continues to lead the Steelers by a wide margin with 83 total tackles, 21 more than No. 2 James Farrior. He also has two sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

* NT Steve McLendon, signed for the third time from the practice squad last Saturday, likely will remain on the roster the rest of the season as a backup, at least until/if DE Aaron Smith returns from his partially torn triceps.

* CB Bryant McFadden has been playing well since the Steelers re-acquired him in a trade after he spent 2009 with the Cardinals. McFadden had a sack and a forced fumble Sunday, giving him two forced fumbles. He's tied for the team lead with five passes defensed and he's third with 52 tackles, most of any defensive back.

REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

PASSING OFFENSE:

D -- Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers were out of sync much of the night against a Saints defense that did not allow a deep pass and disrupted their rhythm. Roethlisberger completed 17 of 28 passes for just 195 yards. He was sacked three times and intercepted once, and on his biggest gainer of the night, Heath Miller fumbled the ball away after a 25-yard reception.

RUSHING OFFENSE:

D -- When you cannot get one foot on three runs early in the game, it sets a tone, and that is what happened for the Steelers' run game. Pittsburgh had three cracks and could not put it in the end zone early. Rashard Mendenhall had 71 yards, with 38 of those coming on one TD run. Overall, the Steelers had 108 yards and a 5.1-yard average but they did not do it when they had to.

PASS DEFENSE:

D -- Except for an athletic interception by Ike Taylor, the pass defense was picked apart. Drew Brees completed 34 of 44 for 305 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Steelers sacked him twice but really did not put much pressure on him. Troy Polamalu was called for pass interference in the end zone on one play. James Harrison was penalized for roughing the passer, a flag that helped New Orleans to its final TD that put the game away.

RUSH DEFENSE:

A -- The Saints, who were without their top two backs, could get nowhere against the top rush defense in the NFL. New Orleans ran 21 times and managed 30 yards, a 1.4-yard average. Like the Steelers, the Saints had a first down at the 1 (in the third quarter) and wound up kicking a field goal on fourth down after three runs produced minus-4 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

B-minus -- Emmanuel Sanders again looked good in the return game and again fumbled one return, a kickoff on which a teammate recovered. His first NFL punt return went for 38 yards, and he had three kickoff returns that averaged 32.7 yards. Jeff Reed made a 19-yard field goal, but he missed another from 51 yards wide right indoors that would have given his team a 6-0 lead.

COACHING:

D -- It was not a good night for Mike Tomlin on the replay front. He challenged one Saints non-fumble early, and it was confirmed a non-fumble. He failed to challenge a run by Rashard Mendenhall that looked as though it reached the goal line, and the Steelers settled for a field goal on that series. The Steelers had trouble dealing with the noise, and their offense was confused by the Saints' defensive maneuvers, which sounds like a lack of preparation in those areas. Tomlin also went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Saints 41, trailing by just three. The Steelers did not make it, and New Orleans turned it into a TD drive that put the game away.


Steel City Insider Top Stories