Disruption Won't Be Distraction

Notebook from Thursday includes a change of plans, the Giants and tight ends, and the Steelers' health, or lack thereof, at running back.

The Steelers normally fly out of town for away games late Saturday afternoons, stay at a hotel, get a police escort to the stadium the next day, and leave the stadium behind that same escort to the airport on Sunday nights.

The routine has changed thanks to Hurricane Sandy, and as Mike Tomlin said Tuesday, "It's life in the National Football League. It's this week's challenge."

The Steelers will instead fly into New Jersey on Sunday morning and bus straight to MetLife Stadium to play the New York Giants at 4:25 p.m.

But if the Steelers are at a slight disadvantage by having their routine disrupted, it's minor compared to what's happened to the Giants and their families this week in the flood-stricken New York/New Jersey area.

While Giants quarterback Eli Manning would say only that "these last couple days have been a little different," former Steelers coach Bill Cowher believes the Giants will be distracted.

"Obviously the Giants are coming home off a big, emotional win on the road against a division rival, so there is a chance for a letdown," said Cowher, who works as a studio analyst for CBS TV. "Plus, you can say what you want about not being distracted by all that has occurred with the hurricane this week, but it has to still be in the forefront of a lot of the Giants' players' minds."

As for the Steelers, Cowher said, "Pittsburgh had a big win last week to get back on track and is starting to come into its own right now. This is a huge game for them. They need to stay in tune with Baltimore and can't afford to fall too far behind."

That's why Tomlin won't let the disruption of his travel routine turn into a distraction. It's been his mantra since taking over in 2007, one that carried his team to a 3-1 record in 2010 during Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension.


Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys set an NFL record last Sunday against the Giants by catching 18 passes for 167 yards. The 18 receptions are the most ever by a tight end in one game.

So Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked Thursday if his red-hot tight end, Heath Miller, might catch, say, 20 passes on Sunday.

"I was with Witten for a few years," said Haley. "Those two remind me a lot of each other. You don't hear much out of either one of them. They do a heck of a job with anything you ask them to do. Witten has been playing that position for a long time now and has done a great job. I always root for him unless we are playing against him."

But could Miller duplicate such a performance?

"Witten is good. He knows how to get open. He is not that much different than Miller. They have a lot of similarities," Haley said.

Witten came into the league a year before Miller and has been to seven Pro Bowls. He leads NFL tight ends this season with 51 receptions (487 yards and 1 touchdown.)

Miller, a one-time Pro Bowler, has 35 catches for 336 yards and 6 touchdowns. He's second in touchdowns to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's seven. Gronkowski also leads NFL tight ends with 580 receiving yards.

As for the Giants' defense, while they did allow the Patriots' two tight ends 10 receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown in last season's Super Bowl, Witten's performance last week appears to have been an aberration. The Giants held Brent Celek to 4 catches for 57 yards and Vernon Davis to 3 catches for 37 yards in games this season against top tight ends.


Missing practice Thursday were a couple of players who've already been ruled out of Sunday's game, SS Troy Polamalu and RT Marcus Gilbert, another, reserve LB Stevenson Sylvester, who was "very questionable," and another whose availability is becoming a concern, OLB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring).

Also missing Thursday's practice was reserve running back Baron Batch (shin), but Jonathan Dwyer (quad) and Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles') worked at running back in a limited capacity.

The only "healthy" running backs are Isaac Redman, who's back to work after missing the last two games with an ankle injury, and rookie Chris Rainey.

But even Redman won't claim to be 100 percent. "I doubt if I'll be 100 percent for the rest of the season," he said.

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