Notebook: Orange alert for officials

PITTSBURGH – The "Carson Palmer Penalty" was called last week against Kimo von Oelhoffen's replacement, Brett Keisel, for hitting a quarterback in the legs. It cost the Steelers 15 yards, even though ...

... it was apparent that Keisel pulled his arms away as he slid down quarterback Byron Leftwich's leg.

Palmer, of course, recovered from the knee injury von Oelhoffen inadvertently dished out in last year's playoff game, but today's officials – already emboldened by the new rule – could be on orange-level alert. That wouldn't surprise Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.

"Eventually it's going to be flag football, just because the quarterback position is held so high and they're protected so much," said Porter. "If you're on the ground, you've got to almost stand back up to try and tackle him. You can't reach for him when you're on the ground, but you can tackle a running back by his legs. At the end of the day it still is football. How they're trying to protect the quarterback is a phase we have to go through."

Will Porter, the main threat on Palmer's blind side, alter his approach because of the expected scrutiny in today's 1 p.m. game at Heinz Field?

"I'm playing football the way I was taught to play football," he said. "I never came from the blind side aiming for the legs anyway. I'm the type of guy who wants to cause a fumble. I'm trying to hit you when you're throwing the ball. I want to hit your arm and try to knock the ball loose. I'm going to get him however I can get him down."

Palmer has been sacked five times in two games. His passer rating is a modest – for him – 85.3.

The Steelers, meanwhile, have four sacks in two games. Last year they averaged 2.9 sacks per game.

MUST WIN?

The Steelers would fall two games behind the Bengals, and probably three games behind the Baltimore Ravens (at Cleveland), if they lose today. Does that make Game 3 a must-win game?

"No. It's not time to hit the panic button yet," said Porter. "But at the same time it's a must-win. You know what I mean? I know that sounds crazy but it's a little bit of both. You definitely don't want to go down 1-2 before the break. I'll feel much better going into our break 2-1."

After next week's bye, the Steelers play at San Diego on a Sunday night.

INJURY UPDATE

The Steelers upgraded safety Troy Polamalu (shoulder) to probable. The only player listed as questionable or worse for the Steelers is rookie receiver Santonio Holmes (foot), who's expected to play.

The Bengals upgraded receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (heel) to probable after he practiced Friday.

Out of the Bengals' lineup will be defensive end David Pollack (IR), center Rich Braham (knee), safety Dexter Jackson (ankle), reserve linebacker A.J. Nicholson (hamstring), and receiver Tab Perry (hip). Receiver Antonio Chatman (groin) is doubtful and linebacker Odell Thurman is suspended.

Making his second career start at center is Eric Ghiaciuc, a fourth-round pick last year out of Central Michigan. Kevin Kaesviharn, who started all 16 games last season, replaces Jackson at strong safety. Perry, who made the play of the game – a tiebreaking 94-yard kickoff return in the third quarter -- in the Bengals' win at Heinz Field last year, was injured late in last week's game. Kenny Watson has the only other Bengals kickoff return.

ABOUT THOSE BIG CUSHIONS …

Leftwich picked the Steelers apart Monday night for 260 passing yards. Some of it was due to faulty tackling and some of it was due to the big cushions Steelers defensive backs gave the receivers.

"That's our defense," said cornerback Deshea Townsend. "If you've been in Pittsburgh watching our defense, the corners always play off most of the time. You can get up there and bump, but for the most part we play off."

Why?

"You want to be able to see," Townsend said. "You want to be able to go, react to everything that's out there, everything that's not a pass and if you're off you're able to see things. Once we start making those tackles, it'll be the same thing you're used to seeing."

QUOTABLE

Aaron Smith on the mood of the Steelers: "The good thing about the short week is you don't have much time to sit on it. You won't sit around for a couple days and think about things, question everything. Sometimes you can overanalyze stuff when you lose. I think that can happen sometimes."

Hines Ward on the rusty passing attack: "I think we'll be fine. Ben [Roethlisberger] gets a full game in coming off preseason, coming off the appendectomy. Really, our timing's going to be a little better this week."


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