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Old 01-14-2011, 07:32 AM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Steelers report: Inside slant

Steelers report: Inside slant
The Sports Xchange
Jan. 14, 2011

After defense of their Super Bowl XLIII title fell flat on their face in 2009, the Steelers are ready to mount another drive to try to win their eighth Lombardi trophy when they open the playoff Saturday at home. (Eighth trophy? The article may wrong in fact but it's correct in spirit. After all the perverted element of the NFL know as the Cheats stole at least one from us. - mesa)

A year out of the playoffs has whetted their appetite for another.

"It's big. It's great to have a playoff game at home in front of Steeler Nation," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "To go against a great rival like the Ravens, that's the way you want it. You want it to be great football, you want it to be the best against the best and we feel good about our chances."

The past four games between the teams have been decided by three points. Of the past seven, all have been close with none more than four points except the AFC Championship Game in 2008 when the Steelers held a two-point lead with the Ravens driving late. Troy Polamalu ended that drive and the game with an interception he returned for a touchdown.

"One turnover, one sack, one goal-line stand makes all the difference in winning these types of games," Polamalu said. "That's why it's such a chess match every time we play them. Every single inch, every possession, every field position you have, whether good or bad, has so much to do with the outcome of the game. That's what's so awesome about watching this game."

The Steelers are a relatively healthy team with a week off after they polished off the regular season Jan. 2 by pounding the Cleveland Browns 41-9 to lock up their third AFC North Division title in four years and the No. 2 seed in the conference.

It gave them time to rest some of their wounded and older players and work on things they normally would not have had time to do.

"I thought we had a very productive week last week," coach Mike Tomlin said. "No question there are always issues when you don't play a week. But I would rather have those issues rather than having to play Wild Card weekend."

--He did not make the Pro Bowl this season, yet Ben Roethlisberger has had his best season in his coaches' opinion and enters his fifth playoffs in seven seasons looking to tie Tom Brady with three Super Bowl rings.

The 2010 season was "as good as I've ever been around with him," said coordinator Bruce Arians, who joined the Steelers as wide receivers coach the same year in which they drafted their franchise quarterback, 2004. "I think this is his best year."

The year started off as poorly as could be imagined with a four-game suspension, but Roethlisberger used that time to tinker with his motion and his footwork and it has helped him deliver another superb 12-4 season for the Steelers and a third AFC North Division title in the past four years.

He brings a personal 8-2 record against Baltimore into Saturday's epic rematch with the Ravens to go with his 8-2 post-season record since his team reached the AFC Championship Game as a rookie.

"He's playing extremely well right now, he's really into it," Arians said. "The guys around him are playing solid. I think the emergence of the young wide receivers have helped him a bunch. Getting Heath (Miller) back has also helped. He's playing at a very high level."

Roethlisberger has never been put on the level of Brady and Peyton Manning, but his team accomplishments are unequalled among any active quarterback other than Brady. His two Super Bowl rings -- his first came as the youngest quarterback ever to get one -- are one more than Manning, Brett Favre or anyone else other than Brady, who has three.

And he overcame all types of adversity this season to lead the Steelers to the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. There was that four-game suspension, the loss of his starting right tackle before the season, the loss of his starting left tackle during the season, the loss of Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes at wide receiver and an offensive line that hasn't played well. He also sustained a broken foot and broken nose during the season, and was sucker-punched after a play by Richard Seymour of Oakland.

Through it all, he compiled a 97.0 passer rating and threw just five interceptions, by far his lowest rate in his career. He did not miss a snap after his suspension until he was pulled in the third quarter of the final game, a rout of Cleveland.

"I think he's playing extremely well, but he's the same old Ben," coach Mike Tomlin said.

Why, though, so few interceptions this season?

Said Tomlin, "I think he's always been generally very careful with the football, at least since I've been here. We've been fortunate this year that we've been good at maintaining possession of the football and really quite frankly getting the football. Turnover ratio has been one of the key recipes for our success so far."

Among the keys to the Steelers' success this season compared to their 9-7 record that missed the playoffs in 2009 has been the turnover stat. They were 14 turnovers to the good this season compared to minus-three in 2009.

33rd meeting. Steelers lead series, 20-12 and in the playoffs, the Steelers hold a 2-0 advantage, with both games at Heinz Field over the past decade. The Steelers lead the regular-season series 18-12, 7-3 at Heinz Field -- 9-3 including the post-season. The teams met in Pittsburgh for the 2008 AFC championship won by the Steelers, 23-14, and was sealed when Troy Polamalu returned an interception for a touchdown in the closing minutes.

Steelers report: Strategy and personnel

The Sports Xchange
Jan. 14, 2011

The Steelers signed six players to futures contracts for the 2011 season: linebackers Mortty Ivy and Baraka Atkins, running back James Johnson, guard Nevin McCaskill, fullback/tight end Jamie McCoy and cornerback Donovan Warren.


-- SS Troy Polamalu (Achilles) practiced for the first time since the Steelers last played Jan. 2 and said he felt fine. "I would say I'm on par with everybody else."

-- CB Bryant McFadden practiced for the first time since he came down with an abdominal injury Jan. 2 and will start on Saturday. McFadden allowed the winning touchdown pass with 36 seconds left to T.J. Houshmandzadeh when the Steelers last played the Ravens in Heinz field and lost, 17-14, Oct. 3.

-- LB LaMarr Woodley has two sacks in each of his four postseason games but the Ravens shut him out in two games this season. Woodley said Baltimore had changed its approach to him, using a back and tight end to alter his rush.

-- PK Shaun Suisham squibbed every kick on Jan. 2 against the Cleveland Browns to near perfection. Might he continue that against the Ravens? "We'll see," Suisham said.

-- RB Rashard Mendenhall increased his production rushing by 129 yards to 1,273 yards in 2010 over the previous season. However, his average per carry dropped dramatically, from 4.6 a year ago to 3.9 this season.

--DE Aaron Smith (triceps) was listed as being "limited" in practice Wednesday by the Steelers but he did not participate in any kind of drills and will not play.

--LB LaMarr Woodley, whose 29 sacks were the most by a Steeler in his first three seasons, added the most in the first four seasons with 39 sacks. Woodley's contract ends after the season.

--P Jeremy Kapinos has steadily improved in the four games he has played since Daniel Sepulveda was lost with another ACL injury. In his first four games, Kapinos averaged 35.2 gross yards, 38.0, 45.3 and 56.0 and now is an aggregate 41.1 yards. Five of his 14 punts have been downed inside the 20.

The Steelers want to run the ball on offense but realize that they likely will have to throw on the Ravens in order to move with any consistency. On defense, they'd like to pressure Joe Flacco but have not done well in that area and must guard against the delays, screens and short passes to Ray Rice.

Steelers rookie Pro Bowl C Maurkice Pouncey vs. Ravens Pro Bowl DT Haloti Ngata.

Steelers S Troy Polamalu vs. Ravens S Ed Reed. They don't face each other but they are the two best safeties in the game and the outcome could hinge on one of them making a big play.

Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs vs. Steelers LT Jonathan Scott. It was a mismatch back on Dec. 5 when Suggs spent all day in the Steelers' backfield.

DE Aaron Smith won't play again and Ziggy Hood will make his 11th straight start.

Steelers report: Notes, quotes

The Sports Xchange
Jan. 14, 2011

--Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have a good-natured competition among themselves for stats and they could not have gotten much closer this season. Harrison had 10.5 sacks, Woodley 10. Both had 31 quarterback pressures. Both had two interceptions. Harrison's biggest advantage came in tackles, where he had 73 solo and 100 total to Woodley's 41 and 55.

--WR Hines Ward, who has been in the playoffs seven of his 13 seasons, has been trying to tutor second-year WR Mike Wallace on what it will be like -- to the point where the young receiver has heard enough.

"You know Hines is all ready to tell you the story anyway," Wallace said. "He took care of that two weeks ago, letting me know about the speed and the focus and what it takes to win."

--Call it stating the obvious when these two teams square off but according to Harrison, "It's not going to be a huge high-scoring game. I don't know the last time either one of these teams scored over 21 points (against the other). It's going to be a defensive battle."

In the past seven games between them, including the 2008 AFC title game, the most points scored were 23.

7-1 -- Steelers record in their past eight post-season games, a period that includes two Super Bowl victories, starting in the 2005 season. Their only loss came at home to Jacksonville in 2007.

"I hate playing these guys because they're so good, especially on defense." -- QB Ben Roethlisberger.

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