Steelers Team Report
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INSIDE SLANT

Both Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward have said they want to put their tiff behind them, but the Steelers’ quarterback admitted Thursday that Ward’s criticism of his absence last Sunday “hurt” him.

“He reached out to me and I told him I was just more hurt than anything,” Roethlisberger said. “You know, we got over it, moved past it and now we’re preparing.”

Ward has spent much of this week both explaining his comments and apologizing for them. “In hindsight looking at it, we’re never going to jeopardize a man’s health issues to play a game,” Ward said.

Ward had long talks with coach Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger on Monday, issued statements Tuesday on his Facebook page, apologized to the entire team Wednesday and then gave long interviews in the locker room to explain his situation.

The words that stung Roethlisberger came in a NBC-TV interview over the weekend when Ward learned Roethlisberger would not play after practicing all week. The quarterback developed headaches after he left the Nov. 22 game in Kansas City with a concussion.

“I’ve been out there dinged up. The following week, got right back out there. Ben practiced all week,” Ward said, among other things.

Roethlisberger brought up his near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2006 as one reason doctors balked at his playing this time.

“A lot of people forget the accident that I had. (The doctors) remembered that. It was life threatening, I almost lost my life for an accident to my head and face and the five plates I have in my face right now.”

Roethlisberger did put in another full day of practice Thursday and vowed to play on Sunday against Oakland at home.

“I feel great. I’m ready to go, practiced yesterday, felt good, no headaches and ready to rock and roll.”

The Steelers play 3-8 Oakland on Sunday as they try to snap a three-game losing streak and claw their way back into a playoff spot.

“The playoffs officially begin for us this week. You lose, we’re pretty much out of it,” Ward said. “We know what’s at stake. Our playoff season begins this weekend. This team knows if we lose we’re pretty much out of it.”

At 6-5, the Steelers are in the thick of the running for a wild-card playoff spot and, realistically, they might be able to go 4-1 as long as one of their victories includes Baltimore on Dec. 27.

They have two soft touches coming up at home vs. the Raiders and then at Cleveland next Thursday. They then finish with games against three teams in the playoff hunt: Green Bay and Baltimore at home, and at Miami.

“[HIGH-LIGHT]We’re kind of ???????? kinda of???????[/HIGH-LIGHT]in a situation where we need to win this weekend,” tight end Heath Miller said. “All of our efforts need to be pointed in that direction and we’ll see where we’re at after that game.”

The three-game losing skid is the first in the three seasons under Tomlin. The AFC North Division has virtually been ceded to Cincinnati, which would have to go 2-3 while the Steelers go 5-0 for them to bungle the division title this time.

The Steelers find themselves in a similar position to the one that faced them in 2005, when they were 7-5 and had to win their remaining four games to make the playoffs. They did just that to secure the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot, then won four more in the postseason to become Super Bowl champs.

“That (team’s) makeup was different but it’s a similar situation to that,” Ward said. “Hopefully, we can just concentrate, get back on the winning track, beat Oakland and move on from there.”

Series History: 18th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series 9-8. The teams are even in Pittsburgh at 4-4. The Steelers have played the Raiders more times in the playoffs than any other team except Denver, both at six. The Raiders and Steelers are 3-3 in those six postseason games. They last met in 2006 in Oakland, a game won by the Raiders 20-13. The Raiders last played in Pittsburgh in 2004, a game won by the Steelers 24-21.

NOTES, QUOTES

—Pittsburgh has the No. 3 defense in the NFL, yet in four of their five losses they’ve allowed a fourth-quarter lead to slip away.


“I can’t really put my finger on it right now,” LB James Farrior said. “I don’t think it’s any one thing we can look at and say we need to do better. We just have to play better situational football, making those plays at the end of the game. We’ve been in every ballgame that we played, we’ve been close, we just haven’t made the plays at the end in certain situations that we made last year and won the games.”

• The Steelers had their most lopsided run-pass ratio of the season in Baltimore, running 59.3 percent of the time. Before that game, they ran the ball only slightly higher than 40 percent of the time.

“Last week was the first game this season that we’ve committed to the run,” center Justin Hartwig(notes) said.

• Safety Ryan Clark, one of four starters playing in the final year of his contract, said there is other motivation for players to step it up.

“One thing about losing, when you do lose, the organization looks to make changes. They figure if they’re not winning they have to find a way to get better as a team.”

[HIGH-LIGHT]By The Numbers: 0—Number of interceptions Steelers cornerbacks have combined this season.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Quote To Note: “We will unleash Hell here in December because we have to.”—Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

A change in the practice squad was made Wednesday. Fan-popular rookie halfback Isaac “Redzone” Redman was released and two were brought back: RB Justin Vincent and DT Steve McClendon. The Steelers also released CB Corey Ivy and signed CB Anthony Madison.

Player Notes

• K Jeff Reed has made his past 11 field goal tries and is 15 of 18 overall since missing 3 of 5 in Weeks 2-3, both 3-point losses.

• CB Anthony Madison, who led the Steelers with 25 special teams tackles last season, was re-signed Wednesday. They released him before the season despite his exceptional play on special teams and he went on to play in Cleveland and Indianapolis, which released him Tuesday.

• RB Willie Parker and not Rashard Mendenhall would serve as the third-down back if Mewelde Moore cannot play because of swelling in an ankle.

• WR Limas Sweed will suit up for the remaining games after the Steelers released veteran Sean McDonald last week. Sweed, though, has played little even though he dressed the past four games as the fourth receiver. He has had one pass thrown toward him in that time with no receptions.

• [HIGH-LIGHT]CB Ike Taylor has one interception in his past 30 games[/HIGH-LIGHT], including playoffs, and that came against Dallas last Dec. 27, with no return yards.

Game Plan: The Steelers ran a season-high 38 times last week with Dennis Dixon at QB. [HIGH-LIGHT]The Raiders have the 31st-ranked run defense[/HIGH-LIGHT]. Ben Roethlisberger may be rusty. Do the math. On defense, the Steelers will go after Bruce Gradkowski. They sacked Joe Flacco five times last week.

Matchups To Watch: Raiders DE Richard Seymour vs. Steelers RT Willie Colon. [HIGH-LIGHT]Seymour has just four sacks [/HIGH-LIGHT][HIGH-LIGHT]but he can still crank it up. [/HIGH-LIGHT]There was a reason the Cheatriots let him go....

Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Steelers WR Santonio Holmes. Teams normally try to stay away from throwing to Asomugha’s side.

Raiders KR Jonathan Holland vs. Steelers kick coverage. Holland averages only 19.6 yards per return [HIGH-LIGHT]but good things can happen when returning against the Steelers.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Injury Impact:

• DE Travis Kirschke did not practice for a second day after having soreness in his left calf. Kirschke played for the first time in four games last Sunday after he tore a calf muscle.

• G Chris Kemoeatu went through a full practice for the second day and likely will return to start vs. Oakland. Kemoeatu missed one game with a sprained MCL.

• QB Ben Roethlisberger is 89-of-144 for 885 yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the five games he started after missing the previous game. That comes to a 64.15 passer rating.

• QB Dennis Dixon will serve as the No. 2 quarterback Sunday for the first time in his two-year career after receiving rave reviews from coaches and teammates following his first NFL start.


•[HIGH-LIGHT] CB William Gay has come under flak for his poor pass coverage, [HIGH-LIGHT]which may be one reason he is second on the team in tackles[/HIGH-LIGHT]. Even coach Mike Tomlin said teams are likely to continue to target him.[/HIGH-LIGHT]