Steelers Team Report
Yahoo! Sports

INSIDE SLANT

A bandaged Steelers offensive line will try to hold off what has been an uncharacteristically leaky New England defense when they play Sunday night.

[HIGH-LIGHT]It’ll be the No. 28 offense of the Steelers vs. the No. 29 defense of the Patriots.[/HIGH-LIGHT] Steelers D ranked 4th...Pats O ranked 20th

Pittsburgh lost starting left tackle Max Starks for the season with a neck injury and may have a whole new left side of the line because left guard Chris Kemoeatu has a sprained MCL. Add in a gimpy Heath Miller, their starting tight end who has water on his knee, and it’s an offense that has a lot of wounds to lick.

And, they weren’t that good when they were all healthy.

The Steelers have had trouble moving the ball, even once quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned. In fact, their ground game has dropped off since he came back and now ranks only 12th in the NFL after averaging less than 100 yards per game the past five games.

Roethlisberger has a typical passer rating for him, 96.8, but the Steelers aren’t throwing much. He has only 917 yards passing in four games since his return from his four-game suspension. That’s far off the pace of the 4,328 yards he had in 15 games last season.


[HIGH-LIGHT]New England presents a tempting target for the Steelers to throw the ball. The Patriots rank 29th in pass defense, allowing 268.9 yards per game.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

“When you’re ahead like they are, people are going to get yards and move up and down the field,” coach Mike Tomlin said as a way of trying to explain the Patriots’ defensive sieve. “They’re doing what’s necessary to keeping people out of the end zone.”

One area in which the Steelers’ passing game has excelled is the deep pass and the protection of its quarterback. Mike Wallace leads the NFL with a 23-yard average per catch and has five touchdowns. Roethlisberger has been sacked seven times in his four games after getting sacked 50 times in 15 games last season.

That record of safety for the quarterback will be tested with yet more personnel changes in the starting line.

“I have confidence in all those guys, whether it’s the starting five or the next guy or the next guy to fill in,” Roethlisberger said. “I have all the confidence in the world those guys will keep me upright.”

Roethlisberger may have a career winning percentage of .700, but he’s 2-3 vs. the Patriots, including one loss in the AFC Championship Game his rookie season of 2004. And he expects that statistically woeful New England defense to try to come after him.

“I think we’ll see a lot of blitzing,” Roethlisberger said. “Coach Belichick is well known for his film study and bringing different looks and exotic things.”

Series History: 21st regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 13-7. The Patriots are 3-1 against the Steelers in the post-season, including two AFC Championship Game victories at Heinz Field. Overall, the Steelers are 2-6 against the Patriots since 1998, including those two AFC title games. Pittsburgh did win the most recent game at New England in 2008 by a score of 33-10, tying its largest margin of victory over the Patriots since the Steelers won 33-3 in their first game against the former AFL team in 1972.

NOTES, QUOTES

• Linebacker James Harrison got his day in court when he appealed two fines to the NFL Tuesday morning. Harrison appealed a $75,000 fine the NFL issued him for what it called an illegal hit of Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi Oct. 17, and for a $20,000 fine for a roughing penalty on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees Oct. 31.

“We told our side of the story and I think we told it well,” said Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent.

• The Steelers have reached the halfway point of the season at 6-2, the same record they had last season, the same record they had in 2008 and the same record they had in 2007. Mike Tomlin has known nothing but 6-2 in his four seasons as their head coach.

• Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians warned his offensive players on Wednesday that the Patriots’ defense, although ranked 29th, is not a pushover. As QB Ben Roethlisberger quoted Arians, “Our offense is ranked pretty low as well and we know that we’re better than that. Numbers are just that, they’re numbers.”

[HIGH-LIGHT]By The Numbers: 8—Number of games the Steelers have held opponents to 75 yards rushing or fewer, the only time in NFL history a team has done that through the first eight games.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Quote To Note: “Well he’s 6-8, 300-some pounds; it’s a big loss.”—QB Ben Roethlisberger’s answer when asked how big tackle Max Starks’ loss will be to the Steelers.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Steelers placed starting left OT Max Starks (neck) on injured reserve. They added rookie OT Chris Scott from the PUP list on the final day he was eligible to come off. Scott practiced the past three weeks and the Steelers had to decide by Wednesday whether to put him on the 53-man roster, release him or keep him on PUP for the rest of the season.

Player Notes

• LB LaMarr Woodley had his first two-sack game of the season and 13th in his four-year career, including the playoffs.

• WR Mike Wallace continues to lead the NFL in average yards per catch for the second straight year. He has a 23.0 average on 22 receptions. Last season, he averaged 19.4.

• LB Lawrence Timmons holds the team lead with 87 tackles, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, has a forced fumble, fumble recovery and has two sacks.

• LB Jason Worilds has been a rookie demon on special teams. He leads the kicking game with 10 tackles and recovered a fumble Sunday on the opening kickoff that led to a TD.

• QB Ben Roethlisberger has the second-best winning percentage of all active NFL quarterbacks at .700 (63-27). No. 1 is his opponent this week, Tom Brady at .763 (103-32).

Game Plan: The Steelers hope to tighten up their pass defense against Tom Brady because they have not done so well in that area. They rank 24th in the league against the pass, partly because teams just cannot run against their No. 1 run defense. On offense, they would like to run it better but that’s been a problem for them. They expect the Patriots to try to flood their new left tackle and a tight end likely will line up on that side more often because of it.

Matchups To Watch: Steelers rookie C Maurkice Pouncey, their best offensive lineman, vs. Pro Bowl NT Vince Wilfork.

Steelers LT Jonathan Scott, getting his second start, vs. DE Mike Wright and OLB Tully Banta-Cain, who had three sacks when Scott started at left tackle for Buffalo last December.

Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall, who has seven rushing TDs, vs. Patriots run defense, which has allowed seven rushing TDs total.

Injury Impact: Starting LT Max Starks (neck) was placed on IR. Jonathan Scott will start in his place. Starting G Chris Kemoeatu has a sprained MCL and if he cannot play, Ramon Foster will start. DE Brett Keisel (hamstring) left Sunday’s game after missing the previous two and did not practice Wednesday. Nick Eason would start in his place. RBs Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman, who left Sunday’s game with concussions, returned to practice Wednesday. TE Heath Miller did not practice Wednesday but is expected to play.

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