The Korea Herald


Steelers improving as Pats visit

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 26, 2011 - 19:03

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PITTSBURGH (AP) ― Mike Tomlin heard the question and cringed just a little.

Yes, it’s true the Pittsburgh Steelers ― the team dubbed “old, slow and ... over” by critics during an uneven opening month ― are alone in first place in the AFC North.

And yes, Tomlin doesn’t want to talk about it. Not before Halloween and certainly not with New England (5-1) coming to town on Sunday.

“Oh gosh, it’s October,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We’re just trying to win week to week and keep pace with the elite.”

Even if Tomlin isn’t quite sure his team is playing at an elite level just yet even after the Steelers handily beat Arizona 32-20 on Sunday to win their third straight.

Not that the standings take style points into account. Pittsburgh (5-2) is a half-game ahead of Baltimore (4-2) and Cincinnati (4-2), a familiar spot for the franchise even if the Steelers aren’t doing it in familiar fashion.

One week the defending AFC champions are narrowly holding off Jacksonville at home, the next they’re putting away Arizona on the road in as complete a performance as Tomlin has seen from his team this year.

“They felt the urgency of the moment in all three phases,” Tomlin said. “It’s the closest thing to 60 minutes of football that we’ve had. It wasn’t 60 minutes, but it was closer than any of our other performances. Hopefully it’s something we can build upon.”
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (UPI-Yonhap News) Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (UPI-Yonhap News)

The Steelers would like to build upon it with wide receiver Hines Ward, who is questionable after injuring his ankle against the Cardinals. Ward typically does not practice with the team on Wednesdays and will likely be given the day off to help him recover.

Tomlin declined to take a guess on whether Ward will play.

“I won’t be surprised about anything that Hines is capable of,” Tomlin said, “particularly from a health standpoint.”

Nose tackle Casey Hampton, who has missed three straight games, could be back though the team will be without linebacker James Harrison (fractured orbital bone), nose tackle Chris Hoke (stinger) and guard Doug Legursky (dislocated toe).

Despite the absence of Harrison and Hampton, the defense has started to round into form. Linebacker James Farrior has 5 1/2 sacks in his last three games, the secondary came up with a rare interception against the Cardinals and cornerback Ike Taylor held Larry Fitzgerald in check.

All good signs heading into another showdown with the Patriots, who have had their way with the Steelers since Tom Brady took over.

New England is 6-1 against Pittsburgh when Brady starts, and his numbers are eye-popping against perennially one of the NFL’s top defenses. Brady is averaging 286 yards passing a game against the Steelers and has thrown for 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions.

The two-time MVP remains as dangerous as ever, and Tomlin dismisses the notion New England’s defense ― ranked 32nd in the league in yards allowed ― is soft.

“That is a function of them just whacking people and being way out in front,” Tomlin said. “So if you come in and you think they are the 32nd best defense in football you are kidding yourself. They are whacking people pretty good. People are throwing the ball every down and they accumulate some yards, it is insignificant.”

So is this game in terms of defining the state of the Steelers, at least according to Tomlin. A win on Sunday would be great. It won’t be the end of the season if it goes the other way.

“When you start talking about playoff seedings and things of that nature, particularly at this point in the season, you are scoreboard watching,” Tomlin said. “That’s not going to be our bag. We are going to see enough quality teams over the rest of this season to deal with a lot of those things first hand and that is really how we prefer to look at it.”