The Steelers are shaking off the effects of a few days off today as coach Mike Tomlin just finished his weekly confab with the media to discuss this week's New England game. We'll have a full report from Ed Bouchette in Wednesday's P-G as well as online. And we'll have our weekly video from Tomlin's press conference up later today.
Some highlights from Tomlin:
On the injury front, Brett Keisel has an MCL sprain in a knee and is out this week and at least one more week. This was reported today by Gerry Dulac, but Tomlin confirmed that today. CB Bryant McFadden, who has missed the last five games with a broken forearm is questionable for this week. RB Willie Parker is questionable with a right knee problem. CB Deshea Townsend continues to be doubtful and OT Marvel Smith remains out with a lower back problem. WR Santonio Holmes, who sustained a concussion in the Cincinnati game on Thursday, should be good to go, though Tomlin said they'd monitor the situation all week.
On the change back to punter Mitch Berger, who was cut two weeks ago for Paul Ernster, who was just cut after a poor performance vs. Cincinnati: The punting "was not up to snuff," Tomlin said. "It's good to have Mitch back." Berger had injured hamstrings, which led to a couple of poor performances, before his being released. Tomlin did not answer a question about if the hamstring injuries were still affecting Berger.
On the upcoming schedule: "I don't care about the schedule in March and I don't care about it now. We play New England this week, that's what we're concentrating on."
This begins the tough stretch for the Steelers, with the next four games against playoff contenders. There are only five games left in the season and only the finale on Dec. 28 vs. Cleveland looks like a break in the schedule. Sunday's opponent, New England, looks like it hasn't skipped a beat with Matt Cassel at QB. He torched the Dolphins last week for 415 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for a TD, too. That's two weeks in a row he's passed for 400-plus yards. Make no mistake, the Patriots offense is nearly as good as in years past. Of course they are even better with Tom Brady at the helm, but it looks as though Cassel has them humming pretty good right now at 7-4. When you have guys like WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker, as well as a TE as talented as Ben Watson, you are going to move the ball through the air. Tomlin said those guys would get open against single coverage and the key would be how well the Steelers played "team defense" on Sunday.
On the ground, Kevin Faulk leads the Patriots ground game, which is No. 7 in the NFL.
If the Steelers are to make some hay in Foxboro, then the offense will have to continue to improve. We'll find out how much carried over from the 27-10 defeat of the Bengals last Thursday night. If the Patriots have a weak spot, it's the defense. It's not nearly what it has been the last few years. The Steelers offense needs some sustained drives and touchdowns, not field goals, to build a lead and keep the Pats' offense off the field.
It should be a marquee game in the NFL this week. So it's time for you to weigh in on this blog with your opinions. What do you see as the keys for this week's game?