Tomlin suggests defense could look different than usual Sunday when Baltimore comes to town
November 2, 2011 4:00 AM
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau (right) may have to work even more magic than last week.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
No LaMarr Woodley. No James Farrior. No James Harrison.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, whose bag is full of tricks and treats, may have to pull many of them out this week. The meeting room for Steelers linebackers could move to a Red Cross tent. Such is the state of their injuries that coach Mike Tomlin talked Tuesday about the possibility of playing all kinds of different defenses Sunday to compensate.
It's not a good time to be losing your best linebackers when the Baltimore Ravens come to Heinz Field for a rematch and perhaps the showdown that ultimately will determine the AFC North Division champion.
But Tomlin declined to list any of his linebackers as "out" for the game Sunday night when he reviewed his injured players and their prospects.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, reported that Woodley will miss the game this week and might not play until Nov. 27 because of the hamstring injury that forced him out of the fourth quarter of the 25-17 victory Sunday against New England. Woodley leads the AFC with nine sacks after sacking quarterback Tom Brady twice.
The Post-Gazette also reported that Farrior might miss a month with a torn calf muscle. And Harrison took to Twitter to say he will practice but not play this week after missing the past four games with a broken orbital bone.
At least, second-year backup Jason Worilds, who has missed the past four games with a thigh injury, will practice and might return to uniform Sunday. If so, that would give the Steelers six linebackers, assuming Harrison is unable to play.
Without Harrison, three of the four starters were backups to open the season, and Lawrence Timmons will have moved from his regular job at inside linebacker to Harrison's spot on the right outside. The other three starters -- Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester inside and Worilds or rookie Chris Carter on the outside.
They adapted well the past week, as the linebackers were part of an effort that limited the Patriots to season lows in points (17) and yards (213). But Woodley also was part of that for three quarters and had two of their three sacks.
"We are getting good, solid contributions from guys putting their hand in the pile and showing us, at the very least, that they are competitors," Tomlin said of the fill-ins.
He also suggested they will not look outside of their team for help, such as signing a free-agent linebacker. They have no linebackers left on their practice squad after signing Mortty Ivy from there Saturday. He said they still have flexibility on defense.
"We might be capable of playing with four defensive linemen," Tomlin said. "We are not going to leave anything out. What we do know is that our answers generally are in-house. So, if we are out of in-house linebackers, then some of those answers might have to be in the D-line."
They have several options available:
• Versatile end Brett Keisel could move to linebacker with rookie Cameron Heyward taking his spot at end.
• They could turn to a six-man secondary, which they used often against New England.
• They could form a four-man line of tackles Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke/Steve McClendon and ends Keisel and Ziggy Hood and play a 4-3 defense with Foote at inside linebacker and Timmons and somebody on the outside.
"Or 4-2," Tomlin suggested. "Or one of the many variations we have. We are very multiple defensively, usually in response to offensive packages, but, sometimes, your personnel may dictate otherwise.
"I am just saying that, at this juncture, we are open to all potential possibilities in terms of dealing with our situations and that we are not going to go grasping at straws outside of our building in terms of addressing it."
More injury news
Tomlin only ruled out one player, offensive guard Doug Legursky, who will miss his third game with a dislocated big toe.
Some other updates:
• Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is dealing with his mother's death and a left knee injury from the game Sunday. Tomlin said the team will evaluate his knee "at some point."
• Wide receiver Hines Ward should return to practice Wednesday after missing his first game since 2007 with a sprained ankle.
• Hoke, who has missed the past two games with a "stinger," will be limited in practice.
• Tomlin did not include on his injury list three players he said were hurt Sunday: cornerbacks Ike Taylor (shoulder, stinger) and Keenan Lewis (shoulder) and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle).
• After Woodley was hurt Sunday, Timmons moved from right outside linebacker to left, and Carter entered and played on the right. A series later, it was Timmons back in his spot on the right side and Carter on the left.
"Chris Carter was going to be uncomfortable regardless, so you might as well make Lawrence comfortable; [that] was the thought process there," Tomlin said.
• William Gay has started the past seven games at left cornerback, replacing Bryant McFadden after the opener. For the first time, the Steelers official depth chart reflects that, listing Gay as the starter after showing McFadden there for eight games.
• Baltimore's defense leads the NFL in fewest yards allowed, and the Steelers are No. 2. Nevertheless, Tomlin did not think the two were close.
"I am not ready to, at least, put us in the conversation with the Ravens defense," Tomlin said.
"We are not even close to doing what they are doing right now. Maybe statistically, but the way they are generating splash plays sets them apart."
• Game: Steelers (6-2) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-2), Heinz Field.