By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — As expected, the Baltimore Ravens dominated the discussion during Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s press conference Monday, as the two AFC North opponents meet Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
“It’s great to be back in the single-elimination tournament,” Tomlin said. “Of course, it’s also great to be part of the remaining eight teams. Our goal, like everyone else’s, is to move on to the field of four.
“I feel good about the work that we’ve done to this point preparing for this opportunity. The Ravens, we’re familiar with them, and they’re familiar with us. So, nothing much has changed since the last time that we played them.”
Since the NFL merger in 1970, the Steelers have never lost to a divisional opponent in the playoffs. They are 8-0 against those teams, and the Steelers also are 8-1 in their last nine wild-card or divisional playoff games at home with the only loss to Jacksonville after Tomlin’s first season. However, three road teams were victorious during the wild-card playoff round over the weekend.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” Tomlin said. “Those road teams that won were very good teams. I think everyone understands that, and I don’t think anyone’s particularly shocked by those things. (But), if given the opportunity, I would play at Heinz Field in front of Steeler Nation, no question.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 8-2 against the Ravens with a playoff win and five straight victories. Losses to the Jaguars and Tennessee Titans do not count, because those teams already left the division that the Steelers were in.
Baltimore’s two wins against the Steelers the past two seasons were when Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch were at quarterback. Dixon took over when Roethlisberger had a concussion in 2009, and Batch was at the controls this year while Roethlisberger served the last game in his NFL-mandated suspension.
“I think (Roethlisberger) is playing extremely well,” Tomlin said, “but he’s the same old Ben. … I think he’s always been generally very careful with the football, at least since I’ve been here. All great competitors and great guys at the position are, just like Joe Flacco is.
“We’ve been fortunate this year that we’ve been good at maintaining possession of the football and really, quite frankly, getting the football. Turnover ratio has been one of the key recipes for our success so far.”
Tomlin noted that Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith will have a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) on his right triceps “at some point this week to see where he is, (and) that’s going to be a guide for us as we move forward.”
It appears to be unlikely that Smith will practice much this week, let alone play against the Ravens, but Tomlin added that he did not have a setback.
“We’re going to scan him weekly since that initial one that he had a couple weeks ago,” Tomlin said. “So, it’s kind of going according to plan, but we’ll see where this information takes us. But it’s been good to get him back on the field, at least for me personally.
“I like seeing Aaron in a helmet and giving him a hard time. (So), I’m going to wait to see what the scan tells us. I think that’s the appropriate thing to do. We’ve followed the medical experts to this point, so I don’t see why we should change our approach.”
Tomlin also said that safety Troy Polamalu appears to be in pretty good shape, but he’ll be limited during practices early this week and then “we’ll get him the necessary work at the end of the week so that he can be in the best shape possible on Saturday.”
Cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdomen) appears to be progressing nicely, Tomlin added. McFadden also could be limited during the early portions of the week, but “it won’t limit him in terms of playing.”
The other injured players like outside linebacker Jason Worilds and running back Mewelde Moore have a clean bill of health, should practice all week and be ready to play against the Ravens.
Tomlin also was asked about the new overtime rule where the kicking team gets the ball for at least one possession if the receiving team scores just a field goal. Tomlin basically said he discusses rule changes with his team, but preferred to wait to see if they actually go into overtime to make decisions about it.
“I’m not going to get concerned too much with it because so much of it is coaching decisions and not necessarily playing decisions,” Tomlin said. “So, I’m not going to bog them down with decisions that I have to make in preparation for the game.
“(But) I couldn’t care less (about the rule), as long as it’s the same for everyone else. I would have preferred that it would be the same as the regular season, but you don’t always get what you want in this business, particularly me.”
Notes: The Steelers practice Tuesday through Thursday, have a walk-through Friday and then kick off against Baltimore Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.