When every yard counts

The Baltimore Sun

PITTSBURGH - As expected, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu did not practice yesterday but is still expected to play Sunday against the Ravens in the AFC championship game.

"God willing," Polamalu added. "I feel OK."

In pre-game warm-ups before Pittsburgh's divisional-round playoff win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Polamalu strained his calf and was not introduced with the rest of the defense. However, he did play and made four tackles.

Polamalu said the nature of Ravens-Steelers games magnifies the importance of every play, especially low-scoring games, such as Pittsburgh's 13-9 win in Baltimore.

"In other games, a 4- or 5-yard gain is nothing, like against the Indianapolis Colts," he said. "But a 5-yard gain in this game [against the Ravens] is like a 30-yard reception for the Colts. It means so much more because the game, and the style of the game is played so much differently."

Pittsburgh center Justin Hartwig, who hurt his knee against the Chargers, did not practice but also is expected to play.

There's a group of players that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin usually holds out of Wednesday practices, including defensive end Aaron Smith, cornerback Deshea Townsend, running back Willie Parker and wide receiver Hines Ward.

Keisel bounces back

Tomlin said that occasionally injuries can actually make a player more motivated upon return to action.

Defensive end Brett Keisel sat out three games with a knee injury and since returning Dec. 21 has "a different bounce in his step," according to Tomlin. Against the Chargers, Keisel had five tackles (three unassisted), a sack, a quarterback pressure and a pass defensed.

Keisel had one of the funnier lines from yesterday when asked about the alleged spitting incident when Steelers punter Mitch Berger complained that Ravens defensive back Frank Walker had spat on him during the game in Baltimore in December. Keisel said he had never been spit on personally and then was reminded of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher's habit of spraying when he spoke.

"Yeah, but that was friendly fire," Keisel cracked.


The Steelers have noticed the Ravens' advantage in takeaways-giveaways in the postseason with Baltimore holding a plus-seven edge over the opposition.

And though it might be stating the obvious, Tomlin said he'll be discussing it with his team.

"I think they are capable of being more ball-conscious, more careful," Tomlin said of his offensive players. "I hope that I have done a good enough job to this point where it's something they do innately. ... [But] it's not going to stop us from stating the obvious, that [the Ravens are] very good at getting the ball. It's very important in January football; the turnover ratio usually determines the winner."

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