MOOD OF THE LOCKER ROOM
"We're just moving on because we control our own destiny still. We have nothing to be down about. We want to redeem those losses that we gave but we can't be down about it. If we go in the tank right now we'll be sitting at home in January."
"I feel like we're putting everything behind us now. We understand our playoffs start now. With the team that we have and the focus that we have right now, Coach Tomlin said 'this is playoffs.' We're a dangerous team because we're focused like it's the playoffs right now and most teams aren't."
The Steelers gave Wednesday practice off to S Troy Polamalu (preventative veterans' day off), as well as DEs Cameron Heyward and Al Woods (undisclosed non-football related), while limiting T Mike Adams (ankle), CB Keenan Lewis (hip), and WR Emmanuel Sanders (rib).
It's still early in the week, but it feels like Kelvin Beachum will get another start at RT as Adams' is working back to full health.
CB Keenan Lewis was talking as if he'll definitely play Sunday despite falling hard on his hip last Sunday. And fellow DB Cortez Allen was back to full participation as he has recovered from his groin pull.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall also worked through a full practice, but there's no clear indication to what extent he'll be used in the game Sunday. My hunch is he'll dress for sure, but the team will keep Jonathan Dwyer in the starting role with rotating running backs throughout the game continuing.
The Bengals' DE Carlos Dunlap was ill, while T Andrew Whitworth (head), RB Cedric Peerman (ankle), and K Mike Nugent (right calf) were limited in Cincinnati practice.
SANTA PLEX, GRINCH WALLACE
After Wednesday practice, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress handed out customized team bathrobes to his fellow wideouts, and to his starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"Just showing my guys a little token of appreciation and give them something that they can use around here," Burress said. "Around this time of the year it's cold walking around the locker room. You can wear it here, wear it at home. I got Ben one [too]. I think he thinks it's a blanket, he hasn't opened it up yet. The small guys have the one size fits all, but myself and Ben since we're 6'6" we have them custom made a little bit longer."
Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders were showing theirs off and wearing them around the locker room.
"Big homie Plex bought them for us for Christmas," Wallace said. "Definitely a nice gift. I'm waiting for the money man AB [Antonio Brown] to get us something next. He's got a job to do to top Plax, though. I look like a boss with this on."
Does also Wallace plan on buying gifts?
"Nah, I gotta get some cash," said Wallace. "Those are the guys with all the cash so they get to buy the gifts."
HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES
Although the Pittsburgh Steelers ran for only 69-yards as a team in their loss in Dallas last Sunday, they nearly broke a 78-yard TD run from Issac Redman on the final play of the third quarter in a 17-17 contest that would have been in contention for one of the NFL's most impressive runs of the season.
Getting the carry out of a sidecar in a shotgun formation, Redman burst off left tackle where Max Starks had collapsed the line of scrimmage and followed behind tight end Heath Miller who had locked up Dallas OLB Anthony Spencer.
Redman then broke four tackles, finally spinning out of an attempt from Cowboys' CB Mike Jenkins to bring him down as Redman shot up the left sideline. With Miller hustling ahead and having another block set on last defender Brandon Carr, all Redman had to do was stay in bounds and he was likely gone for a score. However, Redman's foot hit the chalk line and the whistle blew, holding the run to 22-yards.
"Man, I can't even watch the play because I'm like 'Come on! If I just stay in bounds,'" Redman said. "It would have been interesting. I feel like my momentum had me going out. I tried to stay in bounds, tightrope it as much as I could but I guess I stepped out. My eyes got so big. They started blowing the whistle I was like 'No! No!' I didn't think I stepped out."
Of course, almost doesn't count.
"That's pretty much the story," Redman said. "Like AB [Antonio Brown's] punt return [and fumble], I feel like that's been the story of the games. Close and almost ready to put it away, or almost could do this. It's tough. The past couple of weeks has been like that."
NOT MALKIN, ATKINS
Pittsburgh Penguins star Geno Malkin is locked out from making plays in Pittsburgh these days, and the Steelers hope to do the same to another Geno. Their playoff fate may depend on it.
According to the website Pro Football Focus, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is the best DT in the NFL in 2012. PFF lists Atkins as having 69 quarterback disruptions, ahead of second-place high profilers Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.
A Pro Bowler in 2011, Atkins has gone from fourth-round draft pick long shot in 2010 to the best in the business in just three seasons.
This week, Steelers LG Ramon Foster will see a lot of him.
"I saw him last game [while playing right guard in our first meeting]," said Foster. "I see him every game we play them, actually. He's a good D-lineman, man. I think he's one of the best if not the best D-lineman in the game right now. You've got to respect that guy, and you've got to really study that guy. You can't go into the game thinking that you're going to take a play off, it's just not possible."
Atkins already has the Bengals record for sacks by an interior lineman with 10.5, besting Dan Wilkinson's 1995 mark. He also leads the Cincinnati coaches' tallies of QB pressures (33) and tackles-for-loss (13). In the first meeting with the Steelers, Atkins had a sack as he bull rushed then-LG Willie Colon into Ben Roethlisberger's lap. He narrowly missed another as Ben slipped his grasp.
"He has a great motor, he's a strong guy with good leverage," said Foster. "You can't be slow to take off on this guy he'll definitely come around and embarrass you. He's coming right off the snap. His leverage, he's down the middle of most guys' chests. Most guards in this league are tall and he's right there with the leverage. You've got to be really balanced with your base in this type of game."
Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth agrees with leverage being Atkins' key to success, coupled with toughness.
"Geno's quick, like most small D-tackles," Whitworth says. "He's a quicker, athletic guy. But the thing that separates him from all others is he has insane exceptional strength. He's a really, really strong guy for a smaller player. That's what takes him to a whole other level. It's hard to deal with a guy who's below you and under you. It's hard to get your hands down there to control him."
All that said, don't expect the Steelers to double-team him the entire game Sunday.
"No, because we get paid in this league too," Foster said. "You're going to have to have him one on one, that's just part of it. It's not like we're going into this game 'we're double teaming this guy.' He's successful on plays, but we are too. You can block a guy for 79 plays but that one play that you give up on him since his name is called for a play it'll look like we didn't do our job the entire game. For him, two tackles and a sack is a great game. I'm not going to say the guy is invincible or anything, it's just you can't take a play off on him."