Steelers notebook: Clark baffled by criticism of decision to play after 2 concussions
Steelers safety Ryan Clark can't figure out why people are worried about him playing Sunday against Baltimore less than a week after he sustained his second concussion in half a month.
Clark practiced Thursday and Friday and has cleared all of the necessary post-concussion tests. His first concussion came Oct. 28 against Washington, and the second was Monday night against Kansas City.
Multiple studies have shown that an athlete who has multiple concussions in a short period of time is more susceptible to further concussions, but Clark said he is not concerned.
"People make this more dramatic than it is, and there is no drama involved in the decisions I've made," Clark said Friday. "I've only had two (concussions) and I've been playing football since I was 5. There are people with eight and 10 who still continue to play. There are people on this team who have had tons more concussions than I have who still continue to play."
Clark did not identify any players, but fellow Steelers safety Troy Polamalu has had seven known concussions, plus others he said were not reported at the time.
Clark also doesn't intend to change his aggressive, big-hitting style in an attempt to make himself less concussion-prone.
"If it's the fourth quarter, (and a) two-minute drive and a guy's trying to catch the ball, I'm going to sell out every time until I'm not playing," Clark said. "When I decide I can't play the way I've always played, I'll stop playing football, period."
Clark has changed equipment, switching to a bigger, more heavily padded helmet that is rated as the best in absorbing hard hits. He also lined the helmet with the same Kevlar padding that linebacker James Harrison wears to try to lessen the impact of the constant pounding and hitting involved in a high-speed collision sport.
Both concussions occurred when Clark was struck on the side of the head, rather than during a head-on impact.
"There are some risks the way I play, and to not play how I play would render me very ineffective as a player," Clark said. "So I've got to continue playing the way I've played for 11 years."
The 33-year-old Clark is having one of his best seasons; he is third on the team with 56 tackles also has an interception, five passes defended and a forced fumble.
WR Sanders gets 2nd start
Wide receiver Antonio Brown (high ankle sprain) will miss a second consecutive game; Emmanuel Sanders will start in his place. Sanders caught two passes for 30 yards Monday against the Chiefs. Coach Mike Tomlin hinted last week Polamalu (calf) might be close to being game-ready by now, but he still hasn't been on the field since Oct. 7.
Mendenhall ready to roll
Running back Rashard Mendenhall went through a third consecutive practice day and is listed as probable, although he doesn't know how carries will be divided now that Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman also are healthy.
Mendenhall (Achilles) said his four-game layoff allowed his right knee to get stronger; he missed the first three games following off-season knee surgery.
"Through that time with my Achilles, I also had time to work on my other leg and work on that knee the whole time," Mendenhall said. "That knee has been healing as well, so I feel a little more balanced."
Flacco's road woes end at Heinz
Joe Flacco isn't the same quarterback on the road as he is at home, as evidenced by his 108.3 passer rating at M&T Bank Stadium and his 62.7 road rating. So much for statistics, according to Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau; Flacco threw last-minute TD passes to beat the Steelers at Heinz Field each of the last two seasons.
"If you have a good quarterback and a good offense, it's going to come down to what we do on defense," LeBeau said. "We have to contain him and not let him make the big plays."
The Ravens own an advantage in one key area: big plays. They have 26 receptions of 25 yards or more; the Steelers have half as many. The Ravens are coming off a 55-20 rout of the Raiders in which they set a team record for points in a game.
Defensive resurgence started with secondary
What was missing when the Steelers dropped three of their first five, losing fourth-quarter leads in all but one game? The defense wasn't the usual Steelers defense.
While Troy Polamalu (above) still isn't back and James Harrison isn't he havoc-creator he usually is, the defense is back to normal. And not just because it is No. 1 statistically in the NFL.
The Steelers gave up 1,479 yards, including 1,004 yards passing and nine touchdown passes, in those first five games. During their four-game winning streak, they've allowed 912 yards, 536 passing, and only two TD passes.
"They challenged throws on a consistent basis," coach Mike Tomlin said of his defense. "To me, that's the essence of a good pass defense, to be consistently competitive - to challenge throws, to make people work to beat you."
Keeping your enemy close
The Ravens and Steelers will be tied with 7-3 records if Pittsburgh wins Sunday night, but that wouldn't be unusual. These rivals are so closely matched, they often own identical records. Both teams went 12-4 each of the last two seasons; the Ravens won the AFC North in 2011, the Steelers won in 2010. Both teams were 9-7 in 2009, when the Ravens were a wild-card team and the Steelers missed the playoffs.
"The games that we play, there is always something riding on (them)," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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