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Tomlin taking wait-and-see approach at QB

When rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered a concussion on Oct. 16 in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was cleared to return to practice the following Wednesday and played in the Steelers' game the following week at Miami.

But there's a little less clarity involving Pickett's availability for the Steelers' game this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers after he suffered a second concussion in the team's 16-14 loss last week to the Ravens.

Such is life when dealing with concussions.

"Kenny's in the protocol. We'll adhere to it. We'll rely on their expertise and let those guys provide the framework of how we proceed," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex.

"Participation is big for him, and the quality of that participation. The last time he sustained a concussion, he was in the protocol but was allowed to work. We'll see what this procedure is like. His ability to work will determine whether he gets an opportunity (to play). We'll take it day-by-day. He is out visiting with the doctors as we speak. If he's able to work, we'll work him."

If he is not able to get the required practice time in, Tomlin said he would make a decision this week regarding whether it will be Mitch Trubisky or Mason Rudolph to lead the Steelers (5-8) against the Panthers (5-8).

"If he's unable to work, we'll divvy those reps up between Mitch and Mason," Tomlin said. "We'll play both guys in a practice setting in an effort to make a determination what's best as we lean in on the latter part of the work.

"When you're dealing with someone in the protocol, you just simply take it day by day. Whatever the medical experts tell us in terms of the rate or work or quality of work, we'll adhere to it and make decisions accordingly based on that information."

Trubisky replaced Pickett after he was pulled against the Ravens following the Steelers' second possession. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown, but also threw three interceptions in the 16-14 loss.

Tomlin felt Trubisky did some good things against the Ravens, but the three interceptions – all of which came deep in Baltimore territory – were tough to swallow, especially in a two-point loss.

"I thought we moved the ball fluidly continually," Tomlin said. "That's what you had better have when you have a veteran backup like him. The reps that he misses during the week are made up for by his cumulative experience and expertise, and we felt that. We didn't feel any reduction in what we intended to do once Kenny went down and I thought we continued to move the ball fluidly. We just didn't make enough plays, particularly when the field got short. We've got to do a better job of taking care of the football.

Rudolph, meanwhile, has been inactive as the team's No. 3 quarterback all season. But Rudolph is in his fifth season with the Steelers, while Trubisky is in his first. Rudolph is 5-4-1 in his career as a starter with the Steelers.

"Both guys have remained engaged. It's really been 2 and 2A," Tomlin said of the duo. "There's a scarcity of reps, but when you've got veteran backups, guys with a cumulative body of work, particularly in Mason's case, having been exposed to us and having been here, the receivers he would work with and all of those things, often times, you're calling on past experience as a catalyst for how you move forward."

Trubisky began the season as the Steelers' starting quarterback, but was replaced by Pickett at halftime of the team's Week 4 loss to the Jets.

He hadn't played since leading the Steelers to a comeback victory against the Buccaneers in Week 6. For the season, he has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for just over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions.

But the choice of who starts against the Panthers will largely be determined by what happens with Pickett. If the team's first-round draft pick this season is deemed healthy by team neurologists and returns to practice, he'll play. If he is not cleared in time, he won't.

And Tomlin has no qualms about playing Pickett if he's cleared.

"I'm not a medical expert. I gain my confidence, my levels of concern, anything you would ask along those lines, from the medical experts. I'm really comfortable in that," Tomlin said.

"I've got nothing but great admiration and respect for our medical experts. People come from all over the world to visit our guys, and from different sports, as well. I'll let them do what it is they do."

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Winning the weighty downs: The Steelers went into Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens ranked seventh in the NFL and fifth in the AFC in run defense.

But the Ravens were able to run the ball against the black and gold, putting up a total of 215 yards with J.K. Dobbins going for 120 yards on 15 carries, an eight-yard average.

"Oftentimes when you're not successful it's both the schematics and it's performance, and I'd say it was both," said Tomlin. "I thought they won the war of attrition as the game wore on. I thought the pile fell the direction that they desired it to. What could be second-and-eight was second-and-six. You do that consecutively, what could be third-and-four, third-and-two, those downs are played out differently in the National Football League.

"We've got to do a better job of getting them in position to minimize that pile. We got to come off blocks a little better. And we got to understand the weight of possession down ball when you're playing someone that's playing the attrition game. We had a third down and seven that we had a break down and they had a 25-yard gain and the drive extended. They ran the ball some more and they end up getting the field goal on that drive. We win that third-and-seven we're on the sideline. Those attrition plays that we discussed whether or not that pile is falling forward, and things of that nature doesn't exist."

With the Carolina Panthers on the horizon this week, led by running back D'Onta Foreman who has put up four 100-yard games this season, it's an issue the defense will have to address in practice this week to be ready to go on Sunday.

"We very much could be in that style of game again this week with the way Carolina is playing," said Tomlin. "We got some schematic work ahead of us. We got some physical work ahead of us. The pile needs to fall the direction in which we desire it to fall. And outside of that attrition component of discussion, you got to win the weighty downs. You win the weighty downs, good defenses spend a lot of time on the sideline, not playing plays. And so that's kind of the discussion regarding the attrition component what transpired last week."

Stopping the run: Another factor that has played into the defense allowing more yards in the run game as of late is going against teams that Tomlin referred to as 'run-centric' teams, with running quarterbacks in the Falcons' Marcus Mariota and the Ravens' Tyler Huntley. Mariota accounted for only 17 yards in Week 13, with Huntley adding 31 yards last week. But they are two players the defense had to be on alert for knowing they could run the ball at any minute.

"We played two run-centric teams with quarterback mobility," said Tomlin. "So, you play two teams like you're going to have somebody ringing up yards on you in the running game. If we played two teams that featured the passing game, you could be talking about six quarters of passing yards. I'm not de-sensitive to it, I just understand it's the nature of the style of ball we've been playing of late, and we got another game that could be very similar this week. So, it does have our attention"

Pro Bowl Games Voting: Steelers fans can do their part to send the team's players to the Pro Bowl Games this season by voting here or on Twitter as part of the social media voting.

Any tweet or retweet that includes one the options below counts as one vote through Dec. 13 and doubles to two votes on Dec. 14 and 15.

Make sure your tweet or retweet includes one of these options and you can vote for any and all Steelers players:

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