Saturday, January 31, 2009
We've been waiting. And waiting. And waiting. But, tomorrow is the big game. The Steelers could bring home their 6th Lombardi Trophy or the Cardinals will complete their Cinderella run and bring home their 1st. I'm sick of prognosticators saying things like "Nobody's giving the Cards a chance," despite the fact that more than half of the fans are picking the Cards. Here are some of my thoughts on the match up for Super Bowl 43.
The Cardinals present the Steelers with some challenges that few other NFL teams do. If you were going to design an offense to beat the Steelers, it would have several key characteristics. The offense would not care about running the football, because the Steez stop the run so well. It would be able to spread out the field with four and five wide receivers. The quarterback would be a veteran that isn't fazed by pressure, who gets the ball out of his hands quickly. The quarterback would need to be accurate and find the hot reads. Unfortunately, the Cardinals do all of these things well. They were ranked last in the league running the ball, and play caller Todd Haley has showed that he deoesn't mind throwing the ball fifty times and ignoring a balanced offense. Kurt Warner is as accurate of a passer as you are going to find and we witnessed last year that he can dissect the Steelers defense with the short passing game. The Cards have the best group of receivers in the league, and Larry Fitzgerald is playing out of his mind right now. According to former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson, the bet way to beat the 3-4 defense is to spread the field and attack the seams in the middle of the field. Arizona excels at this.
In years past, we've seen New England spread the field and kill the defense with short passes to Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk. But this year's defense is more versatile than those of the past. Lawrence Timmons has added open field speed and coverage that has negated some of the spread formation's effectiveness. The defense has also shown an ability to get pressure on the quarterback with only 4 rushers, leaving 7 people in coverage. Great offenses get more media coverage than great defenses, so it is unsurprising to see so many people jump on the Cards bandwagon, but I don't see Arizona scoring more than 21 points on this defense, unless the Steelers offense turns it over or the special teams shit the bed.
If Arizona fails to score more than 21, the real question is whether the Steelers offense will be able to score three touchdowns. The Cardinals defense was below average in the regular season, but has played better in the postseason. However, they are still vulnerable to the big play. Atlanta scored 24 points against the defense and Philly had more than 400 yards. The real reason this Cardinals team is in the Super Bowl is that it has a +11 turnover margin. The defense has been boom and bust, but it makes up for its deficiencies by forcing turnovers. The Steelers have had trouble against undersized, fast defenses (think about the inability to run the ball against the Colts). I hope the Steelers are aggressive in their game plan, but still feature a heavy dose of Willie Parker. The offensive line will need to play a game like they did against the Chargers in the divisional playoff game. If Pittsburgh runs the ball effectively, it can control the clock and keep the defense fresh. This will spell disaster for the Cardinals.
Big Ben is out to prove that his performance in Super Bowl XL was a fluke. If Big Ben continues to play like he has this postseason, the Steelers will win the game. His numbers haven't been eye-popping, but he didn't turn the ball over against San Diego or Baltimore. The Baltimore numbers were undervalued, because of key drops by Holmes and Sweed, and the absence of Hines Ward. I saw a very encouraging interview between Ben and Deion Sanders where Deion asked Ben to complete the following sentence: The Steelers will win if _____. Ben said "don't turn the ball over." So Ben understands he doesn't has to be a hero, he just needs to limit mistakes. One very concerning issue is the effectiveness of Hines Ward. Arians loves to use three and four wide receivers, but the Steelers have no receiving depth and no one wants this game to depend on Limas Sweed.
Ultimately, I think the Steelers have many ways to win this game and the Cardinals only have two. The Cardinals will rely heavily on the Kurt Warner and the passing game. If Warner has a bad game, the Cardinals lose unless they force multiple turnovers. The Steelers can win with defense. They can win with the running game. They can win with the passing game. They are the more complete team and have proven to be consistently superior throughout the regular season. If the Steelers can get through the first quarter without getting burnt, I think the Steelers come home with Lombardi #6.
Friday, January 30, 2009
However, speculation has been going around that the injury could be to Ben's rib cartilage. This is a very painful injury that cannot be easily cured by a pain relieving injection. If this is the injury, it could have a large effect on Ben's ability to through the ball with zip and deep balls. Anyone who watches the Steelers on a regular basis knows that Ben has a tendency to underthrow deep passes anyway. This injury could exacerbate that effect and lead to turnovers. Also, Ben's arm strength allows him to throw balls effectively with defenders draped all over him. If there is a measurable reduction in arm strength from the pain associated with this injury, he could be limited in this aspect as well. Let's hope the injury really is just a little left over soreness and the x-rays were precautionary. But the fact that he is getting x-rayed during the week of the game tells me there must be some serious discomfort that has him or the team concerned.
Ben has played fairly effectively through injuries all season. He had an injured shoulder for most of the season. Then he suffered the scary concussion/spinal concussion in the last game of the regular season. He played well despite those injuries. If Ben comes out underthrowing, wincing, or with lack of zip on his passes we will know the reason.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Ryan Clark - Clark calls out Deion Sanders for labeling Clark's hit on Willis McGahee illegal. It turns out Clark got bad information from his wife.
Dick Lebeau - The humble grandfather of the zone blitz talks about the creation of the blitz and joy of coaching. It's easy to see why the players love him.
Bruce Arians - The confident (read arrogant) coach explains why all offenses are the same. Adding to the enjoyment is Steve Marriuci trying to interview Arians over the bleachers while Arians offers no attempt to make Marriuci's job any easier. I particularly like the leg slap at the end.
Santonio Holmes - Holmes is dumbfounded when he learns that Arizona coaches siad that Dominique Rogers-Cromartie will cover Holmes one-on-one all game. Holmes doesn't lack confidence and claims that he can't be covered by one man. He also predicts that LaMarr Woodley could be MVP.
Hines Ward's Knee - Ward's knee says that it will be fine for Sunday. It just needs more Gatorade.
NOTE: I just realized that all of the links go to the same page. I trust that you can navigate to find the videos that you desire.
Aaron Smith - He's the keystone of the Steelers defense, but rarely gets recognized. The Steelers went against their normal MO for this signing, because Smith was already 31 years old. Nonetheless, signing Smith to a four-year deal worht $25 million was one of the best moves this team could make.
Troy Polamalu - He's one of a kind and there was no way that Pittsburgh would let him leave. Troy is the best strong safety in the league and allows Dick LeBeau to create schemes that other coordinators couldn't dream of. At five year for $33 million, I'd say it's a steal.
Sean Mahan - Let's not discuss this.
Kendall Simmons - It seemed ridiculous to give Simmons a deal worth $6 million per year, especially when the team refused to sign Faneca for $7 million per year. This was a bad offseason for free agent signings. Simmons is a terrible right guard and the offensive line has been better with Darnell Stapleton starting.
Darnell Stapleton - He was an undrafted center from Rutgers, but he stepped in as the starting right guard when Kendall Simmons went down. He is far from superstar, but he's done an admirable job for a guy that had no experience prior to this year.
Lawrence Timmons - With an aging group of linebackers, Colbert and Tomlin decided to draft a playmaking linebacker from Florida St. It was an interesting pick, because most viewed Timmons as a raw talent. He played very little in his rookie year, but has progressed nicely. Even though Timmons doesn't start, he has given the defense speed, coverage, and explosiveness in the nickel and dime package.LaMarr Woodley - Another linebacker. This team needs offensive lineman! But wait, Woodley has turned into a superstar at LOLB and was a huge upgrade from Clark Haggans. Woodley was a steal in the second round and, in 2008, combined with Harrison to become the top Steelers sack duo of all time.
Matt Spaeth - The decision to draft a tight end in the third round was not well received, but Speath has done a nice job as the #2 tight end and played well when Heath Miller was hurt. He has nice hands, but is an average blocker and gets tackled easier than Shaun Alexander.
Dan Sepulveda - The team traded up to draft Sepulvada, finally realizing that special teams are an important part of the game. Steelers nation was pumped when they found out that their punter hits like a linebacker. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in preseason and the team has been forced to survive with the pu-pu platter of Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster.
William Gay - This was a great draft for the Steelers as their top 5 picks have all contributed to this team. William Gay has played very well in the nickel and dime defenses. The defense continued to play at a high level this season when Gay was forced into the starting line up because of injuries to Townsend and McFadden.
2007 Season: The Steelers start out hot and win the AFC North. They finish slow and lose a home playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Free Agent Departures
Alan Faneca - He's one of the best offensive lineman to ever play for the Steelers, but he was nearing 30 and his price tag was too high. The offensive line continues to decline.
Free Agent Signings
Big Ben - After getting to the AFC Championship in his rookie year and winning the Super Bowl in his second year, Big Ben got the $100 million contract he earned. If he can win on Sunday, he'll be well on his way to Canton.
James Farrior - The unsung hero of the Steelers defense got a contract extension in the off season. His leadership and guidance has been invaluable for young linebackers such as Woodley and Timmons, and inexperienced linebackers such as James Harrison.
Max Starks - Designating a back up tackle as your transition player and paying him $7 million to ride the bench seemed foolish. However, with the injury history of Marvel Smith, this move turned out to be quite prescient. Starks doesn't deserve $7 million per year, but he has played well at left tackle. Without him, I don't think the Steelers would be in the Super Bowl. Therefore, I'm happy to say it was money well spent.
Mewelde Moore - This was a classic Steelers free agent signing. Moore wasn't a marquee name. It didn't make any headlines. But it drastically improved this team. With the injuries to Parker and Mendenhall, Moore stepped in and played extremely well. The offense was forced to shift to a quicker passing attack and Moore's receiving skills have given Ben a reliable check down option. The Steelers probably won two extra games this season because of Moore's play.
Keyaron Fox, Patrick Bailey - Both have contributed to vastly improved special teams coverage.
Rashard Mendenhall - He was hurt early, so the verdict is stil out.
Limas Sweed - Poised to break out in the Super Bowl.
2008 Season - Advanced to Super Bowl, result TBD
Since Super Bowl XL, the Steelers lost a Hall of Fame coach, their best linebacker (Joey Porter), best lineman (Alan Faneca), a pro bowl safety (Chris Hope), best returner (Randle El), a pro bowl center (Hartings), and their best special teamer (Sean Morey). Nonethelss, the 2008 Steelers are in the Super Bowl.
The moves in 2006 were spectacular (Harrison, Clark, Parker, Holmes, and Keisel) and the draft in 2007 landed a stud (Woodley), a potential stud (Timmons), and three contributors (Spaeth, Sepulveda, and Gay). Not to mention the signing of Mike Tomlin. In 2008, the team re-signed Max Starks and signed Mewelde Moore.
Well done, Kevin. Well done.
The "Grandfather of the zone blitz" will be back with the Steez for at least another year. Post Gazette said that today he informed the players that he will be back next season and that there is no way that his boys wouldn't be the first people he told of a decision of this magnitude. The defense will be in great hands for at least one more year
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Watch as the mayor of Phoenix disses the Terrible Towel. He is messing with the wrong towel and messing with history. Who can forget when TJ Housmandzadeh shined his shoes with the Terrible Towel after the Bengals beat us at Heinz field? That was the year we lost the division to the Bungles but we exacted our revenge in the Playoffs by beating Cincy in the Wild Card round and going on to win the Superbowl.
This season someone dared dis the Towel again. Lendale White proceeded to stomp on the Towel after Tennessee crushed us in their stadium. After Lendale put his stinky feet on our Towel, the Titans proceeded to lose to Indy in the season finale. Then they got ousted from the playoffs by the Ravens.
Now comes the latest assault on the Towel by the mayor of Phoenix. Maybe he was not aware of the curse or maybe he decided to throw caution to the wind and tempt the football gods. Either way I don't think it was a smart move.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Our personal favorite a group of 11-13 year olds called the Pop Rocks jamming to Heartbreakers. This definitely rocks
Stairway to Seven. Steelers lyrics to the tune of, you guessed it, the timeless Led Zeppelin classic Stairway to Heaven.
Steelers D. A tribute to the Steelers D based on AC/DC's TNT.
One of many, Here We Go tribute videos.
Sweet Renegade video. If you have ever been to a game where they play Renegade, you know how pumped up the crowd gets. Here is a sweet example of the power of Renegade.
Original Steelers Polka.
It's Polamalu complete with video.
Steeler Dan and the Roethlis Burgers. Terrible but it's out there.
UPDATE: The songs keep coming in...
The video and lyrics to the "Yinzer Anthem" speak for themselves. Check it out.
Any Joan Jett Fans out there? Try this remake. I love Black and Gold
One for the Ladies. Steeler ladies to Beyonce's Singe Ladies
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Here are some random thoughts that I’ve been having for the past week.
1) How sweet it was to not only see the Eagles lose yet another NFC Championship, but even better they got twerked early by Fitz then came back to lead by two, only to have Kurt and Co. come back and then stuff them. So theoretically they lost the game twice in their heads. Then to put some icing on the cake and some extra sugar the Steelers won a trip to XLIII on the same day as the Eagles getting crushed. Bliss! Disclaimer: This does not revenge 2004 when the roles were reversed and Eagles won and Steelers lost on the same day, which is one of the worst days of my life when it was coupled along with meeting a girl who completely sucks and still hangs around to this day. Other worst moments of my life include ’92 NLCS, Super Bowl XXX, every other AFC championship game except for seasons of 1995, and 2005.
2) Fitz is a complete beast. Not only do I still love him from when he was killing people at Pitt, but he now is an Eagle killer and is a huge recruiting tool for Pitt. I was recently at the UPMC Southside facility (which Pitt and Steelers share) and his picture and trophies are everywhere in the Pitt side of the facility.
3) I saw this on Mondesishouse but it is completely ridiculous. Art Rooney Jr.’s AFC Championship hat has the Steelers insignia upside down. How does one hat have an upside down symbol and it make it onto the field and have the Team President wear it on national television? If anyone gets their hands on that I’m sure a crazed Steelers would pay top dollar for it.
4) The question of the Super Bowl will be can Fitz get single coverage down the field? If he does the Steez will be in big big trouble. A comforting factor is that the Steez are the best team of not letting up the big play. Except for the SD playoff game I think we let up two pass plays over 40 yards and one was a fluke tipped ball to Reggie Wayne. I think Dicky will devise a system to shut Fitz down as much as a team can. Look for Ike to blanket him and have Ry Clark over the top with help although this may not be enough. Whiz will undoubtedly run a bunch of trick plays too. Can he come up with one the Steez haven’t ran yet from when he was with us?
5) If we win and Dicky retires our D could be in a bad chain reaction. Much of the defense loves LeBeau like a father/brother. They have been quotes that they say if he wasn’t the coach they would lose the passion to still play. Older players like Farrior, Foote, Aaron Smith could want to call it quits after illustrious careers and two Super Bowls. They will lose their favorite coach who they will give everything for and may not want to learn a new system and prove themselves to someone they don’t love. And they could win the Super Bowl and ride into the sunset with their beloved coordinator. Also players such as Bryant McFadden and other free agents may opt to leave. If they are going to have a learn a new system for a guy they don’t know/love why not do it for the most money possible? Most of the loyalty would be to Dick to stay.
6) If Dick retires that would be the end of the annual ‘Twas the Night before Christmas reading in the locker room on Christmas Eve. I have a vivid picture in my head of Dick Lebeau sitting on a wooden chair with his Santa hat on and 53 way too overgrown men sitting on the floor being complete squirrels and hooting and hollering to the creator of the zone blitz. I would love to be able to witness that scene. It has to be hilariously funny to see.
7) Casey Hampton is a huge beast. He is one of the many reasons our D is so good. I can’t think of anyone else that I’d want to have a beer/party with more.
8) What would be the more interesting story line? Turnpike Super Bowl or Pittsburgh v. Pittsburgh West? I know that if it were the former I would definitely overdose on Zanax and/or Klonopin.
9) If we win and shut down the Cards O where does our D rank in history? Can they top the Steel Curtain of old? The 85 Bears? 2000 Ravens?
10) I am pledging to only drink IC brew until the Super Bowl.
11) Elliot forgot to mention that this year in Vegas there was another prognosticator. Not quite the one of the Colts game. Bet he was a random guy who came up unprovoked and knew the Steelers would win and cover. Also the man in an OSU shirt called the Troy pick 6.
12) PITTSBURGHS GOIN TO THE SUPER BOWL!!! Bringin’ home the six pack or as per Elliot Second Hand Smokin’
PS More thoughts to come soon I’m sure I forgot a bunch and will think of more.
Per PFT, rumors are flying around the airwaves and now the internet that after the Superbowl, Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau will retire. He is 71 years old so it is not all that surprising. Now we have to start asking who his possible replacement candidates would be. He will be an extremely tough act to follow, especially after this season in which the Steelers D was ranked as the best D in the league. Could this also open up the possibility of switching to a 4-3? Tomlin was a 4-3, Tampa 2 guy before taking the Steelers job. After he was hired there was a lot of speculation that the Steelers would be switching to the 4-3. However, the personnel we currently have does not lend themselves to the 4-3.
I personally hope these rumors are false. Either way, if he isn't retiring this year, retirement isn't too far off given his age. I am thankful for everything he has given to this team and wish him all the best in whatever he does after this year. If this is it, let's at least send him off with an inspring defensive performance and a Superbowl victory.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
History, at least in these parts, is consistent. Snow falls; Steelers flags flutter in preparation for another Super Bowl; and Chuck Noll, black-and-gold legend, is somewhere far away. He will not give an oral dissertation this week on how these Pittsburgh Steelers remind him of his Steel Curtain defenses in the 1970s. Noll doesn't even watch a whole game of football anymore. It is believed that he talked to Pittsburgh's front office about his thoughts on the Steelers once this season.
"Your team is doing well," he told chairman Dan Rooney.
He won't be on TV, unless it's a grainy old video of one of his unprecedented four Super Bowl titles, won't be mentioned among the all-time NFL coaching greats. His friends will say the snub is borne out of his desire for privacy. Noll didn't put himself out there, didn't parlay his success into a broadcasting career, and hence, the world carried on without him.
Who is Chuck Noll? A generation of football fans doesn't, really, know.
Both Pittsburgh players and coaches seemed careless on offense. Leading 13-7 with a minute remaining in the first half, Pittsburgh had possession at midfield. Rookie Limas Sweed was running alone up the left sideline on a stutter-go and dropped a perfectly thrown touchdown pass. Eventually the Steelers reached second-and-10 on the Baltimore 21 with 16 seconds remaining, out of timeouts, the wind at their backs. Why was Pittsburgh out of timeouts? Because after dropping a perfect touchdown pass on national television, Sweed did a very unconvincing "oh, I am hurt" number; stopping the game for an injury within the final two minutes cost the Steelers a timeout. (In a miracle of modern medicine, Sweed was fine an instant later, and did break up an interception in the second half.) Anyway, in the situation the Steelers were in, you either kick the field goal or throw a shot to the end zone; you don't risk having a player tackled inbounds and the clock running. Instead, Roethlisberger scrambled around and then threw to the middle of the field, where the half expired before Pittsburgh could spike the ball. No matter how good your defense is, you can't casually squander scoring opportunities.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I have been claiming to the SteezBros for sometime now that I am going to write a post about the picture that adorns the top of our site. After our latest escapades in Vegas, I think the time is ripe to finally make good on that promise. It has become somewhat of a tradition or maybe a rite of passage in our family to head for Vegas as soon as possible after attaining 21 years of age. I went when I turned 21. Then we went for Josh's 21st and sometime between Josh turning 21 and Alex turning 21 it became a yearly tradition to go to Vegas over Martin Luther King Day weekend.
MLK weekend worked great for us because we didn't have to use vacation to get a long weekend and the NFL playoffs are going on over that weekend. There is nothing like being in Vegas for some NFL playoff football. The first year we went over MLK weekend was Ben's rookie year. That year the wild card round occurred over the weekend so games occur on Saturday and Sunday. 4 games in Vegas is sweet but it can be draining for your wallet and energy wise. Your wallet is self explanatory. Energy and health wise, I will expand on. (If you want to skip directly to the story of the picture, skip the next couple paragraphs)
For me, the only place to watch football in Las Vegas is the Bellagio Sports Book. I have been to
many sports books in Vegas and I can say without hesitation the Bellagio has them all beat. First, drinks are free no questions asked (besides tipping the drink girl) and you can request what type of say vodka you would like i.e. Grey Goose. Many other books require betting over a certain amount to score free drinks ($300 at Caesars). Others only provide you a certain amount of drink coupons when you make a bet. Second, Bellagio has the best and biggest screen to watch the game on. Also they have 40 plush leather seats for you to sit in. Here is where energy level comes in. This past Sunday in order to secure seats for the game for 6 of us, I arrived at the Sports Book at 6:45 A.M or a game that started at Noon. During the Wild Card weekend, games on Saturday would start at 10 AM in Vegas so you would need to be there even earlier on Saturday, then drink and watch games all day. Sunday would be a repeat. It's a little easier to do it all when there are only games on one day.
Another thing that is amazing about being in the Sports Book for the playoffs are the ease of wagering and the amount of things you can bet on. One of my favorite things to bet on is who will score the first touchdown of the game. Also, there is college basketball, pro hoops and hockey going on in case you want to wager on something else while you are waiting for the football games to start. By the time the games actually start the book is packed with fans, 90% of which have some sort of wager on the game. Practically every play is cheered for by someone because they have a bet on something obscure that was effected by the play that just happened. When a big play happens it's like being at the game.
One thing you need to know about my brothers and I is that we can't normally handle watching the big games with a large amount of people because we are so nervous. We also can't stomach any comments that other people make especially predictions that we have the game in the bag, we are going to win, we are going to lose. Basically we can't stand anything anyone says. We are also a little superstitious about some things.
The first game we ever watched of the Steelers in Vegas was Steelers-Jets in Ben's rookie year. If any of you remember this game it was a rollercoaster ride that we probably should have lost. The Jets missed to field goals at the end of the game and we somehow prevailed. The next year is where the picture at the top of this Blog comes from. The next year was our Super Bowl victory year. The game we were in Vegas for....Indy.
To start with, we had a gnarly crew out there that year, almost all of us Steeler fans but my one friend, Dave, who is in the center of the picture is a die hard Eagles fan from Philly. As many of you are aware, Philly fans and Steeler fans do not always see eye to eye. However, on this day he saw all of us decked out in our Steeler regalia, and wanted to join in the fun. We, being the superstitious Steeler fans that we are, were not too keen on allowing an Eagle fan to wear one of our Steeler Jerseys on the day of a huge game. He proceeded to beg us to allow him to wear the jersey, calling us every name in the book. Finally, we felt bad for him since he had known nothing but losses in his fan life and permitted him to don the jeresy with one condition. If, for any reason at any time during the game we requested that he take off the jersey, he had to immediately remove the jersey no questions asked. He agreed to this request.
Right before kickoff, a mystery woman appeared before my brothers and I. She made the following prediction: "Steelers will win. Their lines will dominate and they will win." Then she disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. We just looked at each other dumbfounded. Then the game Started and the Steelers drove down the field easily twice and took a 14-o lead and no one could believe it. In the 2nd half the Colts started to figure out our D and began crawling back into the game. When Troy seemingly intercepted a Peyton Manning pass late in the game, it all seemed to be over until the play was reviewed. Josh then said to me," If they overturn this interception and Indy goes down and scores, I am out of here." I didn't really think he was serious. Then in one of the worst calls ever, the interception was overturned. Then the colts drove down the field and scored. At this moment, I contemplated forcing Dave to remove the Steeler jersey he was wearing but I didn't because I looked around for Josh to ask him whether we should make Dave take off the jersey and he was nowhere to be found! After that craziness ensued. Indy has one last chance to drive, Steelers sack manning twice and force a turnover on downs at the 3. Steelers ball. Indy has their timeouts though and only down three they could get the ball back and get into field goal range if the Steelers just kneel on it four times. So the give the ball to the Bus and, unbelievably he fumbles. Nick Harper, who was stabbed a few weeks earlier in the leg, picks it up and is returning it for a sure touchdown but Ben grabs him by the shoestrings and trips him up at midfield. The sports book was going crazy! The Steeler fans were apoplectic. After a few completions an endzone shot, the colts line up for a field goal to send the game to overtime. Ultra reliable kicker Mike Vanderjagt was kicking inside to tie the game. The kick went up and we knew immediately that it was no good! We won! About 10 minutes after the game ended, Josh showed back up. He had gone to the room and read his book. He did not watch anything that happened in the game after the interception call got overturned and the colts scored. He missed the fumble, the tackle and the missed field goal. He said that if we had blown that game and he watched it, he wouldn't be able to be a Steeler fan any longer. And that is the story of the picture. Finally.
- This was a game of missed opportunities. The Steelers should have blown out the Ravens, but made repeated mistakes that kept this game close. Santonio Holmes "drop" at the goal line cost the team 4 points. The blown punt coverage and subsequent pass interference gave the Ravens 7 points. The Limas Sweed drop cost the team 7 points. Clock mismanagement at the end of the first half cost the team 3 points. This game should have been a blow out in the range of 31-10. Mike Tomlin is lucky that he was once again bailed out by the defense.
- I still haven't heard a good explanation for overturning Holmes catch near the end zone. The rule states that a receiver going to the ground during a catch must maintain posession when he hits the ground. But, Holmes wasn't going to the ground when he made this catch. He caught the ball, took three steps, then lunged to the goal line.
- Limas Sweed, please catch the ball. And don't fake an injury that costs the team a timeout. I won't yet declare him a bust (I declared Troy Polamalu a bust during his rookie year), but he needs to spend some serious time with the football passing machine.
- The refs had another bad game. The Holmes review, two ticky tack pass interferences that led to both Ravens TDs, roughing the kicker against the Ravens.
- It's hard to put into words how bad Mitch Berger was in this game. Every punt was a low line drive. He nearly whiffed one punt entirely. I'm counting down the days to Daniel Sepulvada's return.
- The Steelers coverage units are reverting back to pre-2008 form. The punt coverage unit was ranked second best in the league. In the last two weeks, they've allowed long returns to Darren Sproles and Jim Leonhard. This needs to be fixed in the Super Bowl. Giving Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald a short field will not work out well.
- The offensive line played an average game. This is a great Ravens defense, so it's no surprise that we couldn't run the ball. But an average of 1.9 yards per rush is unacceptable. The pass protection was decent, but Baltimore still had 4 sacks. This performance was no where near as good as the San Diego game, but it also wasn't a debacle like some of the regular season games.
- The defense was stellar once again. If not for two questionable pass interference calls, the Ravens wouldn't have come close to scoring. Joe Flacco was confused all day. LaMarr Woodley had his third straight multi-sack playoff game. James Harrison was quiet, but that's only because he was double teamed (and held) on every play. Still, he provided the pressure that led to Troy's game winning interception. Troy was HUGE. He stuffed Flacco on 4th and 1, tackled Flacco for an 8 yard loss on a surprise QB running play, and dealt the knock out blow with his pick 6.
- Why in the world, when we are up 9 with 12 minutes left, does Arians call a shotgun spread with 5 wide receivers on 3rd and 1? Yes, it's difficult to run on the Ravens, but the five-wide spread completely eliminates the threat of run. Also, Hines Ward is out of the game at this point, so we don't have five reliable wide receivers. I'd rather hand it to Gary Russell. Even if you get stuffed, it takes another minute off the clock.
- If the Steelers win the Super Bowl, does that make it harder to fire Bruce Arians?
- Jeff Reed had another great game. The 46 yard field goal in the bad weather at Heinz Field was huge.
- In the last two weeks, it sure seems like a lot of passes have been thrown at Ike Taylor. I haven't re-watched these games so I could be wrong, but it sure feels like teams are staying away from McFadden and attacking Ike.
- The Steelers have the Harbaugh's number.
- Any good slogans for this Super Bowl? One for the other hand isn't all that catchy.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The family will be at the Bellagio sports book to watch the game on Sunday. I might be hiding in the hotel room.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
8. Zierlein makes chicken salad.
With a suspect offensive line in 2007, the Steelers didn't do much to improve it in the offseason. Alan Faneca walked away as a free agent, and nearly $7 million was committed to underachiever Max Starks. The only new arrival was center Justin Hartwig, who at the time of his signing was viewed as an unnecessary luxury, given the presence of Sean Mahan. In the draft, the Steelers watched seven tackles go in the first 21 picks, doing nothing to move up from No. 23 to snag one of them.
So offensive line coach Larry Zierlein worked with what he had, and got them ready to play. When Marvel Smith was lost with a back injury, Starks was there to unexpectedly keep things moving in the right direction. And after beating out Mahan for the starting job at center, Hartwig anchored the line with 16 regular-season starts. Though the line allowed 49 regular-season sacks (fourth-worst in the league), they played their part in more than a few late-game victories, holding things together long enough to open up running lanes and/or buy time for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to make key throws. So while what was expected to be a major weakness for the Steelers hasn't exactly been a strength, the offensive line under the leadership of Zierlein has helped, not hindered, the team's unexpected return to the brink of the Super Bowl.
Fake Punt on 4th and 1
The Situation: The game was tied at 7 midway through the second quarter. Both teams were struggling to move the ball. Pittsburgh faced a 4th and 1 near midfield.
The Decision: The Steelers attempted a fake punt. The ball was snapped to the up man, Ryan Clark. Lawrence Timmons pulled from the outside, but was too late to block the Ravens pressure up the middle. Clark lost 4 yards and the Chargers took over with great field position. After gaining one first down, the Chargers kicked a field goal to take the lead 10-7.
The Reasoning: Mike Tomlin talked about the decision after the game and explained that he wanted to send a signal to his team that he would play aggresively. Tomlin also wanted to give his offense a spark, since, up to this point, the offense had been held scoreless.
Our take: Typically, fake punts and trick plays are called around midfield. If they work, the offense is very likely to score points. If they don't, the defense has a chance to get a three and out without surrendering points. The Chargers were obviously prepared for the fake punt and it seemed like Tomlin made a poor decision with the call.
At this point in the game, the Steelers were winning the field position battle and the defense had held the Chargers offense to 22 yards in their previous four drives. Traditionally, the Steelers would punt and hope to get the ball back in good field position. It's not the aggressive play, but it certainly seemed to make sense at this juncture.
If Tomlin wanted to play aggresively to show confidence in his offense, I would have preferred that he went for it on 4th and 1 with the offense. The team had success early with the running game and was winning the physical battle. I think the better aggressive play would have been to send the offense on the field, not to try a trick play that hasn't been used all season.
Although the play failed and San Diego scored points, the Steelers offense played incredibly well for the rest of the game, scoring touchdowns on four of their next five possessions. The fake punt was widely criticized after the game, but Jason Whitlock at foxsports.com wrote this in his NFL Truths column:
Memo to Boomer Esiason: Mike Tomlin's fake punt worked.
Where Boomer Esiason saw an ill-advised fake punt, Jason saw a move that sparked the Steelers' offense. At the time of its implosion, I hated Tomlin's second-quarter fake punt. The Chargers blew it up and used the good field position to score a quick field goal. By the time Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense responded with their first scoring drive of the game, it was clear that Tomlin's gamble paid off.
Tomlin called the fake because he wanted to spark his stalled offense. Big Ben and the O had done nothing. The botched fake and three-point deficit created a sense of urgency that snapped Big Ben out of his funk. You could see that by halftime when Esiason wasted breath criticizing Tomlin for the risky play. Pittsburgh's offense was lethal after the fake punt
Goal line plunge on 4th and 1
The Situation: The Steelers were winning 21-10 at the start of the 4th quarter. The team had a 4th and goal at the 1, after Gary Russell was stopped for no gain on a 3rd and 1 run.
The Decision: Mike Tomlin decided to go for the touchdown and called a fullback dive with Carey Davis. Davis bobbled the hand off and was stuffed for no gain. The O-line got little movement, but Davis lost power when he tried to get a handle on the ball.
The Reasoning: A touchdown in this situation would have given the Steelers a virtually insurmountable 28-10 lead with one quarter to play. It was another example of Tomlin's aggresive nature. He was playing to win the game.
Our take: Typically, I'm a big fan of playing aggresive football on 4th and inches. But in this case, I was hoping for a more conservative approach. My argument was more about momentum than it was about aggresion. A field goal would have given the Steelers a 14 point lead with less than one quarter to play. At this point, the Steelers defense was well rested. The fans were loud. Momentum was clearly in our favor. I thought that a 14 point lead, with the #1 rated defense and an enthusiastic home-field crowd sounded pretty good with 14 minutes left to play. If the Steelers went for it and got stopped (not an unrealistic proposition since the team is 3-12 on 4th down), it would shift momentum and energize the Chargers team. I definitely endorsed the safe play.
However, unlike the fake punt, I don't think Tomlin made a bad call here. There were logical reasons to play for the touchdown. This was the aggressive call. A touchdown puts the game out of reach. He put trust in the offense and hoped that success would put the 4th down woes of the regular season behind them. Even if unsuccessful, San Diego gets the ball on the 1 yard line and has to drive 70 yards to even get into field goal range. So, the reasons for Tomlin's decision were there. I was just more concerned about momentum and running out the clock, than going for the jugular. In this case, I'll agree to disagree.
Even though Carey Davis was stopped short of the goal line (I strongly disagree with the decision to give Davis the ball), the defense stopped the Chargers, the Steelers got the ball back and subsequently scored the game icing touchdown.
Despite the failure of both play calls, I welcome the aggression from the coaching staff. This attitude served the team well and the offense came out with a confidence that hasn't been seen all year. Let's just hope the aggresive play calling against the Ravens is well calculated, as opposed to reckless.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu has a calf injury and he will tread lightly in the early practices this week. Coach Mike Tomlin revealed today that his star strong safety was injured in pregame warm-ups Sunday. He was not introduced before the game with his teammates because trainers were attending to him. Tomlin did say that all indications are that he will be fine for Sunday's AFC championship game against Baltimore at Heinz Field.
- Carey Davis is terrible. He is a poor blocking fullback, a poor runner, and brings nothing to the passing game. He was stopped one yard short of a first down on two receptions, gained nothing on another reception, and was stuffed at the goal line on 4th and one. Why did he get four touches this game?
- Who saw that punt return touchdown coming? It was a key play that changed the momentum of the game. My biggest fear for this game was the special teams match up. Turns out I was dead wrong. Although we did allow a long return to Sproles.=
- The advantage of having a bad punter is sometimes the punt will hit an opposing player in the head.
- Big game from Keisel. The week off must have done some good for his injured calf.
- The Steelers were stuffed again on 4th and goal from the one. Hopefully this doesn't kill us later in the playoffs.
- Willie Colon: is it that hard to line up on the line of scrimmage?
- Lamarr Woodley is back. Two huge sacks in this game. Although he might see a fine for his late slam of Rivers. I would disagree with the fine, but it was awfully similar to a fine he got earlier this year.
- James Harrison gets held more than any player I've ever seen. This is from Ben Riley, a writer for Football Outsiders and not a Steelers fan: : "Did anyone else notice that James Harrison was getting held on virtually every play in the fourth quarter? In fact, I don't think I saw a clean block on him the entire game."