Mike Tomlin

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The Case for Tom Flores to Enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Perhaps the most widely known coach in the history of the NFL is John Madden. The former leader of the Oakland Raiders established a virtually unsurpassed record of regular season success during his brief ten-year tenure. Madden won more than 76% of his games. His closest active pursuer, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, has managed only a .672 winning percentage. John Madden also coached the Raiders to an impressive, physical victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, 32-14. After leaving the sidelines, Madden carved out the most unique, imposing and meaningful niche in the history of sports broadcasting. And, if that was not sufficient, he also established the premiere video gaming series that has redefined how our society views, plays, and understands football. Simply, John Madden’s football legacy is incomparable. In 2006, John Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

2nd in Playoff Win Percentage Behind Vince Lombardi (10 games, min.)

Madden’s successor in Oakland and Los Angeles was the man pictured above, Tom Flores. Back in 1960, Flores shared passing duties with George Blanda and Babe Parilli, but he did most of the heavy lifting in the Raiders first season and over the next 6 seasons. The Raiders laid the foundation for one of the greatest offensive machines in league history. In the popular mind, the preeminent offensive teams were Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins of Dan Marino. However, Al Davis’ Raiders ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense every year but 1 from their inception in 1960 until 1984. No team in the league has enjoyed a similar run of offensive prowess…not even the San Francisco 49ers during the era of Walsh and Seifert.

During this run, Tom Flores was the leading passer on the team for five of their first 7 seasons. And, he won two Super Bowls as head coach – one in Oakland and one in Los Angeles.

Time doesn’t permit a full exploration of all that Tom Flores achieved on the sidelines, but the recent nominations of Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, suggest a few bullets may be in order.

Flores and Plunkett Defeat the Eagles in Super Bowl XV

 Consider these facts:

  • Tom Flores coached the Raiders for 9 seasons and won 2 Super Bowls. John Madden coached the Raiders for 10 seasons and won 1 Super Bowl.
  • Tom Flores amassed an 83-53 record with the Raiders, and a winning percentage of .610. Bill Walsh’s career winning percentage is .609. Marty Schottenheimer, another nominee for induction to Canton, has a .613 winning percentage.
  • Tom Flores ranks 2nd all-time in playoff win percentage (10 games minimum) behind Vince Lombardi. Bill Parcells has an 11-8 career playoff record. Bill Cowher has a 12-9 career playoff record. Marty Schottenheimer has a 5-13 playoff record. Tom Flores is 8-3.
  • After the 4th Super Bowl title of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979-80, Tom Flores’ Raiders were the only AFC teams to win the Super Bowl until 1997. The NFC dominated the Super Bowl for two decades with powerhouse teams in larger markets like New York, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, and northern California.
  • Tom Flores won 2 Super Bowls in 4 years, and in 1983 he handed Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs his only loss in a Super Bowl.

Perhaps the thing that has kept Tom Flores out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame these many years, aside from a bias against Latino excellence and a league-wide contempt for the Raiders, is the fact that he coached in Seattle. The Great Northwest has been the equivalent of a Black Hole for talented football players. It’s where careers go to die. Flores coached the Seahawks for 3 years. His teams had a combined record of 14-34.

Flores went from being a coach with a sterling 83-53 record to a rather pedestrian 97-87 (At .527, he’s tied with the recently fired Brad Childress…but he’s still ranked higher than Dick Vermeil). However, this should not undo the greatness that he achieved in Oakland and Los Angeles for the Silver & Black. Did a stint in Seattle keep Franco Harris from induction? Of course not. Did two 8-8 seasons in Seattle keep Warren Moon out of Canton? Of course not. The remoteness of Seattle and the irrelevance of many of their games may have shattered our collective memory of players like Cortez Kennedy, Kenny Easley and Curt Warner (with a C), but Flores should be teflon in this regard.

Mike Holmgren is still regarded highly even though he’s only managed to win one Super Bowl and lost two. Holmgren has a 13-11 playoff record and, unlike Flores, he had prized QB’s at the helm in each of his playoff games. Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells are still revered though neither has been able to ameliorate the morass or mend the mess that is the Miami Dolphins.

And, Tom Flores’ quarterbacks in Seattle were Stan Gelbaugh and Rick Mirer!! That he managed to win as many as 14 games in 3 years with these passers qualifies as a minor miracle.

Some other thoughts to consider on Tom Flores:

  •  In 1980, the Raiders won the Super Bowl as a Wild Card. Statistically, the Eagles were “better” than the Raiders on both sides of the ball, but Flores and his staff and team figured out a way to win that game.
  • Since 1980, Eagles QB Ron Jaworski has become nationally known as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN. Perhaps he could take up the mantle on behalf of Tom Flores. It’s long overdue.
  • In 1983, the Raiders beat a team with one of the largest statistical advantages in league history entering a Super Bowl. The Redskins were defending champions and were perceived to be a juggernaut. Jack Squirek did to Joe Theismann what Rod Martin did to Ron Jaworksi. And Marcus Allen did to the Redskins defense what Kenny King had done to the Eagles only three years prior.
  • Since 1983, Redskins QB Joe Theismann has become nationally known as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN and the NFL Network. Perhaps he could take up the mantle on behalf of Tom Flores. It’s long overdue.
  • Tom Flores won two Super Bowls with an over-the-hill, washed up, washed out quarterback named Jim Plunkett. He beat long odds twice and still stands in the record book — right next to Vince Lombardi as the second-winningest coach in the post-season with an astounding .727 winning percentage.

It’s time for Flores to make his speech and be heard…for perhaps the first time.

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Super Bowl XLV: The Day After

Just a few random thoughts that I had during the game and after the game:

Nick Collins Scores for Green Bay

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Comment Sections: Where Haterade is Poured to the Rim

From ESPN’s recent article on Mike Tomlin:

“The Steelers could save baby seals, end world hunger, cure cancer, help little old ladies cross the street, adopt an entire third world country, plug the hole in the ozone layer, capture Bin Laden, cure Lindsay Lohan’s and Charlie Sheen’s drinking and drug problems, stop the fighting in the middle east, bring our country out of debt or write a Nickleback song that doesn’t suck and people would still go out of their way to slam the team and their fans in a thread that has absolutely nothing to do with their own team.

Regardless, it’s nice to see ESPN actually writing a football related article about one of these two great franchises.”

The comment section seems to draw out the worst in every one.

2009 NFL Season: A Cold Dose of Steel Realism

Deja Vu All Over Again

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has been down this road before.  This road is the arduous path following a Super Bowl victory by an experienced team that fails to meet expectations in the following season.  The 2009 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers has, in many respects, been a repeat of the 2003 season he spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a defensive coach under John Gruden.  As the calendar turns to 2010, the Steelers find themselves in the unusual position of desperately needing a win over a tough Miami Dolphin team and requiring assistance from at least two other teams.  It is uncomfortable, to say the least, and Mike Tomlin has rejected the very idea that the Steelers should spend a moment watching the scoreboard.

After all, this 2009 team put themselves in this historic bind by losing to several of the lowest performing teams in the league: Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Oakland.  When you drop the type of contests that Pittsburgh has in ’09, the last thing you should want is help.  Moreover, there is very little evidence that the team has made much more than modest headway in resolving the problems that lead to these losses in the first place.  A tight win over the Green Bay Packers came down to the final play and required a legendary throw from Ben Roethlisberger.  A week later, a win over the Baltimore Ravens was tainted by a competitor’s lack of discipline and a bevy of whistles and bizarre breaks.  So, while the Steelers have a lot to prove, they are fortunate to have a coach who understands fully what the challenges are before them.

Consider this: (more…)

2009 NFL Season: The Steel Curtain Falls

Playoff races are heating up around the NFL.  In Pittsburgh, playoff hopes are as icy as Lake Erie in December.  The Steelers have lost five games in a row, including a Thursday night shocker at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.  Things are so bad in Pittsburgh that Brady Quinn completed a mere 6 of 19 passes for 90 yards — and people blamed the DEFENSE.  This was unthinkable after the Steelers flexed their muscles at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver back in November.  Times have changed.  Pittsburgh is miles away from that victory and is in turmoil following a series of redundant, irritatingly close losses to the dregs of the NFL.

According to Mark Kaboly, the Steelers are unaware of what is wrong with the team.  They do not have solutions and are earnestly looking for answers.   His article in the Pittsburgh Tribune featured quotes from players like Casey Hampton, Hines Ward and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer.  None of them seem to know what the problem has been with this team.  Kaboly does a solid job of listing many of the issues, but he doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. AP’s Allan Robinson had the same experience in speaking with Chris Kemoeatu and James Farrior.  There is no one single problem and no one single solution.  Some problems can be fixed in 2009.  Some will take time.  The confusion is in the complexity.  So here goes…Top 10 Reasons Why the Steelers Are STILL Losing:

Is Troy Polamalu's Injury the Real Reason?

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2009 NFL Season: Week 13 Picks

After going 13-2 two weeks ago (missing on Oakland over Cincinnati and Kansas City over Pittsburgh) and following that up with a 10-6 week (including a 41-17 prediction of New Orleans over New England), there is no doubt that I am on fire!!

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Why the Steelers are Stumbling

The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers have a record of 1-2 after three weeks.  This Sunday, they face a perennial playoff challenger in the San Diego Chargers.  The Steelers defeated the Chargers twice last season, including in the post-season.  While last season ended with a win over the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl, this season appears to be headed in a different direction.

Many reasons have been offered as to why the Steelers are not performing as they did last year.  Those reasons include the early season injury to strong safety Troy Polamalu; the continuing struggles of the offensive line and running backs; the inability to score touchdowns in the red zone; and, “the Super Bowl hangover.”

I believe that the issues facing the Steelers in 2009 are essentially the same issues that plagued them in 2008.  I think, in many respects, the Pittsburgh Steelers are performing exactly how they performed in 2008.

Here’s why: (more…)

NFL Coaches and Players Discuss the Inauguration of Barack Obama

Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln …

AP – President-elect Barack Obama speaks during 'We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln …

Check out the video:

http://www.nfl.com/videos?videoId=09000d5d80e3bfa1

2008 AFC Championship Game Preview: Ravens vs. Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to host the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday for the 2008 AFC Championship Game.  The winner goes to the Super Bowl to face the winner of the NFC Championship Game featuring the Philadelphia Eagles at the Arizona Cardinals.  In this, the Year of the Risen Bird, the Steelers must feel like uninvited guests to a party of winged wildcards.  Only Pittsburgh managed to earn a bye week.  Only the Steelers survived the aerial assault (mostly on defense) by the Ravens, Cardinals and Eagles.  Aggressive snatch and grab techniques pushed these upstarts past favored teams like Tennessee, Carolina and the defending-Super Bowl champion New York Giants.09000d5d80b3e4a2_gallery_6001

The Steelers and Ravens will square off for the third time this season.  The Steelers won at home 23-20 in overtime earlier this season.  They survived a controversial finish in Baltimore and escaped with a 13-9 victory in December.  Historically, the Steelers are 16-11 vs. the Ravens.  These two teams have played some of the most physical and brutal games in the history of the league.

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Back in September, Pittsburgh’s first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall was separated from his shoulder and the rest of the season by Ravens all-world linebacker Ray Lewis.  Ravens defenders like Ed Reed and Jarret Johnson have been rocked to their core by Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward.  Ward has been so effective that Terrell Suggs has seen fit to place a redemption bounty on Ward.

Beyond the fabled defenses which feature the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year (Steeler OLB James Harrison – 101 tkls., 16.5 sacks, 7 FF), safeties Ed Reed (only unanimous All-Pro selection) and Troy Polamalu, and the aforementioned Ray Lewis stand two quarterbacks poised to do battle once more.

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For the Ravens, the man in the eye of the storm is “rookie” quarterback Joe Flacco.  The new kid from Delaware appears to be a star in the making.  He is the big-armed quarterback the Ravens looked for in Kyle Boller.  Flacco, though, appears to have the composure the Ravens sought in discarding Boller and drafting Ohio State legend (video link) Troy Smith.  An injury to Smith afforded Flacco his chance.  He hasn’t disappointed.  While his numbers have not been stellar, he has done two things: maintained ball security and made the occasional deep throw to loosen up defenses.  In the December rematch, Joe Flacco played his worst game of the season.  He was 11-28, 115 yards and 2 interceptions.  He didn’t enjoy his second look at the Steelers.  Odds are that his third look will be somewhat better than his dismal showing four weeks ago.

The Ravens feature the 4th-ranked run game in the entire league.  It is anchored by a large, bruising offensive line and an equally punishing LeRon McClain.  The nifty fullback-turned lead back led the Ravens in carries and yards in that December matchup vs. the Steelers.  He racked up 87 yards on the ground and alleviated some of the pressure faced by Flacco.  The Ravens also feature two excellent route running receivers (Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton) and versatile tight end Todd Heap.

The Steelers feature one of only three quarterbacks* to amass five wins versus the vaunted Ravens defense since 2000.  Ben Roethlisberger is 5-2 as a starter vs. the Ravens, with both losses coming during his Season of Riding Dangerously (2006).   In 5 career wins vs. the Ravens, Roethlisberger is 81-129 (62.7%) for 1044 yards, 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions with a rating of 103.2.

The Steelers also feature Willie Parker.  Parker was the league’s leading rusher in 2007 through 16 weeks, but he broke his leg in a game at St. Louis.  His recovery was to be aided by the insertion of Rashard Mendenhall into the lineup.  The Ravens scrapped that plan for the Steelers and forced an adjustment which was not completed until Week 17.  The Steelers dipped from 9th in scoring a year ago to 20th this season.  The rushing attack fell from 3rd in the league to 23rd.  For the first time in a long time, Willie Parker looks healthy.  He ran for 146 yards vs. the San Diego Chargers in the Division Round of the playoffs last week.

The Steelers may not be well-suited to run well against the Ravens.  Historically, even though the Steelers have had big lineman, they’ve used counters, traps and other types of pulling plays with very little success vs. Baltimore.  Reports out of Pittsburgh were that Willie Parker convinced Bruce Arians to go to a Zone Blocking scheme vs. the Chargers.  The zone blocking scheme allowed Parker to hit holes quicker and make decisive runs.  The line supported him by getting effective double-teams on Charger NT Jamal Williams.  The huge difference between the Ravens and Chargers is that SD does not have two run stuffing linebackers like Ray Lewis and Bart Scott.

*Note – The last player to rush for 100 yards vs. the Ravens was Larry Johnson (KC Chiefs) back in Week 14 of 2006.

Larry Johnson vs. Chiefs

Since 2006, most teams that have had success on the ground vs. Baltimore (100+ yards) have featured multiple backs with contrasting styles  (Chris Johnson and LenDale White, Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw, Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, Sean Alexander and Maurice Morris) or a zone blocking scheme (Tatum Bell in Denver; Vick and Dunn in Atlanta; Addai and Rhodes in Indy; Travis Henry and Vince Young in Tennessee.   The Steelers may not trust Gary Russell to provide that change of pace attack, and so will rely on zone blocking schemes and seek to approximate the success of others.  The problem?  Neither Parker nor Mewelde Moore are “pile movers” and tend to play with a higher pad level that allows them to be tackled more easily when running in traffic.  (Both, of course, are magnificently elusive in “space” … the very thing the Ravens don’t give you.)

The Steelers know the Ravens are not the Chargers.   There are no secrets between these teams.  There is no love lost and the winner will be determined between the trenches and between the ears.  Turnovers may not be a factor in this game.  The teams have played even in head-to-head contests this season.  The game may well be decided through the air, where contrary to popular opinion, the Ravens have been decidedly weak against certain players.

Since 2004, the Baltimore Raven defense has been ranked sixth, fifth, first, sixth and second in overall defense.   (Only the Steelers have been better: first, fourth, ninth, first, first.)  The legacy of that defense goees all the way back to the Super Bowl team in 2000.  However, for all of their success since 2000, Baltimore has had some very surprising regular season failings against 3 QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer.

These three QBs have a combined regular season record of 15-8 vs. the Ravens.  In the post-season, only Manning has faced the Ravens.  He won a 15-6 slugfest en route to the Super Bowl (and did not perform well at all).

In the five wins vs. the Ravens, Roethlisberger has a 62.7 completion percentage and 11 touchdown passes.  He’s thrown 4 interceptions.  His rating is 103.2.

Manning and Palmer have been even better.   Manning has a 66.8 completion percentage (103-154), 1307 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and only 1 interception.  That interception was thrown in 2002.  In his last two games vs. Baltimore, Manning has thrown 7 touchdowns and no interceptions.  He has a rating of 114.3 in his 5 wins.

peytonvsravens Carson Palmer has been unbelievable.  In his 5 wins vs. the Ravens, he has completed 71.5% of his passes for 1,397 yards and 10 touchdowns with 2 picks.  His rating is 114.6.  Palmer has been injured more frequently since his run-in with Kimo Von Oelhoffen in the 2005 Wildcard game, and has had some terrible games vs. the Ravens as well.  The 2008 season opener was one such game (9-24, 94 yards, 1 pick).  Nonetheless, Palmer has been more successful than not vs. the Ravens.  That is a claim that very few players can make.

ochocincovsravens Perhaps what is most striking about these numbers is that Roethlisberger, Manning and Palmer have significantly outperformed their career averages in wins vs. Baltimore.  Their concentration, attention to detail and execution has been razor sharp in those 15 wins.  They’ve produced amazing results.  That level of production over a full season is simply not possible – and its no guarantee of success on Sunday.  Can you imagine?

Roethlisberger:

259-413, 3341 yards, 35 touchdowns, 13 interceptions.  Rating 103.2.

Manning:

330 – 493, 4182 yards, 35 touchdowns, 3 interceptions. Rating 114.3

Palmer:

362 – 506, 4470 yards, 32 touchdowns, 6 interceptions. Rating 114.6

Caveat:  If the Ravens had the benefit of a balanced offense in these games, these numbers would probably look very different.  Big-armed QBs who do not turn the ball over have had success against this intimidating and formidable collection of players.

Prediction:

Ben Roethlisberger has two career losses to the Baltimore Ravens.  Both losses occurred during his worst season as a professional.  They occurred during a season in which he and Bill Cowher were the only two people in America who thought he should not have been benched.  Prior to his motorcycle accident, and since the beginning of the 2007 season, Roethlisberger is undefeated as a starter vs. the Baltimore Ravens.

His numbers vs. the Ravens in those wins suggest he is capable of having a productive game.  While quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer play alongside elite wide receivers like Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, and Chad Johnson, the Steelers have had consistent production from only Hines Ward.

For the Ravens to win this game, they will need to SCORE on defense and/or getting touchdowns from their passing game.  It would be wholly uncharacteristic of the Steelers for that to happen at this time.  For the Steelers to win, Willie Parker will need at least 20 carries.  I believe if he can average as little as 3 yards per carry, that will be sufficient to carry the day.  I expect Roethlisberger to have a solid game and make a few deep throws throughout the game.

I believe the Steelers to be the more rested team.  The Ravens bye week was moved to Week 2 this season due to weather in Texas.  The team hasn’t had a week off since September.  The Steelers defense was run down after several tough games and it showed as they yielded 100+ yards on the ground to New England, Baltimore, Tennessee and Cleveland to close out the season.  Only Dallas (95), with backup Tashard Choice,  failed to eclipse the 100 yard mark.   The Steelers rebounded from this slide to hold the San Diego Chargers to a mere 15 yards on the ground.  In Baltimore’s last five games, teams have rushed for 91 (Pittsburgh), 92 (Dallas), 118 (Jacksonville), 52 (Miami) and 116 (Tennessee).  Ed Reed’s after the whistle effort to crack the back of Chris Johnson was successful in getting the speedy back out of the game.  Only the Dolphins, led by a weak-armed QB incapable of keeping the Ravens defense honest was unable to have success on the ground.  The trend is clear.  The Ravens are a fatigued team that may be just a step slow on Sunday.

(It is worth noting that the Ravens are ranked 11th in scoring.  The defense scored 6 touchdowns and created short fields for many more.  Were it not for the prowess of the defense, the Ravens would probably rank around 22nd in the league in total scoring.  The offense was ranked 18th in yards.  Perhaps the Ravens should take a page out of the Chargers book and go deep early.  The plan needs to be different than the first two games.)

Question:  Name the last team to beat another team three times in the same season?

steelers_full_width 2002 Pittsburgh Steelers.  3 wins, by 3 points each game over the Cleveland Browns.

Score: Pittsburgh 33, Baltimore 13.

(Note: Last week, I predicted Pittsburgh 42, San Diego 17.  Actual score: Pitt 35, San Diego 24.)

Ray-Ray and Warren talk Defense…at NFL.com

NFL Preview Video at NFL.com

Addendum:  The Ravens finished the season with 5 blow out wins over Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Washington, Dallas and Jacksonville.  Baltimore blew out Miami in its first playof game for the second time this season.  Only the Steelers and Titans played Baltimore closely.