Pittsburgh Steelers

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2011 NFL Season: 10 Early Questions for NFL QB’s (Week 3)

No time like the present to dig in and ask some tough questions about performance.

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

  1. Why is Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco currently ranked 28th (tied with Browns’ QB Colt McCoy) with a completion percentage of 54.1%?
  2. Of the three QB’s that have thrown for over 1,000 yards this season (Brady, Brees, and Newton), which one has the biggest “upside”?
  3. Which QB with a lower completion percentage than Minnesota’s Donovan McNabb should be benched first: Jay Cutler, Chad Henne, Kyle Orton or Sam Bradford?
  4. Quarterbacks averaging less than 7 yards per attempt include Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb. Only Ryan has offensive weapons as deep and varied as Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Is it time for a change in Atlanta — and if so, who stays, who goes?
  5. Why is Chad Henne still playing (and why is Tony Sparano still coaching)?
  6. Should we all expect Kevin Kolb to win close games by now? When does his honeymoon end with the national press? Kolb and Cam Newton are the only 2 QB’s average more than 8 yards per attempt with losing records. The Panthers lost to the Cardinals in Week 1 due, in part, to a dropped pass in the endzone at the end of the game.
  7. How many writers had to trash stories about a “gritty, tough, resilient, smart, heady and really, really gritty, tough, resilient, smart and heady” Kevin Kolb positioning the Cardinals for a playoff run after T. Jax ran over both Cardinals safeties to knock off the red birds? Kolb is as unproven today as he was when the Philadelphia faithful fawned over his every move.
  8. When is Ben Roethlisberger going to stop playing down to the level of his competition and author a blowout defense that allows his aging defense to get some rest?
  9. Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Matt Cassel lead the league in pass interceptions. Anyone covering this?
  10. Philip Rivers has thrown two interceptions in EVERY GAME THIS SEASON; his teams have always underperformed; and the Chargers are a razor’s edge away from an 0-3 start, but it’s crickets ALL AROUND the national media. Can Phil get a check up from the neck up? Is it as simple as the loss of a “security blanket”?

EXTRA CREDIT

  1. Tom Brady throws 4 picks and some analysts, I use the term loosely, are blaming receivers for failing to run routes properly…but missing Brady’s failure to finish plays and convert to defense once he surrenders the ball. Play the game the way its supposed to be played.
  2. If you’re running the Rams right now, would you rather have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ndamukong Suh or Sam Bradford?
  3. The Texans next three games are against the Steelers, Raiders and at Baltimore. Is Matt Schaub the guy? Will we know after this stretch, once and for all?

Just one final note: At some point it will be fitting for the NFL family to remember that Tom Brady has essentially had two careers. In the first stage of his career, as his team won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years by a total of 9 points (three point wins each time), Brady was not a dominant passer. He was efficient. He didn’t throw interceptions. He was a game manager, not a game changer. Young Tom Brady didn’t win games with his arm. He won them with his hand offs, and his execution of play action fakes. He had some big passing games (Super Bowls vs. Carolina and Philadelphia), but each of those games was also punctuated by high carry games from Patriot running backs. He threw for less than 4,000 yards in each of the Patriots Super Bowl-winning seasons…and he had QB ratings of under 93.

Rivals of the Era: Closer than Close

In the second stage of Tom Brady’s career, he has emerged as a dominant passer, but his teams have struggled to win post-season games. The Patriots, with an undefeated team, lost a Super Bowl to the New York Giants in which Brady threw 48 passes for a mere 266 yards. He was throttled, hammered and harassed all night long – and it still took a miracle for them to lose. Still, they lost. His passing was unable to carry the day – in much the same way that dominant passing was unable to garner rings for players like Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, and others.

It seems as though there is a bit of collective amnesia with respect to these two phases of Tom Brady’s career. The elite passer of the second phase has not won a Super Bowl. Like Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb and Dan Marino and others, he was won a lot of regular season games. However, he has lost a home playoff game to a team that featured an overwhelmed Joe Flacco (4-10, 35 total passing yards, 1 INT). He has lost to the New York Jets and second-year QB Mark Sanchez. And, for what it’s worth, Tom Brady has not thrown for 300 yards in a PLAYOFF GAME since 2005 against the Denver Broncos…and New England lost that game by 2 touchdowns.

It is difficult to separate Brady’s numbers and the regular season wins from his early success as the offensive leader of a team that was actually run by men like Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Ty Law, and Lawyer Milloy. It’s hard. I know it is. But the bottom line for Brady and the Patriots is what it is…and the numbers never lie.

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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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Super Bowl XLV: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will play in Super Bowl XLV.  These two teams are statistically close across the board.  On defense, they are even closer philosophically.  This means that the prospects for a great game are strong.  Most fans, current and former players, and the media expect a classic.  The razor-thin comparisons between these teams abound.  I wrote an exhaustive comparison of Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers.  There isn’t much difference there.  The story of the evolution of the zone-blitzing 3-4 defense has been told and retold for weeks.  Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers are as thick as thieves.  There isn’t much difference inside the minds behind these defenses.

My pick.  Pittsburgh 31, Green Bay 26.

Most of what these teams have done is likely going to be irrelevant once the game begins.  I believe most of the stats can be dismissed.  I don’t believe that the Steelers Super Bowl experience will count for much.  I don’t believe that any of the Packers, except for James Jones, is likely to drop a number of passes — but he does that during the regular season.  I think the Packers and Steelers will simply bring it. (more…)

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.

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Super Bowl XLV: Roethlisberger vs. Rodgers

On Sunday, Feburary 6, the Green Bay Packers will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.  The game has a number of compelling story lines, including historic franchises, outstanding 3-4 defenses (particularly the Pittsburgh ties of Packers defensive coaches Dom Capers, Kevin Greene and Darren Perry), and more.  No angle has garnered as much attention as the matchup at the quarterback position.  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, 27, is playing as well, statistically, as any passer in the league.  Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, 28, is seeking his third Super Bowl title in 6 years.

Beauty and the Beast

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2010 NFL Season: AFC Championship Recap

Steelers 24, New York Jets 19.


What worked:

  1. Heath Miller’s return to the lineup had a tremendous impact on the running and passing game of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Miller has been lauded as one of the elite tight ends in league circles for several years.  Sunday night was one of his most impressive games to date.  NFL Network’s Solomon Wilcots put the spotlight on Miller twice on two separate run plays.  On the first, Miller drove Jets inside linebacker (and leading tackler) David Harris a full seven yards down the field.  Miller locked up on Harris, inside the shoulders, and put him on skates.  Rashard Mendenhall could have carried a dozen eggs through that hole without incident.  On the second highlight, Miller blocks another Jets linebacker, Bryan Thomas, right into the endzone.  Miller seems to be the only player who is playing through the whistle.  A play that started on the four or five yard line ends with Miller tossing Thomas on his rear end towards the back of the end zone.  Miller was targeted a team-high 4 times in the passing game.  Ben Roethlisberger missed him for an easy touchdown in the first quarter, but Heath Miller cemented his contribution on the ground.
  2. Bruce Arians.  Few Steelers fans have called for the “head” of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians as often as I have.  We routinely lament Arians’ lack of imagination in the Red Zone; his infusion of finesse into our beloved Steelers scheme; his reluctance to use a fullback in situations that clearly call for a lead blocker; and, perhaps worst of all, his tenure with the Browns (usually an automatic disqualifier).  If I slam him when the team fails to do what it’s supposed to do, I have to give him some love when they exceed expectations.  Arians (likely influenced by head coach Mike Tomlin) went to the run when it mattered most.  It’s a little known fact that Arians also leaned on the run in the Super Bowl vs. the Arizona Cardinals in order to buy some time for his weary defense.  His efforts shortened the game and facilitated the ability of the Steelers to close that game out without allowing too much time for Kurt Warner to engineer a comeback. Scott-Kemoeatu-Pouncey/Legurski-Foster-Essex-Adams and the tight end triumvirate of Miller, Johnson & Spaeth beat the Jets front-7 to a pulp.  No play epitomize the effectiveness of this approach more than Rashard Mendenhall’s run to close out the first quarter.  The Steelers new, fast mini-bus delivered a crushing blow to Jets safety Eric Smith.
  3. Ben Roethlisberger.  Statistically, Sunday’s game was as bad as it gets.  Roethlisberger’s passer rating at the end of the game was 35.2.  Yet, he played a great game against a great defense.  The Jets defense, coached by Rex Ryan, had put the smack down on Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the weeks preceding their trip to Pittsburgh.  10-19, 121 yards, 2 interceptions and 0 touchdowns.  That’s ugly.  It’s worth noting that Roethlisberger was inches away from completing 2 touchdown passes in this game, too.  He missed a wide open throw to Heath Miller early and, Mendenhall slipped in the flat with only Antonio “I HOLD, I Don’t TACKLE” Cromartie in his path.  Roethlisberger’s game was punctuated by a sweet flip pass to Mendenhall; a huge 12-yard rush while facing 3rd-and-12 on that historic first drive; a touchdown run; and a few big throws to Miller and Brown on the game’s final drive.
  4. Special Teams.  The Steelers won the “hidden yardage” battle against the Jets on Sunday.  Pittsburgh punted once and swarmed all over Brad Smith and Jerricho Cotchery consistently.  This area of the game was decisive for the Jets in Week 15.  Brad Smith took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.  This time, the Steelers special teams out-kicked, out-returned, and out-covered the Jets.  Mike Westoff is one of the best in the business, but his charges were not up to the job in the AFC Championship Game.
  5. Rashard Mendenhall.  He did it all.  Without his performance in the first half, the Steelers might well be at home with 30 other teams in this league.  Instead, Rashard cranked out 121 yards on 27 carries.  His day also included a touchdown in which he placed the ball over the goal line while wearing Bart Scott like a pair of too-tight shorts.  Mendenhall ran hard; caught passes out of the backfield; and, did not turn the ball over.  He gets the Game Ball.

Next stop?  Dallas.  “Can’t wait!!!!”

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2010 NFL Season: Championship Weekend

There is no need to be complex about the games on tap for this afternoon.  These teams all know one another.  They all play tough, physical games.  Today’s contests should be no different and should come down to the wire.

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears.

I am sure that I like Jay Cutler, the QB, much more than most people.  I think he can do most of the things that Aaron Rodgers can do, but I don’t believe he does them as artfully or as consistently.  That should be the difference.  Packers 27, Bears 23.

Greg Jennings: One-Fourth of the League's Most Explosive WR Corps

New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Jets are doing something very wise this week.  They have been quiet in the days leading up to today.  They have not sought to manufacture tension or animosity.  They’ve needed this time to rebuild their emotional reserves following 2 games vs. heated rivals in New England and Indianapolis.  I think the Jets will that energy against a healthy defense featuring the league’s most dynamic player in Troy Polamalu.  The Steelers also bring the league’s #2 offense over the second half of the season.  I like the Steelers to finish what they started in the 2nd half against Baltimore where they outscored the Ravens 24-3.  I know everyone expects a close game, but I have a feeling that Pittsburgh may have tapped into something that really works.  When is the last time anyone outscored the Ravens by 3 touchdowns in a half?  Steelers 38, Jets 13.

Rashard Mendenhall: Ground and Pound

Note: Roethlisberger is 9-2 in playoff games.  The losses? 1)  A 41-17 blowout loss in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, at home vs. the New England Patriots during his rookie season.  2) A 2007 Division Round Game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars at home.  The Steelers played without Willie Parker (the league’s leading rusher through Week 16 that season) and Aaron Smith.  The Jags won on a gutsy 4th-and-2 draw play by David Garrard.  The league later admitted to missing the hold that kept Steelers DT Casey Hampton from crushing Garrard.  That’s it. 

Note 2: According to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Defensive Hog Index is one stat that tends to track well with predicting post-season winners.  How did it work last season?  Not so great.  The number 1 ranking Green Bay Packers were knocked off in an offensive firestorm out in the Arizona desert.  What’s the deal in 2010?  The Steelers ranked #1, the Jets are #4, the Bears are #6, and the Packers are #10.

2010 NFL Season: Week 15 in Review

A game of inches, obscene noises, and definitive silence.

Antonio Cromartie, aka The Jersey Boy: Nice Grab

And this, too. (And it’s not a replay.)

Antonio Cromartie Masterfully Turns the Inside Shoulder

Um, and this one, too.

Antonio Cromartie Demonstrates Desperation

And this, too.

Dwight Lowery Snuggles Close to Emmanuel Sanders

Jets 22, Steelers 17.   “Emmanuel!! Wait!  Dont’ leave me this way.   I luuuuuuuv you, man!  Don’t go!  I need you.”

No whistles.  No biggie.  It all evens out in the end.

In other news: (more…)

2010 NFL Season: Week 12 in Review

The season is winding down and the significant games for this week are in the books.  Tonite, the San Francisco 49ers play the Arizona Cardinals.  The game may well prove to be very entertaining (Remember last year’s tilt in San Francisco?), but both of these outfits have proven unfit for the rigors of this season.  Big winners this week: the New England Patriots who have found a way to get deep without deep speed; the San Diego Chargers who are serving notice that they are a team to be reckoned with — until the playoffs start; the Chicago Bears who provided a template for beating the high-flying Eagles; the Atlanta Falcons who showed that in the Dirty South, they have just enough to take all comers; and the “Survivors” — Pittsburgh and Baltimore — who were probably peeking around their Week 12 opponents, and thinking about health insurance for Week 13.

Chargers, Chargers Everywhere!

A few random thoughts:

  • As great as Peyton Manning has been in his career, he cannot like living THE LIFE OF MCNABB right now.  Without Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, and Ryan Lilja, Manning is experiencing life on the other side.  He still has Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and others, but this is his first taste in years of getting hammered — with no hope of relief.  Manning, unlike McNabb is not able to make plays with his feet — and it shows.  He’s giving up interceptions for touchdowns.  He isn’t choosing to throw the ball at the feet of his receivers to avoid turnovers.  He’s taking big risks and losing.  Fortunately for Manning and the Colts, they’ve lost 2 games in a row, but moved ahead of Jacksonville in the playoff hunt.
  • In 5 of his last 7 games, Manning has averaged less than 6 yards per pass attempt.  That’s awful.  You cannot win in today’s NFL doing that.  During that span, the Colts are 4-3, with one of those wins coming by 6 points over the Bengals who were “fueled” by Carson Palmer’s 3 INTs.  Manning has thrown 10 picks over the frame — and had two games with no touchdown passes.
  • The national media is articulate, understanding, and acutely accusatory in their analysis of Peyton Manning’s present condition.  Commentators are able to identify injured players at skill positions and along the offensive line.  Many have become Maddenesque with their ability to break down offensive line play (Exhibit A: former wide receiver Cris Collinsworth; Exhibit B: Yahoo.com’s Shut Down Corner column).  THE LIFE OF MCNABB, however, is not about making excuses.  It’s about making plays…even when playing with guys like James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Hank Baskett, and Freddie Mitchell.  It’s about figuring a way to move the ball on the ground even when your running backs all weigh 180 pounds soaking wet and the last tackle they broke was made by a toddler on the living room floor.  The Colts may make the playoffs, but I suspect Peyton Manning may need what Jay Cutler needed last year if he is to right this ship, right now.

What Can This Brown Do For You?

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A Look Back at the 2005 NFL Draft

Back in April, the NFL concluded the 2010 draft.  This year’s draft was punctuated by the prime time debut of Round 1 at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall.  The draft was extended over a three day period and received wide acclaim from fans and media, alike.

It is too early to say who the winners are for the 2010 draft.  Some draft picks never make it out of camp; some never fulfill the promise of their rookie contract.  Still others exceed the greatest expectations.  It has been widely stated that the average career of an NFL player is 4-5 years.  Given that, let’s take a look at the 2005 NFL Draft.

The Rules of the Game

There are as many ways to evaluate the success of a draft class as there are to evaluate players.  What matters most?  Years as a starter, Pro Bowl selections, All Pro selections, team wins, championships, value at selected position, value over next selection?  There are a lot of criteria to consider.

I’ll leave that final determination to you.  For my own purposes, I admit using a subjective mix of all of those criteria.   Here is a link for you to make your own decision.

Top Dog of the 2005 NFL Draft

1. Dallas Cowboys.   The Cowboys used two first round selections to grab DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears.  Ware has become a dominant defensive force in the league.  He has been selected to four Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro three times.  He is arguably the best player at his position in the entire NFL.  Ware, to the Cowboys credit, was taken just before Chargers LB Shawne Merriman.

DeMarcus Ware: 2005 Draft Cream of the Crop

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