Just a few random thoughts that I had during the game and after the game:
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.
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.
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.
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:
The NFL has undergone a number of changes in the past 25 years. Foremost among those changes have been the liberalization of rules to strengthen the passing game. Quarterbacks have never been as protected as they are today. Receivers have never had more room to operate — and they’ve never been bigger. In 1996, Keyshawn Johnson and Terrell Owens exploded the concept Sterling Sharpe and Michael Irvin had brought to life in 1985. These big, powerful receivers have become the prototype for a generation. Of course, they are not alone. Receivers like Carolina’s Steve Smith and Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward continue to be effective. So who is covering these guys?
Like I said when they were 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, and 5-0, and 6-0…” I’m not buyin!”
The Broncos deserve a great deal of credit for beginning the season at 5-0. In the past two weeks, this solid team of newly-acquainted veterans has lost to the two teams that battled in the conference championship game in 2008. There is no shame in that, but it is clear that Denver has some work to do. The offense is mediocre and we know its not because of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. They have played in a high-powered explosive offense before. The problem may not be Josh McDaniels either. He knows something about “matriculating the ball up and down the field.” Even Brandon Stokely has been part of an elite offensive unit. So who hasn’t been there and done that?
The man who threw 3 interceptions tonite against a team that refused to allow any men in orange jerseys to run the ball: Kyle Orton.
Frankly, I think the Broncos are on the verge of a collapse until they do some things differently. I thought they were fortunate to beat the Chargers in San Diego. For all of their success on defense, that game boiled down to a couple of returns by Eddie Royal. Only the 2007 Bears and Devin Hester can live that way. This Broncos team simply isn’t cut that way. The offense managed 3 points tonite — and that was due to Troy Polamalu’s defense on teammate William Gay.
Denver has to score more. They have to get Tony Scheffler involved in the offense. They have to get their running game untracked. If they don’t, that undersized defense will be forced to stay on the field as much as they did tonite. That defense can’t do it. The success of the defense is predicated on the speed of the front 7 and the savvy of the secondary. That formula was inverted tonite. The demise of the Broncos was due to the fatigue of the front 7 and the “experience” of the secondary. The Steelers made Champ Bailey look older than Ty Law. Did you see the hurdle?
The Broncos don’t have to collapse, they just have to adjust. I like the Chargers to find a way to win this division.
As for the Steelers, the offense is powerful but sloppy. Roethlisberger plays like he knows he is playing with house money. He plays as if he is unconcerned with the consequences of his actions. The Steelers defense is so ferocious that he is seldom taxed the way another passer might be by miscues. The Steelers could have scored 40 points if they did not turn the ball over. Rashard Mendenhall was spared the disgrace of a goal line fumble in the 4th quarter. And it wasn’t because he didn’t actually fumble — he did. The referees were probably still trying to make up for that blown call when Jerome Bettis called the coin toss in overtime vs. the Lions. Ben Roethlisberger had two turnovers: a blind-side fumble and a goal line interception. Both turnovers were committed when the Steelers were moving the ball with ease. The second half was a relative walk in the park. Bruce Arians appeared to have surrendered the play-calling to Ben as the team ran effortlessly without huddling.
Note 1: It was interesting to hear the announcers talk at the beginning of the 2nd half about how Denver’s frequent movement on defense was causing the Steelers to run the clock down to the final seconds. That was not the case. The Steelers were entirely in control based on the change in tempo. Roethlisberger took his time looking over the defense to maximize the quality of his pre-snap reads. There was no need to rush. The no-huddle limited defensive substitutions. Roethlisberger took his time. Game over.
Note 2: When Troy Polamalu is healthy, he makes plays all over the field. In the 4th quarter of this game (with about 9 minutes remaining), Polamalu stuffed a first down in the backfield with the Broncos pinned down in the own end. On the very next play, Kyle Orton tried to get some breathing room and the ball was intercepted by Polamalu about 20 yards downfield.
Note 3: The only guy who really gets open down field against Ike Taylor is Randy Moss (and he needs Tom Brady on the field). If you don’t have Randy Moss, don’t bother.
If Rashard Mendenhall can secure the ball, this team is going back to where they came from. Right now, the Colts, Bengals and Steelers (in that order) look to be the class of the AFC. I don’t know where to put the Patriots. It’s been so long since they played a quality opponent with a two-dimensional offense.
Closing Note: Last season, in Week 9, the Steelers played on the road against a team with a new “genius” coach that was oaded with veterans in the secondary, a young quarterback who had yet to throw an interception, a dynamic running game, apass-catching tight end, . Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out of that game by the Washington Redskins, but Jason Campbell threw his first interceptions of the season. The Redskins, like the Broncos, struggled mightily to score and lost 23-6.
Last week, Steeler rookie WR Mike Wallace had 7 receptions and 102 receiving yards on the road vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers lost the game, but the rookie served notice that he just might be a player. I was impressed enough to scoop him up in my FFL, even though I think the Steelers are at the softer spot of the 2009 schedule and are likely to run the ball more. I think Wallace is about to do some special things. Here’s why:
Each week, the NFL schedule provides intriguing story lines. This week is no different. Here are a five things I’ll be watching this week.
1. Pick me! No, pick me! Interception prone Jake Delhomme faces off against interception happy Tony Romo in INT Bowl 2009. Defenders on both teams have to be salivating. There is no telling if Delhomme will show up as the guy who throws for 270+ yards every time he plays the Atlanta Falcons (308 last week) or the guy enamored with the men in other uniforms. Dallas’ Tony Romo needs to bounce back from his undressing at the hands of the depleted New York Giants. Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall are going to sleep like babies this week.
It’s not like they’ll be up worried about Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin.
The NFL pre-season means absolutely nothing. Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost every single game and were particularly ineffective on offense. Pre-season means nothing. Still…
Santonio Holmes – Super Bowl MVP
I can’t help thinking that some of what I’ve seen is instructive as a prelude to the 2009 season. Here are some early thoughts: (more…)
It is done.
Is it really, really done?
First…a few thoughts on the season. (more…)
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