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Patriots Week

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

“Ownage is Ownage.” – Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper

I should confess that I don’t know if “Kruk ad Kuip” (San Francisco Giants color commentator and play-by-play man, respectively) actually invented this saying. If they did it’s likely it only  took one of them. I don’t really see them sitting around:

  • Krukow: Hey Kuip, I got this phrase I’ve been working on. You know, like when a pitcher absolutely dominates a hitter. So far all I got is “Ownage is..” Then I hit a wall. Any ideas?
  • Kuiper: Ownage is.. Ownage is… mhhmmmm.. Well ownage is, uh, ownage is ownage. I guess. Right?
  • Krukow: [stunned] You’re a god damned genius.

So while I don’t actually know who invented “ownage is ownage,”  I do know that since 2001 the New England Patriots have exhibited a staggering amount of ownage over the Pittsburgh Steelers. So much ownage has been wrought upon the black and gold by the Pats that Patriot week in Pittsburgh feels an awful lot like finals week during that semester of college where you did nothing but slam top-shelf margs at the local tavern and sleep until 4pm every day. You know you’ve got no chance to pass any of your exams and the whole week is going to be one massive, embarrassing failure. But you have to go out there in front of god and country and suck hard for all to see. There’s no other option. This is the feeling right now in tPittsburgh. It’s amazing.

I’ve been gone for a while, but this feeling is familiar. There is dark, stinking cloud of pessimism hanging over this city. Sports talk radio has been a comedic mix of fans and hosts resigning their beloved Steelers to the fate of another throttling at the hands of BradyChick empire. Hosts and analysts – both local and national – speak not of ‘what the Steelers need to do to beat the Patriots,’ but rather asking themselves, ‘how in god’s name can the Steelers beat the Patriots?’ Steelers not in awe of Patriots explains an ESPN article.The way the article is written it feels like the editor removed the word “somehow” after “Steelers” in that headline.

Steeler fans and media have a little brother complex when it comes to the Patriots. Against other teams we feel like the Steelers always have a chance to win. The pre-game narrative changes during Patriots week. Brady and Belichick do this to teams. A lot of teams. They own people. They own coaches. They are the modern-era Walsh and Montana: a coach who seems to be smarter than every one of his peers and a quarterback who understands him in a way that turns them both into dominant forces. I am convinced Tom Brady is the player he is today because of Bill Belichick. (Consider Matt Cassel’s 2008 season: from a nobody on the bench to a 3600 yard phenom in 16 weeks).

Physically, Tom Brady is not particularly gifted. In fact, he’s particularly not gifted. He’s a decent size (6’4″ 225lbs.) but not especially strong so he doesn’t shed tacklers like Ben Roethlisberger or Josh Freeman. He’s godawfully slow. Runs like a donkey. And because of this, 1) he’s never a threat to run and 2) his rollout passing game is non-existent.

However what he lacks in strength and speed, he makes up for with his arm.  He is deceivingly strong and knee-bucklingly accurate. His entire career he has been surrounded by top-notch offensive lines, allowing him to stand about in the pocket until one of his (almost always) mediocre receivers reveals a modicum of openness into which Brady zings the ball. He is tremendous at this. This is what he does. This is all he does.

Belichick realizes Brady’s physical limitations and strengths. For that matter, he realizes his entire team’s limitations and strengths. This might seem like a rather obvious and  prerequisite skill for a coach to have, but it is staggering how many seem to lack this. You know how Ray Rice only carried the ball eight times for the Ravens on Monday night and Joe Flacco threw over thirty times? Belichick would never make a mistake like that.

Belichick knows his team’s strengths and weaknesses extremely well and he manages his games to that end. Brady throws the ball a ton. Wes Welker catches lots of passes in space so that he can make a few moves and rack up the yards. High passes are thrown to tall receivers. The Patriots don’t run much because they don’t have a greatly skilled running back, so they throw short passes that serve effectively as running plays. They play an intelligent defense that is designed to limit mistakes. They focus on forcing turnovers, having forced eleven through six games. (Although I suspect this has largely to do with the poor-quality passers they have faced.) They will allow yards but try to limit opponents to field goals.

There isn’t a whole lot going on here that is difficult to understand. What separates the Patriots is Tom Brady’s arm and the team’s crisp execution.

For some reason the Steelers find this to be unbeatable. So much so that fans find themselves – myself included – rationalizing a loss to the Patriots before it even happens. There is no excuse for this. The Steelers have beaten Brady and Belichick before. In 2004 the Steelers crushed the Patriots 34-20 at Heinz Field, ending their 21-game winning streak. It was week eight. Halloween. This year’s game is also week eight, and only one day before Halloween. SPOOKY.

I hope the Steelers win Sunday not only because it is a vitally important game  in the standings but because I want Steeler fans and the media to get over the Patriots. When the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl last season I heard a lot of, “Well the Steelers sure got lucky the Patriots stone-cold choked against the Jets cause there is noooooo way they’d have beaten Brady at home!”

It’s time to put this garbage to rest.

****

And now, picks

Last week: 4-8-1 (thank you very little, Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco)

Overall: 47-50-6

Home team in CAPS

****

Colts (+9.5) over TITANS

Jaguars (+10) over TEXANS

Vikings (+3.5) over PANTHERS

Saints (-14) over RAMS

RAVENS (-13) over Cardinals

Dolphins (+10.5) over GIANTS

BILLS (-6) over Redskins

Cowboys (+3.5) over EAGLES

Chargers (-4) over CHIEFS

BRONCOS (+3.5) over Lions

Bengals (-2.5) over SEAHAWKS

49ERS (-9.5) over Browns

STEELERS (+3) over Patriots (I mean, after the last thousand words how can I possibly pick the Pats?)

 

 

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Categories: NFL, Steelers Tags: ,

Quick Thoughts on the Pens, and Baseball Snobbery

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s worth noting that the Penguins have won five consecutive games. All of these wins have come without Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy (two of their top three goal scorers last season), and some of them without Zbynek Michalek (arguably their best shutdown defenseman). Last night’s game saw the Pens battle back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to win the game in a shootout. This is significant for two reasons. 1) They scored the game-tying goal on the power play, and the goal was scored by James Neal – these are two things that pretty much didn’t happen at all last season. 2) This was the first game the Pens won when trailing in the third period since April of 2010: Game six – the deciding game – of their first-round playoff series against the Senators.

Aside from that it was business as usual. “Business as usual” these days includes winning well over 50% of faceoffs, timely and spectacular goaltending from whomever is in net, and a suffocating penalty-killing unit that is on pace to allow somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 to 8 goals against this season.

Crosby looms. This team is scary.

****

People are in hysterics over last night’s baseball game, and for good reason. It was a fairly absurd game from top to bottom. Through six innings there was talk of it being the worst played baseball game in the history of the sport. Five innings and twelve hours later grown men are still shaking over its greatness.

There are limitless writers with a deep history and understanding of baseball, and those are the people to read about a night like last night (with Joe Posnanski, as usual, making it seem incredibly easy). I feel somewhat foolish attempting to wade into these waters, but there is a common thread being pulled from last night’s contest that I find more than a little overbearing and annoying.

Jonah Keri – in this fairly insufferable article on Grantland – makes bold mention of the notion that baseball is deeply special because it is played with outs and not a clock, and therefore a team always has a chance as long as it has outs. I have heard this from numerous other places (the Posnanski article mentions it as well, and I saw at least half a dozen tweets last night echoing the same sentiment) and it is almost always presented as a way to argue that baseball is better than every other sport (except for cricket, I guess).

Baseball wonks have this idea that their game is the purest game because of this structure. A team is always able to win for as long as they have outs. Even if it is down by eight in the bottom of the ninth, a team has a chance to win.

This is great, I agree. This is definitely what makes baseball special. The drama of a close baseball game in the bottom of the ninth – or extra innings – is difficult to match, and no other sport features late-game drama as frequently as baseball. But clearly there is something special with games played by the clock. Timed games feature their own strategies, their own situational nuances that separate great coaches from good coaches and great players from good players. Football particularly thrives on this. Most of the greatest moments in the history of football have been wrought only because the clock forced the drama. Dwight Clark’s “The Catch,” John Elway’s “The Drive,” Kordell Steward to Michael Westbrook: none of these iconic moments ever occurs if not for the time limits of football. Santonio Holmes’ touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLVI –  possibly the greatest sports-watching moment of my life – never happens if not for time expiring.

I don’t want to be a killjoy. I loved every second of what I watched last night. I’ll never forget it. Before last night David Freese is a name that me and millions of other people could not give to shits about. Now David Freese is a name that I will always remember. There is something undeniably cool about that. But just because baseball is the only major American sport that is not bound by time limits doesn’t make it better than every other sport.

Maybe once the excitement wears down we’ll all come back to earth. Hopefully that doesn’t happen until tomorrow. Game seven is tonight, and I hope the hysteria continues.

Categories: MLB, Penguins Tags:

Week 7 NFL Power Rankings: More Like “Joke” Flacco AMIRITE?

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Okay you cretins. You get your wish. The Packers are the best team in the NFL. Not even my bewitching mathematical formulas can deny them of this honor. Although I stand by what I wrote in last week’s power rankings*. I really think the Packers are all Rodgers. It just so happens to be that Rodgers is the best player – not just best quarterback, best player – in the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE. And his defense that gives up tons of yards always seems to find a way to bail itself out with a takeaway (they lead the league with 16) or hold their opponents to field goals.

The Cowboys continue to vex me. I can’t reconcile them moving up four places after a win over the Rams. And I can’t stand that they’re 9th with a 3-3 record. They’ve played a fairly difficult schedule –  they’re the only team to beat the 49ers, and they should have beaten the Lions and the Patriots – but they haven’t been able to put anybody away. Perhaps they really are this good.

The math of this thing does not appreciate the 62-7 smackdown the Saints laid on the Colts. This sort of result throws some things out of whack. The amusing benefit of this lopsided nonsense is the Colts replace the Rams as the 32nd team. Even though the Rams got destroyed at home by the Cowboys. Power rankings are fun!

Interesting stat of the day: The top four teams in average yards allowed per game are: Baltimore (272.7), Cincinnati (278.5), Pittsburgh (279), and Cleveland (291). If you can figure out what these four teams have in common you win a prize.

*Joe Flacco proved to us last night that he is clearly not the vital cog in Ravens’ offensive attack. Although I’m not convinced we needed last night’s puketastic performance to confirm this. So how is it that Ray Rice had only eight carries? EIGHT! Even Matt Millen knows Rice is the Ravens’ best offensive weapon. How does John Harbaugh not realize that the only way for the Ravens to have any offensive success – unless they are playing the Rams –  is for Rice to carry the ball at least twenty times per game? Bizarre.

Biggest Movers:

  • UP: Saints (12 to 5)
  • DOWN: Titans (11 to 21)

 TEAM

LAST_WEEK

RECORD

RANKINGS_INDEX

1.

Packers

 2

(.7322)

 7-0

.7202

2.

49ers

 4

(.7078)

 5-1

.6957

3.

Ravens

 1

(.7653)

4-2

.6901

4.

Lions

3

 (.7194)

 5-2

.6718

5.

Saints

12

(.6146)

 5-2

 .6461

6.

Texans

10

(.5629)

 4-3

 .6457

7.

Patriots

 5

(.6347)

 5-1

 .6285

8.

Bengals

6

(.6170)

 4-2

 .6245

9.

Cowboys

13

(.5442)

 3-3

 .5953

10.

Bills

 8

(.5930)

 4-2

 .5921

11.

Steelers

 9

(.5803)

 5-2

 .5911

12.

Chargers

7

(.6079)

 4-2

 .5638

13.

Jets

17

(.5163)

 4-3

 .5511

14.

Bears

19

(.4764)

 4-3

 .5370

15.

Giants

15

 (.5289)

 4-2

 .5259

16.

Falcons

21

(.4651)

 4-3

 .5113

17.

Browns

22

(.4281)

 3-3

 .4947

18.

Raiders

14

 (.5292)

 4-3

 .4786

19.

Eagles

20

 (.4660)

 2-4

  .4672

20.

Redskins

16

 (.5288)

 3-3

  .4567

21.

Titans

11

(.5602)

 3-3

 .4542

22.

Buccaneers

18

 (.4823)

 4-3

 .4508

23.

Panthers

25

 (.3979)

 2-5

 .4432

24.

Chiefs

29

 (.3000)

 3-3

 .4106

25.

Jaguars

28

 (.3244)

 2-5

 .3928

26.

Vikings

24

 (.3945)

 1-6

 .3903

27.

Seahawks

23

 (.3948)

 2-4

 .3871

28.

Broncos

26

(.3318)

 2-4

 .3758

29.

Cardinals

27

 (.3253)

 1-5

 .3052

30.

Dolphins

30

 (.2450)

 0-6

 .2653

31.

Rams

32

 (.2101)

 0-6

 .1890

32.

Colts

31
(.2343)
 

0-7

 .1872
Categories: NFL Tags:

The Illusion of the Big Win

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Last night I found myself watching some late-night sports talk show with a bunch of local newspaper and radio jocks discussing the Steelers game. It was the typical back and forth stuff one always here on shows like this with the added twist of sprinkling in viewer emails and tweets. The emails and tweets were as bizarre and ridiculous as one would expect, but one that got my attention echoed a sentiment I have heard for as long as I have been a football fan. The emailer stated (I’m paraphrasing here) that if the Steelers want to be an elite team – a Super Bowl Contender – they need to learn how to absolutely demolish bad teams in the same manner the Saints demolished the Colts 62-7 last night in front of the entire country.

This concept is nothing new to the Steelers and Steeler fans. There is this idea floating around that Pittsburgh lacks the “killer instinct” of the league’s top dogs. There was an overwhelming sentiment following last week’s victory over Jacksonville that the Steelers were lucky to pull that one out after “letting the Jaguars back into the game,” even though it was pretty clear the Jags never really had a shot. When the Steelers shut out the Seahawks in week two, fans groaned that the offense only managed three touchdowns. When they beat the Colts 23-20 in week three, fans grumbled that the defense played a poor game after allowing the Maning-less Colts to put up 20 points. When Arizona closed the gap in yesterday’s game to three points in the third quarter, my twitter timeline erupted with people predicting an imminent Steeler collapse. After the game there were no shortage of tweets that read an awful lot like the email above.

Mike Tomlin is notorious for praising his team in victory no matter the opponent and no matter the score. The Steelers could beat Woodland Hills 7-6 and after the game Coach T would say, “We’ll put that one in the win column and move on.” I think this is one of the keys to Mike Tomlin’s success: He finds flaws in every victory, success in every loss, and emphasizes the idea of simply winning enough games – no matter how – to get into the tournament.

I wish more fans could be like this because if we could pause for a moment and look back at the Steelers’ very recent history, we might realize that the old cliche – it’s not how, but how many – really makes sense.

How about we go back to last season when the Steelers finished 12-4 and nearly won a championship:

  • Week two, the Steelers muster just 127 total yards (including only 21 passing yards!), convert only seven first downs (one from a penalty), and defeat the Titans 19-11. Tennessee finished 6-10.
  • Week seven against the Dolphins the Steelers have a 17-9 lead in the second quarter but need an 18-yard field goal from Jeff Reed with 2:26 remaining in regulation to edge Miami 23-22. You’ll recall Ben’s fumble late in the game deep in Miami territory that the officials missed and could not overturn due to a lack of video evidence. If the refs don’t kick that call the Steelers likely lose this game. The Dolphins finished last season at 7-9.
  • Week nine, the Steelers take a 27-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, only to let the Bengals score 14 unanswered points. The Steelers hang on to win that game 27-21. Cincinnati finished 4-12.
  • Week twelve against the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers take a three-point lead with 6:12 to go in the fourth quarter, only to allow the Bills to drive down field and tie the game with two seconds remaining. Then in overtime, Stevie Johnson of the Bills drops a giftwrapped game-winning touchdown pass. The Steelers manage a field goal on their next possession to escape with a 19-16 victory. The Bills finished last season at 4-12.

How about 2008?

  • Week two, the Steelers edge the Browns 10-6. The Browns would go on to a 4-12 record that year.
  • Week five, the Steelers fall behind Jacksonville 14-7 in the first quarter. The Steelers claim a 20-14 lead at halftime but allow the Jags to retake the lead 21-20 in the fourth quarter. The Steelers trail in this game until Hines Ward catches an 8-yard touchdown with 1:53 to go in regulation. The Jags would finish that season at 5-11.

2005, another Super Bowl season.

  • Week eight, the Steelers are totally outplayed by the Ravens (outgained 318 to 261) and get outscored by six in the fourth quarter yet manage a 20-19 victory. The Ravens were 6-10 that year.
  • Week nine, the Steelers face the 1-6 Green Bay Packers and manage only one offensive touchdown en route to a 20-10 victory. The Packers finished 4-12 that season (behind the Lions).
A bunch of close victories over lousy teams. In the end, it didn’t matter that they didn’t dominate in these games, it only mattered that they won. They won enough games in each of these three seasons to get into the postseason tournament and in each season they got to play for a Super Bowl. Everyone is 0-0 in January. All you have to do is get there and anything is possible.
Do the Steelers look as crisp as the fans would like them to look? Clearly not. They aren’t clicking at 100 percent yet and we know that, but that’s exactly why we should be excited by what we see from this team. They have room to improve. They have not yet reached their full potential. All that matters right now is that they keep winning – no matter how – and keep improving.
If I have learned anything about the NFL during the Ben Roethlisberger era it’s the importance for a team to be playing it’s best football in January, not October. You can worry about how the Steelers get their wins if you want, but the fact is 62-7 or 10-9, each one counts the same.
Categories: NFL, Steelers

What Happens When the Pens are Healthy? (Also, NFL PICKS!)

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a problem the Penguins are fortunate to have, but it is a problem nonetheless. The Pens are 6-2-2 through ten games played largely without Brooks Orpik, Dustin Jeffrey, and Evgeni Malkin, and entirely without Sidney Crosby. Last night, Dan Bylsma went with the following line combinations:

Chris Kunitz – Jordan Staal – Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan – Richard Park – James Neal
Matt Cooke – Joe Vitale – Arron Asham
Steve MacIntyre – Dustin Jeffery – Craig Adams

Kris Letang – Brooks Orpik
Paul Martin – Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen – Deryk Engelland

The odd-men-out were Mark Letestu and Ben Lovejoy

The defense has been somewhat of a revolving door situation. Brooks Orpik didn’t start the season due to injury (with Lovejoy starting in his place), then returned to the lineup Thursday night while Kris Letang was serving game two of a two-game suspension. In the game prior to Thursday, in Minnesota, the Pens were without both Orpik AND Letang and had to recall Brian Strait from the AHL for a spot start. Strait suffered a hyperextended elbow in that contest and will likely miss 4-6 weeks.

Strait wasn’t meant to be a staple of this lineup, so while his injury is unfortunate it is far from critical.

Last night was the first night Dan Bylsma had a choice of 6 of 7  possible players. He chose to scratch Ben Lovejoy. Entering the season Dan Bylsma said that only Letang, Orpik, Michalek, and Martin had guaranteed spots on the defense, and the other two spots were up for grabs. With as well as Niskanen has played through the first handful of games it seems as though he has locked up the fifth defenseman spot, leaving it between Lovejoy and Engelland to duke it out for number six.

Heading into Thursday’s game against Montreal, it seemed like Lovejoy and Engelland were just about neck-and-neck. I felt that Engelland had a slight advantage because, while he hadn’t been spectacular at any point, he had simply made fewer mistakes than Engelland.  After Engelland’s two-assist performance  in the Montreal game, Ben Lovejoy found himself as the odd-man-out last night.

Late in last night’s game Zbynek Michalek suffered an injury of undisclosed severity to his hand. If he is forced to miss time it is safe to expect Ben Lovejoy’s return to the lineup. If Big Z is okay to continue playing I would think Lovejoy continues to sit unless an injury forces him back into the lineup.

So going forward, it seems to me the ideal defensive setup is what we saw last night.

It gets even trickier on offense.

I am not currently putting much stock into the lines we see each night. They change with injuries, guys returning from injuries, and the whims of Bylsma and his coaching staff as they shuffle players around to see who clicks with whom.

The current absence of Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby from nightly action has meant that no hard lineup decisions have had to be made. But when those three are healthy enough to return they will absolutely be re-inserted into the nightly lineup. So with the Penguins absolutely clicking right now – having played their two best games of the season without those three in the lineup – who stays and who goes?

There is one clear decision, and that is to sit MacIntyre/Letestu. Steve MacIntyre got the nod last night over Mark Letestu (a decision I’m not sure I understand) but at this point Letestu is playing poor hockey and MacIntyre exhibits zero ability to skate or handle the puck. Easy enough. They’re out. Let’s assume Geno is the first guy back, so he slots in there.

Tyler Kennedy has been ruled out “indefinitely” with his concussion, and with the way the Penguins handled Crosby’s concussion I think it’s safe to assume that TK won’t be rushed back to action. So let’s assume Sid is the next player to return. Who sits for Sid?

It seems to me the options are Vitale, Jeffrey, Park, Asham, and Adams. None of these players has done anything to warrant losing ice time. In fact, they’ve all played well above expectations.

Forced to pick one right now, I’d say Richard Park goes. Park is smaller than the others, he’s 35, and he doesn’t fill any one role as well as the others. Adams is the team’s best PK man. Asham can hit, fight, and, on occasion, score. Vitale and Jeffrey are 26 and 23, respectively, and more important to the team’s future than Park. Park is a great fill-in guy and has played very well to this point (five points in ten games) but at his advanced age it seems to me that he would benefit from playing a slightly scaled-down schedule while allowing some of the younger talent to get a shot at NHL ice time.

So we have Letestu/MacIntyre out for Geno, and Park out for Sid. Who goes for Kennedy?

I hate to say it, but I think it has to be Joe Vitale. Vitale was the 195th pick in the 2005 entry draft. He was never supposed to be this good. He’s 26, and before this season he had only appeared in nine NHL games. Through ten games he has been spectacular. He is the ultimate energy guy. Absolutely flies up and down the ice, plays much bigger than he is, and wins faceoffs at a nearly 56% clip. Throw in his three points through the first ten games and he projects as an ideal third/fourth line center. The problem for Vitale, of course, is that the Pens have roughly 268 centers. He fills a similar role to Dustin Jeffrey who is a few years younger, comparable in the faceoff dot, a couple inches bigger, and a better goal scorer.

The only other player I can think of sitting would be Asham. Although his style of play matches Dan Bylsma’s system well, he’s 33 and beginning the downside of his career. Vitale is the kind of player who will mature into a better goal scorer than Asham, but Asham brings more toughness. Perhaps these two could wind up splitting time?

Hopefully we’ll get to find out soon.

****

And now, for the record, are my week 7 NFL picks!

Last Week: 6-5-2

Overall: 43-42-5 (over .500 woooo!)

Home team in CAPS

****

BUCCANEERS (+1.5) over Bears (In London)

PANTHERS (-3) over Redskins

JETS (PK) over Chargers

BROWNS (-3) over Seahawks

Texans (+3) over TITANS

DOLPHINS (+2) over Broncos

LIONS (-5) over Falcons

RAIDERS (-4) over Chiefs

Rams (+14) over COWBOYS

Packers (-10.5) over VIKINGS

SAINTS (-14) over Colts

Ravens (-9) over JAGUARS

CARDINALS (+4.5) over Steelers

Categories: NFL, NHL, Penguins Tags:

Week 6 NFL Power Rankings: Groin Grabbingly Good!

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

This is not about Aaron Rodgers versus Joe Flacco. This is about the Packers versus the Ravens.

The Packers have

  • The best quarterback in the NFL.
  • One great receiver, a couple of pretty good receivers, and a great tight end.
  • A mediocre running back.
  • Serviceable defense.
The Ravens have
  • A mediocre quarterback.
  • A couple of pretty good receivers, a serviceable tight end.
  • A great running back.
  • A great defense.
The Packers are Aaron Rodgers. If he gets hurt it’s over for them. They can’t run (98.5 yards per game, 24th) and defensively they allow 383.7 yards per game (23rd). Do you know who Green Bay’s backup quarterback is? Of course you don’t. It’s Matt Flynn. One career start.
Tyrod Taylor is listed as the Ravens’ number two man. Nobody knows who this dude is either, but it doesn’t matter. If Flacco gets hurt, Taylor can spend entire games handing off to Ray Rice and watching his defense terrorize opponents. There isn’t much he would be expected to do.
Flynn, on the other hand, would be commissioned with trying to get the ball to Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings while having essentially no running game and a defense that is mediocre at best.

We are all in love with Aaron Rodgers, and rightfully so. He is lighting the world on fire via passing a football. He is eclipsing Brett Favre’s memory in Green Bay. He photobombs team pictures. He leads the defending Super Bowl Champions, and they are undefeated.

Without him I think it’s safe to say that the Packers would be in an awful lot of trouble. The Ravens are simply more complete.

****

Biggest Movers

  • UP: Bengals (11 to 6)
  • DOWN: Redskins (8 to 16)

 TEAM

LAST_WEEK

RECORD

RANKINGS_INDEX

1.

Ravens

 2

(.7346)

4-1

.7653

2.

Packers

 3

(.7146)

6-0

.7322

3.

Lions

 1

(.7477)

5-1

.7194

4.

49ers

4

 (.6814)

5-1

.7078

5.

Patriots

5

(.6238)

5-1

 .6347

6.

Bengals

11

(.5808)

 4-2

 .6170

7.

Chargers

 10

(.5946)

 4-1

 .6079

8.

Bills

6

 (.6174)

 4-2

 .5930

9.

Steelers

13

(.5506)

 4-2

 .5803

10.

Texans

 9

(.5982)

 3-3

 .5629

11.

Titans

 14

(.5461)

 3-2

 .5602

12.

Saints

 7

  (.6146)

 4-2

 .5582

13.

Cowboys

12

 (.5664)

 2-3

 .5442

14.

Raiders

15

(.4761)

 4-2

 .5292

15.

Giants

16

 (.4416)

 4-2

 .5289

16.

Redskins

8

(.6061)

 3-2

 .5288

17.

Jets

17

(.4506)

 3-3

 .5163

18.

Buccaneers

20

 (.4177)

 4-2

 .4823

19.

Bears

22

 (.3954)

 3-3

  .4764

20.

Eagles

24

 (.3865)

 2-4

  .4660

21.

Falcons

23

(.3902)

 3-3

 .4651

22.

Browns

19

 (.4339)

 2-3

 .4281

23.

Seahawks

25

 (.3742)

 2-3

 .3948

24.

Vikings

18

 (.4311)

 1-5

 .3945

25.

Panthers

21

 (.3979)

 1-5

 .3763

26.

Broncos

28

 (.3163)

 1-4

 .3318

27.

Cardinals

27

(.3179)

 1-4

 .3253

28.

Jaguars

26

(.3188)

 1-5

 .3244

29.

Chiefs

29

(.2995)

 2-3

 .3000

30.

Dolphins

30

(.2502)

 0-5

 .2450

31.

Colts

31

(.2297)

 0-6

 .2343

32.

Rams

32

(.1716)

 0-5  .2101
Categories: NFL Tags:

Is This What We Are Worried About?

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Only Pittsburgh Steelers fans can respond so negatively to a victory. The Jaguars (pronounced JAG-WIRES in Pittsburgh) are awful. Terrible. Maurice Jones-Drew is pretty spectacular, and he ran for 96 yards on 22 carries. Other than that the Jags did absolutely nothing. Blaine Gabbert was 12/26 for 109 yards. One touchdown. As a team, the Jaguars averaged 3.4 yards per play. I can’t stress how terrible that is.

Yet people in this city are TERRIFIED.

For some reason Steeler fans got this idea in their heads that in order for the Steelers to be considered a legitimately good team they had to not only win yesterday, but absolutely CRUSH Jacksonville. Coming off a 21-point victory against a significantly more competent Tennessee Titan team probably fueled this desire. Alas the Steelers only won by four and scared a lot of fans in the process. And while I also wish the Steelers had been able to win by  three or four touchdowns, I take solace in the fact that they played a much better game than the scoreboard indicated.

Jacksonville managed one decent possession. It was a 17-play, 80 yard drive in the third quarter that should have never been and would have never been had Ryan Mundy not been flagged for roughing the punter on 4th and 21. Jacksonville then went three-and-out twice, kicked a field goal (for which they had to drive only 25 yards thanks to Daniel Sepulveda’s shanked punt), got the ball back with a minute left and no timeouts and gained a couple first downs before a failed hail-mary attempt. That’s it. That’s the second half. This is what we are worried about.

In the first half, Jacksonville gained 68 yards of total offense and had three drives in which they gained negative yardage. By this I mean they went backwards. That is three drives of three plays each in which they averaged going in the wrong direction. Meanwhile the Steelers put up 17 points and gained 315 yards of total offense. Is this what we are worried about?

I hear that the Steelers “let Jacksonville sneak back into the game,” but the truth is the outcome was never in doubt. Jacksonville was never going to be able to move the ball well enough to score another touchdown. Jacksonville’s coach Jack Del Rio knew it as well as anyone when – down by seven with a little over four minutes left in the 4th quarter – he wasted a timeout, THEN opted to kick a field goal to cut the lead to four. He had to have known that barring a Steeler turnover on their next possession that was the best chance the Jaguars had to tie that game. He still kicked the field goal.

I agree, it would have been nice for the Steelers offense to move the ball a little better in the second half. I would have liked to see them possess the ball for longer stretches. They were running the ball well enough for most of the game to do this, but it was fairly clear that the decision was made to try to stretch the field as much as possible. I won’t fault Bruce Arians for this because I have wanted to see him open up this offense more for years and I was thrilled they finally gave it a shot. It worked once and nearly worked a couple more times – Ben just overshot his receivers by a couple of yards.

So they didn’t score a bunch of points. So they “only” won by four. They dominated this game. They dominated last week’s game too. The offensive line has looked much better. There’s a running game now. Roethlisberger has time in the pocket. Defensively they allow the fewest total yards per game in the league (270.5) and the fourth-fewest points (17). The rush defense hasn’t been spectacular (15th in the NFL), but we have to remember the running backs they’ve faced so far – Rice, Lynch, Addai, Foster, Johnson, Jones-Drew. I’d argue that four of those six – Rice, Foster, Johnson, and Jones-Drew – are top five running backs in the league. Forgive me if I am not worried about this.

****

The Steelers have a very difficult stretch of games ahead. This week they go to Arizona (a cross-country road trip I’m sure nobody on the team is looking forward to). After that they face the Patriots, Ravens, and Bengals. This is going to be brutal. When I stop and think about how things are shaking out in the AFC North – looking at the Ravens and the Bengals and their schedule – I truly feel that the Steelers need to win all four of these games if they want to have a shot at winning this division. I think fans wanted a blowout victory yesterday as confirmation that they can have confidence in their team heading into this dreaded stretch of games.

While it may not have shown on the scoreboard yesterday’s win was a blowout. A real beatdown. The Steelers played a fantastic game and are playing their best football of the season at just the right time. We’ll see exactly what kind of team we’ve got over the next month. For now, I’m not worried. And you shouldn’t be either.

Categories: NFL, Steelers Tags: