Let’s Talk Football

January 17, 2011

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The conference championship games are now set; the New York Jets will be visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will be visiting the Chicago Bears. Both are #2-#6 seed match ups. Some of the games this weekend were messy. Each provided the coaches, even the winning coaches, plenty to teach this week.

In the Pittsburgh – Baltimore game, we learned you play to the whistle, as a Baltimore lineman picked up the ball and ran in for a touchdown on a fumble that no one else noticed, they were just standing around with the ball sitting on the ground. In the New England – New York game we learned that when you are going to run a fake punt, pay attention to where the ball is. In the Atlanta – Green Bay game we learned not to hurry at the end of the half with short dangerous passes. And finally, we learned in the Chicago – Seattle game, we learned that you have to run your pattern and actually catch the ball to win games. I am sure that you can see many more teaching opportunities (like do not commit stupid penalties at critical points in the game).

All four of the teams in the champion ship games have been to and won at least one Super Bowl, so no new story line there. None of these teams have matched up against each other in the Super Bowl before, so some interest there. The Steelers already have six Super Bowl Championships, the Jets are undefeated in the Super Bowl (but only have one appearance). Only one #6 seed has ever made it to the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL, which they won. The #2 seed has made it to the Super Bowl 22 times, winning 11 and losing 11. Two #2s have met only once in the Super Bowl. Two of the teams come from large markets, the other two have storied Super Bowl history behind them.

The New York Jets beat Pittsburgh during the regular season in their only meeting. Chicago and Green Bay split their two games. The Jets beat Green Bay but lost to Chicago. Pittsburgh did not play either NFC team this year. I am sure that the pundits will have plenty of stories and angles to comment on.

The good new is that one of the New York teams made it to the Conference Championship. Why is this good news? About 95% of the talking heads predicted a possible NY-NY show down in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV. In week 2 of the season, most of those same experts called the both NY teams’ seasons over, so much for predicting 4 months and 16 games out. I guess that I get some juvenile pleasure out of seeing the experts proven wrong.

I was glad that Seattle won in the first round of the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints. I am not bashing the Saints, but there were so many people on talk shows saying that Seattle should not be in the playoffs because they did not have a winning record. I disagree. The rules as they stand today are that you have to win your division to get to the playoffs. If you don’t do that, there is the gift of 2 wild card spots for teams that played well, just not well enough to win their divisions. It was not that long ago that there were only three divisions and one wild card for each conference, now twelve teams out of the 32 get into the playoffs. My objection is the demand to change the rules in the middle (or near the end) of the season.

I still have a horse in this race, so I am pretty excited. I will be having a Super Bowl party regardless of the participants. The Super Bowl is usually a good game and there are those commercials. My friends and I usually skip the half time show, ever since Janet Jackson was exposed in front of my young children. American style football has produced great entertainment for years, with the Super Bowl being there grand finale each year. I do no expect to be disappointed this year.

Status of the Steelers

December 14, 2009

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1 Comment

I know that I was brought to this site to primarily discuss the pleasures and stresses of writing, but I am also a man. This article will focus on one of my favorite and most painful pastime, professional football, specifically the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born in Pittsburgh and am old enough to remember the bad years before Chuck Noll, the Super ‘70s, the dreadful ‘80s, the resurgent ‘90s and the return to super over the last few years.

The collapse that the various talking heads are discussing can be attributed to several things.

Some are claiming that coach Tomlin won Super Bowl XLIII using coach Cowher’s team. In some ways this may be true, but we must remember that essentially the same team had a losing season the last year of coach Cowher’s reign. It will not truly be Tomlin’s team until year five, we are in year three.

Some are suggesting that coach Tomlin has been too easy on the team, especially the veterans. Again, this is partially true. The fans and pundits are going to have to come to the realization that some of the stars on this team are going to retire either at the end of this year or next year (they have all been playing 10 years or more). This exodus will affect the defense somewhat more than the offense as Hampton (NT), Hoke (NT), Smith (DE), Kirschke (DE), Townsend (CB), Carter (SS) and Farrior (ILB) are all approaching the end of their careers. The offense will definitely suffer when Ward (WR) decides he is done. If coach had run these guys though the toughest practices, they would not have made it this far without serious injury.

As we look at what has gone wrong, we can see holes in every facet of the game. There have been more kick returns for touchdowns and yards than any other team. Admittedly, they have faced the best returners in the league (e.g. Cribbs-CLE twice). Continuing with the special teams, the punting is back in line, just coverage has holes. Field goals are solid and kick offs also good, just coverage. My recommendation is to look for free agents that can be better on coverage. The guys we have are good, but not good enough.

Moving to defense, all looks good until the fourth quarter. This can be attributed to injury (e.g. Polamolu), but I believe that the aging core of the defense is a larger factor in the late game collapses. There is also the lack of breaks. This year has seen a drop in the number of tipped balls landing in the hands of the various linebackers, safeties and corners. There has also been a dramatic decline in forced fumbles and as a result fumble recoveries. The team has to really focus on defense on the off season. This will sound odd to most people who follow the game since the Steelers are still rated so high in defense. That rating is misleading, just look at the results after having leads in the fourth quarter.

In addition, it may be time for coach Dick LeBeau to retire. This is sacrilege to most Steelers fans and most pundits. This is not a condemnation of his talents. It is simply a recognition that he has far too many disciples in the ranks of the defensive coaches throughout the league. One of the biggest problems of continuous success is imitation and careful study.

On the offense, most of the blame will rightfully fall on the line. These guys have simply been outclassed for two years now. The staff did little to sure up the line in the off season, by draft or trade. When even the Cleveland Browns can get eight sacks, there is an issue. This is not the only problem. The lack of a running game has forced more passing, giving opponents many more opportunities to get at the quarterback. Mendenhall has recovered nicely from his injury, but does not have the outside speed to keep defenses honest, and Parker simply has not recovered his acceleration since his knee injury two years ago. Moore is not a premier back, although he does make things interesting. I am not suggesting that the backs need to be replaced, they just need to heal. For that matter, Roethlisberger needs to heal as well. The true actions are to find some key players for the line. It may be as simple as one or two players. This can be seen by the dramatic drop of talent with the departure of Alan Faneca after Super Bowl XL.

Now I am done ranting about the failings of the team. Many will accuse me of being a defeatist, but this season is done. No team with a 9 and 7 record will make the playoffs, and the Steelers have three tough games left. My final recommendations are as follows;

  1. Sit Ben in favor of Dennis Dixon. I don’t believe that this will result in more wins, it will give Ben a chance to heal and Dennis a chance to get experience for the next time he is needed to step up due to injury or any other reason.
  2. Only play Hines in the first half. This will keep him at the top of his game and give him rest. This will also give some of the other receivers more time on the field. Sweed needs to used or dropped. Logan needs more time beyond returns. Wallace has proven he is a starter. These are the guys practicing with Dixon anyway, so give them time, they are the future.
  3. Don’t let Troy play until the Miami game. Make him sit and heal, this will be hard since he is such a passionate player. Roll in the back up linebackers from the special teams to get them into the fold. Again, Farrior is coming to the end of his career, the younger guys need the playing time.
  4. Put some veterans in for return coverage. Their example can help the younger players maintain their lanes and assignments.

I confess that I have never played the game, nor have I ever coached. I do not expect coaches Tomlin, Arians, or LeBeau to take my recommendations. This is the United States of America. Everyone here has the right to their own opinion, that is the right of free speech. No one has the right to be listened to, so I have to accept what I can not change.