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Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview

Let's get to next season

Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin

  • He’s already got one Super Bowl championship. No worries here.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

  • Big Ben is on track for the Hall of Fame as long as he keeps out of trouble. There are no issues with his play. Dennis Dixon is a restricted free agent and both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich want to return.

Offense:

Skill: The Steelers are loaded with high quality pass catchers and the only question is whether Hines Ward will come back. Mike Wallace is a budding star and Emmanuel Sanders showed promise during his first season. Antwaan Randle El is steady and Antonio Brown was a nice find in the sixth round. TE Heath Miller is signed for four more years, but backup Matt Spaeth will be a free agent. RB Rashard Mendenhall started all 16 games and was solid, but probably needs the offensive line to be healthier. Mewelde Moore is a serviceable backup, but is a free agent and the Steelers might look for a younger alternative in the middle rounds of the draft.

Line: The O-line was average, but that was due to injuries. They lost both tackles with Willie Colon missing the entire season and Max Starks being done after 7 games due to injuries. Colon will be a free agent, but expect the Steelers to bring him back. Maurkice Pouncey is just the continuation of what Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson provided at Center and Chris Kemoeatu is good at LG. Ramon Brown played solid after replacing Trai Essex at RG. Flozell Adams was decent at RT and Jonathan Scott stepped in when Starks was hurt and was as good as you could expect out of a backup left tackle. They should be better next season if completely healthy with added depth.

Defense:

Front Seven: D-Line: The Steelers D-line is very good, but aging. In fact the oldest member of the line, Aaron Smith, was injured during their week 7 win in Miami and missed the rest of the season with a triceps injury. Second year DE Ziggy Hood was solid, but not spectacular replacing Smith. The historically great run defense starts with NT Casey Hampton and he was as good as ever, but will be 33 when next season begins. His backup, Chris Hoke, will be 35 and a free agent. The Steelers will probably look for some depth at NT. RE Brett Keisel’s beard might be gone next season, but he’s under contract for three more seasons and will be back. If Smith doesn’t return, Hood will probably start again and they will look for a young, potential replacement for Keisel in the draft. The Steelers just reload and do it better than anyone.

LBs: There isn’t a better linebacker corps in the league than the Steelers. ILB James Farrior will be 36, but he still looks great. Lawrence Timmons has fully established himself as one of the better inside backers as well. James Harrison might be the most feared player in the league and LaMarr Woodley is becoming a star on the outside, but is a free agent. If the Steelers are willing to spend big money, they could place the “Franchise Tag” on Woodley. If they let him go, second round pick Jason Worilds could replace Woodley. If the Steelers let Woodley walk, they could draft another OLB/DE type to compete with Worilds. 

DBs: The secondary is the Achilles heel of this great defense. Without the great Troy Polamalu, this secondary is average, at best. Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden provide adequate coverage at the corners, but the Steelers might look to upgrade with some youth here. Taylor is going to be 31 and is a free agent. McFadden will turn 30 during next season. Corner is like running back in that players usually don’t age well in these positions. Nickel corner William Gay is also a free agent. Ryan Clark teams with Polamalu at safety and is solid as well, but not great. He’s under contract for a few more years. This could be an area that the Steelers target heavily in the draft, especially if Taylor and Gay leave.

K: Shaun Suisham was solid after replacing Jeff Reed at midseason, but the Steelers might choose to draft somebody or go after a free agent like Adam Vinatieri.

Outlook: The Steelers are perennial contenders for a good reason. Nobody identifies players who fit into their system better than the Steelers. There’s no reason to not expect the Steelers to be contending for another Super Bowl appearance next season despite the heavy AFC competition. The Steelers are fairly young or have players in their primes at key positions. Only cornerback appears to be an immediate need for them in the offseason, if they keep their key free agents. Look for them to use their first rounder on a corner. They could also look for another DE high in the draft if Smith doesn’t return. Otherwise, their ready for another run.

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Super Bowl Preview

Super Bowl XLV MVP?

Here are the keys for each team heading into the Super, er, Big Game on Sunday:

Packers:

  1. The Packers have difficulty running the ball; the Steelers stop the run at a historically great level. This is easy, the Packers need to spread the field and pass the ball like they did against the Falcons and others this season. The Packers spread passing offense is similar to what the Patriots do. In their last two matchups with a Tom Brady led Patriots team, Brady threw for 399 and 350 yards against the Steelers secondary. Aaron Rodgers has been playing like a more mobile version of Brady. Expect to see 4 wideouts often, as the Steelers will have to go to a nickel/dime package and take some of their really good linebackers off the field. TE Rob Gronkowski caught 3 TD passes in this year’s game for the Pats. Rookie Andrew Quarless could be targeted over the middle if the Steelers linebackers are unable to stay with him.
  2. The Packers can’t get destroyed in time of possession. The Steelers will try to control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. To keep TOP from getting lopsided, the Packers can’t give up on the run. They need to run out of that shot-gun, spread formation with James Starks. If they can average 4 yards per carry and get 18-20 carries, that should be effective enough to keep the clock moving and keep the TOP close.
  3. The Packers have a very good defense, but they’re susceptible to the run. Their defense is at their best when forcing opponents into obvious passing situations where they can unleash Clay Matthews and send a corner from the blind side. If the Packers can’t win first down defensively, they might not be able to keep the Steelers offense off the field.

Steelers:

  1. Run the ball. The Packers will be playing fast break football offensively, so the way to combat that is to run the ball, control the clock, and sustain long drives. Eventually the Packers defense will wear down and not be able to stop the Steelers. If the Steelers are to win, Rashard Mendenhall will need to run for over 100 yards. Remember, it was Mendenhall’s 121 yards against the Jets that is a huge reason why the Steelers are here.
  2. Limit the turnovers. The Packers have big play cornerbacks that thrive on making that huge play that turns the game. The Packers have forced 8 turnovers in their 3 postseason games, including the interception on Philly’s final drive. The Packers will convert a lot easier in the short field and have the field goal kicker advantage if they don’t get into the end zone.
  3. Dick LeBeau needs his guys to beat up the Packers receivers. Hit them on every play from the time the ball is snapped. This is how the Patriots slowed the “Greatest Show on Turf” nine years ago and the Steelers will need to do this to keep Rodgers from making the quick passes that make him dangerous. By knocking around the receivers, it slows their timing and might allow LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison the split seconds that they will need to get to Rodgers. If they hit him enough, like the Bears did two weeks ago, they can slow down his decision making process and eliminate a huge advantage for the Packers offense.

The Pick: I was on the Packers early, but after going over everything, I’m picking the Steelers. They have the better coach, the more balanced offense that can control the clock, and the biggest X factor on each side of the ball. Big Ben and Polamalu are slightly better than Rodgers and Matthews this year. Maybe not next year. Steelers 34 – Packers 30   MVP: Rashard Mendenhall

NFL Championship Round Preview

Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith brought Cutler to Chicago to beat the Packers and win a Super Bowl

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears:

Notes on the regular season matchups: Bears 20-17 in week 3, Packers 10-3 in week 17

  1. Both games were decided by a field goal. The week 17 game at Lambeau was a game the Packers had to win and they did. The Bears didn’t need it at all and played well. The week 3 game was a Monday nighter early in the season when the Soldier Field turf was grass, not straw on cement.
  2. Despite losing the second game, the Bears running game was more effective, reflecting their late season commitment to running the football. The first game, Matt Forte ran only 11 times for 29 yards. In the second game he ran 15 times for 91 yards. A further indication of Forte’s increased impact would be that he’s run 144 times for 748 yards in their past 9 games. That’s over 83 yards per game and an average of 5.2 per carry.
  3. Penalties (18 for 152 yds), special teams (Devin Hester 62 yd punt return for TD), and plus 1 difference in the turnover battle propelled the Bears in their week 3 win. The turnovers were even, the penalties were close, and Devin Hester was held to 2 punt returns for 37 yards on 8 punts in week 17.

Keys:

  1. As illustrated above, the penalties, special teams, and turnovers are always a quantifiable factor. In fact, if Jay Cutler doesn’t throw the interception to Nick Collins on the Bears final play in week 17, then the Packers might not have made the playoffs. There was still enough time for the Bears to put the ball into the end zone.
  2. The Packers are a pedestrian 5-5, including playoffs, on the road. The Bears are 6-3, including playoffs, at home. How quickly the Packers adjust to the horrible field in Chicago will be a
  3. The Seahawks appeared to need at least a quarter last week to adjust to the Soldier Field turf and by the time they adjusted, the game was out of hand. This isn’t the same surface that the Packers played on in week 3 and the adjustment period plays into the Bears home field advantage. There won’t be a repeat of the “fast track” conditions that enhanced the Packers’ attack last week in Atlanta.

The pick: Look for the home field, the running game disparity, and the special teams led by Devin Hester to provide enough of an advantage over the white hot Aaron Rodgers and send the Bears to Arlington. Bears by less than a touchdown. 

 

Big plays and big hits have defined Polamalu's career

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers:

Notes on the regular season matchup: Jets won 22-17

  1. The Jets Brad Smith took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and the Jets never trailed. During the week 15 game, neither team turned the ball over, the penalties were similar, and it left the big special teams play to be the difference.
  2. The Jets never trailed which enabled them to dictate how the game was played. They ran the ball really well against the stout Steelers defense by rushing for 106 yards on 27 carries. But that was without Polamalu in the lineup sometime playing the role of a fifth linebacker when he makes it 8 in the box.
  3. The Steelers were in a position to kick a field goal at the end of the game, except they were down 5 because of a safety. The game might have turned out differently if Mewelde Moore wasn’t tackled in the end zone for the safety with about 2 ½ minutes left.

Keys:

  1. Troy Polamalu changes the game. When he doesn’t play, the Steelers are a .500 team. When he does play, they turn into an elite team. He’s expected to start in the AFC Championship game and that’s not good news for the Jets.
  2. The Steelers are historically good stopping the run. Opponents are rushing for less than 63 yards per game. The Jets were able to beat that last time with over 100 yards. The Steelers defense led the league with 48 sacks and 14.5 PPG against. The Jets key in the last game was getting out in front and controlling the ball on the ground. They did that last week in New England as well. If the Jets are trailing, will the Steelers pass rush get to Sanchez more frequently and possibly force him to turn the ball over?
  3. Big Ben’s security blanket tight end Heath Miller missed the Jets game in week 15 with a concussion. Without Miller, Roethlisberger struggled completing barely half of his passes. With Revis Island and Cromartie manning the corners, passes to Miller, slot receivers Antwan Randle El and Emmanuel Sanders, and their running backs will be huge. On the Jets offense, giving Sanchez enough time to allow his receivers to get free from the ordinary Steelers corners might give the Jets the big play or two that sends them to Arlington.

The pick: The Steelers have a much better running game than the Patriots brought last week and nobody can run on them. For the Jets, that means Mark Sanchez has to make plays the entire game. Although he’s been pretty solid, expecting him to shoulder the load for 60 minutes with Troy Polamalu back after missing the last matchup will be too much. This game will be close, but the Steelers seem to find a way to force a killer interception, usually involving Polamalu, that will become the difference. Steelers by a touchdown.

NFL Division Round Recap and Offseason Preview for Weekend Losers

January 18, 2011 1 comment

With a win against the Jets, Big Ben will try to match Brady with 3 Super Bowl wins

Steelers beat Ravens 31-24:

Why did the Steelers win?

  1. Defense: The Ravens compiled 126 total yards of offense and only 35 on the ground. The Steelers also forced 3 turnovers and held the Ravens to 3.0 yards per pass. Ridiculous. The final score doesn’t underscore the job that the Steelers’ D did.
  2. Ben Roethlisberger was really good. Except for that freaky fumble that resulted in the Ravens’ TD, Big Ben completed 19/32 for 226 and 2 TDs. No INTs. He was huge in the face of a defense that limited the Steelers to 71 yards on 31 carries.
  3. James Harrison: He was missing for the most part of the second half of the season, but on Saturday the ultimate intimidator hit Flacco early and often. Three sacks, two QB hits, and frequent pressure helped shutdown the Ravens passing game. He also had 3 tackles for loss and 2 passes defended. When he plays like this, he might be the best defensive player in the league.

Why did the Ravens lose?

  1. Second half: The Ravens lost the second half 24-3. The best chance that the Ravens had was when Anquan Boldin dropped a sure TD after the Lardarius Webb punt return was called back. That would have given the Ravens the lead at 28-24 and put the Steelers in a pressure situation to need a TD with less than 4 minutes remaining. Instead, the Steelers were only tied, not trailing, and took advantage of a fatigued Ravens defense to score the winning touchdown with about 1:30 left. No word on if TJ Houshmandzadeh is blaming Pete Carroll and the Seahawks for his fourth down drop that essentially ended the game.
  2. Joe Flacco and the Ravens Offense: This was supposed to be the game where Flacco stepped up and led the Ravens to a big win over Big Ben and the Steelers. Flacco was bad. He barely completed half of his passes and was sacked five times. While Flacco is part of the problem, his receivers dropped critical passes late in the game and Ray Rice played like he was sick. 16 carries for 36 yards for Rice and McGahee.
  3. Not Terrell Suggs: T-Sizzle was awesome with that sack and forced fumble that was returned for a TD and 3 sacks. He was every bit as good as James Harrison was for the Steelers. And don’t blame the refs either. Yes, that was a bad call on the return, but Anquan Boldin should have caught that pass in the end zone on the following drive. If he catches that, the Ravens might have won.

Offseason Preview

Baltimore Ravens

Head Coach: John Harbaugh

  • Not many coaches debut with three straight playoff appearances and road wins in each season.

Quarterback: Joe Flacco

  • Outside of the games against the Steelers, Flacco has been really good through three seasons.

Other: Those drops by veteran receivers late against the Steelers will most likely lead to some new blood at that position. Derrick Mason is 37 and was a non-factor. TJ Houshmandzadeh dropped the final Flacco pass and wasn’t much better than Mason. With some good receivers in the upcoming draft, the Ravens might target one with the 26th pick in the first round. If they don’t pick a receiver in the first round, maybe they go for a smaller, quicker type in the second round. Todd Heap is solid but turns 31 in March and missed almost four games with a hamstring injury. TE could be a target in the middle rounds. Their two TE rookies combined for 12 catches in 2010. They might look to involve them more in 2011. Center Matt Birk liked the catered food in the Vikings locker room when he played there but he’s going to be 35 and the Ravens might look to get younger there. It will be interesting to see if they bring tackle Jared Gaither back or find a trading partner. He’s got a lot of talent, but the Ravens weren’t interested in paying him big money last offseason and he ended up on injured reserve.

The defense might need some tweaks as some key contributors are getting old. Ed Reed had a horrible family situation last week and has talked about retirement before. Ray Lewis will be 36 in May and they might look for his heir apparent. Rookie Terrence Cody should be given a chance to supplant Kevin Gregg on the line. Overall, the Ravens are pretty good. They need more explosiveness on the offense and I would expect them to target one of the top WR’s in the draft. If they do that, they should be challenging the Steelers for the division again next season.

Packers beat Falcons 48-21:

Why did the Packers win?

  1. Aaron Rodgers and their unstoppable passing game. There isn’t a QB in football playing any better than Rodgers right now. He had only 5 incompletions to go with 3 TDs. Oh, and he ran one in too. Here’s a stat you may never see in a playoff game again: 4 WR’s caught passes for over 75 yards each.
  2. Turnovers and time of possession. The game was over when Tramon Williams had the 70 yard interception return to end the first half to make it 28-14. That was one of four TO’s and the Pack held the ball for 38:19 compared to 21:41 for the Falcons. That’s dominating football.
  3. Clay Matthews and the Packers defense held the Falcons to less than 200 yards of total offense. The Falcons were outgained 442-194. Matthews chipped in with 2 more sacks and was after Matt Ryan all night. His sack at the end of the first half led to the next play where Williams picked Ryan for the TD.

Why did the Falcons lose?

  1. Michael Turner ran 10 times for 39 yards. That’s not bad for a drive or quarter. But for the game? 14 rushes for the night is not the formula to beat an explosive offense like the Packers.
  2. The Falcons had critical penalties and interceptions by Ryan in the 2nd quarter when the game was still winnable.
  3. See everything the juggernaut that is the Packers did well.

Offseason Preview

Atlanta Falcons

Head Coach: Mike Smith

  • Smith has three straight winning seasons after back-to-back had never been done in Atlanta. When does he get a statue?

Quarterback: Matt Ryan

  • Matty Ice thawed out on Saturday, but a dedicated offseason to come back better and he could turn into the next Peyton Manning.

Other: The Falcons might be on their way to the Super Bowl if the Eagles had won last week or the Packers didn’t make the playoffs. The order of business for the offense is Tony Gonzalez and whether he is done. He was still effective, but the Falcons probably need another option at TE even if he returns. Another versatile TE can help their depth and give Ryan another option in the passing game. Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph would be a good fit here.

On the defense, John Abraham was playing for a contract and played well. They might want to think about using the “Franchise tag” and dare Abraham to prove that he can do it again. He’s going to be 33 and undersized DE’s don’t usually age well. He’s actually more suited to a situational pass rushing role now. Outside linebacker Mike Peterson is old as well and they need to look at replacing him. Whether Dunta Robinson had a down year or is just not that good, the Falcons should invest in another good corner as Brian Williams will be 32 at the start of the next season and as we saw on Saturday night, you can never have enough good cover corners. Assuming that the Falcons weren’t exposed, they should be able to make another run in the competitive NFC South. A 13 win season is unlikely, but even 11 wins might win the division next season and the Falcons should be there.

Bears beat Seahawks 35-24:

Why the Bears won?

  1. The Bears were overwhelmingly dominant, outgaining the Seahawks 437-276 overall and 176 to 34 on the ground. That dominance resulted in a 37 to 23 minute advantage in time of possession. Take out Golden Tate’s run and the Seahawks ran 11 times for 23 yards.
  2. Jay Cutler tried, but didn’t make a critical mistake. He played a very solid game, throwing for 2 TDs and running for 2. His completion percentage wasn’t great, but it didn’t need to be on Sunday.
  3. The Saints choked last week and the league’s playoff format gifted the Seahawks to frigid Soldier Field. One tweak to the playoff format would have re-seeded the worst team AFTER the Wildcard round to the #1 seed. It would have been interesting to see how the Bears would have done against the torrid Packers offense. Well, I guess we’ll see next Sunday. Can’t wait.

Why did the Seahawks lose?

  1. The Seahawks that Pete Carroll took over after last season had only 5 wins and a lethargy that was on display during a miserable 4 game losing streak to end last season. Nothing says “in the tank” more than losing 4 straight by the score 123-37. The Seahawks were undermanned and only made the playoffs because they were in the worst division in NFL history.
  2. The running game was bad and the run defense was worse. Mike Tice might be the best position coach in the NFL this season after completely remodeling that Bears offensive line during their bye week.
  3. Lawyer Milloy showed his age and the Seahawks didn’t have an answer for the balanced Bears attack. This game was over when Greg Olson slipped behind the secondary and scored the game’s first TD at 12:08 of the first quarter.

Offseason Preview

Seattle Seahawks

Head Coach: Pete Carroll

  • Considering the situation when he took over, Carroll did an admirable job of instilling a spirit in this undermanned team. Year two is when the great coaches get their teams to make their leap. We’ll see if Carroll’s USC experience has launched him into that level.

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck/Charlie Whitehurst

  • Hasselbeck is a pending free agent and Carroll traded a 3rd round pick for Whitehurst in the offseason. Based on Hasselbeck’s two playoff games and his career in Seattle, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take less money to remain in Seattle. But if a more talented team, like Minnesota or Tennessee come calling, would he consider making another run at a Super Bowl? If he leaves for a contender, that might be the easiest and cleanest break for both sides in a relationship that has included the Seahawks only Super Bowl appearance and 5 straight playoff appearances in addition to this year. His 5 playoff wins is easily the best in club history.

Other: The Seahawks have a lot of work to do. They had a good draft last offseason and need another one. While they have some solid receivers, they don’t have a true #1. If they bring back Hasselbeck, they need more weapons to take advantage of his still potent arm and ability to read the defense. The offensive line could use a few upgrades as well. They can use anything to help an offense that ranked 28th overall and 31st running.

 Age is becoming a problem with Lawyer Milloy and Lofa Tatupu’s size is finally catching up with him as he’s been injured the past few seasons. Tatupu is a small player who plays an incredibly physical position. If they don’t change the scheme, they might look to trade him and get a bigger middle linebacker. Tatupu isn’t suited to playing the head-on, run stuffing role that he’s playing in Seattle. Even Urlacher in Chicago lets the lineman take on the blocks and slides to the ballcarriers. But that’s not the defense for the Seahawks. Overall, the Seahawks should be in a more competitive division next season and will need a winning record or even 10 wins to return to the playoffs. To do that, they need to upgrade their offense with skill players and decide if they want a transition season without Hasselbeck or make another run with him. Bringing him back means 5-9 wins, without him means 3-6 wins. Either way, they probably won’t make the playoffs and a complete tanking of next season might get them into position to select Luck.

Jets beat Patriots 28-21:

Why the Jets won?

  1. They put their best foot forward. Just kidding. They won because of the little things. They forced the only turnover of the game. They stopped the fake punt, or watched the Pats botch a fake punt. The Pats committed 6 penalties to 3 for the Jets. They converted on 4 of 5 possessions in the Red Zone compared to 2 of 4 for the Pats.
  2. Mark Sanchez played really well. The yards weren’t high, but he made the throws when he needed to and had 3 TD’s. He also didn’t commit a turnover, which is better than his counterpart.
  3. David Harris, Darrelle Revis, Shaun Ellis and the rest of the Jets defense were great. Harris made 12 tackles and picked off Brady’s first quarter throw. There’s no telling how the game would have gone if the Pats had taken an early 7-0 lead and then took it to 10-0. Revis was rarely tested and stepped up when he was. Ellis seemed to be in Brady’s face all day with 2 sacks and 2 knockdowns. For the first time in this series, he was more valuable than the man his draft choice was traded for: Bill Belichick. Five sacks overall for the Jets who knocked Brady down at least 7 times. Rex Ryan’s gameplan was brilliant. Brady had no clue what was coming on any play and was never comfortable in the pocket.

Why did the Patriots lose?

  1. They made the mistakes that they usually don’t make. In addition, Wes Welker and Deion Branch seemed to drop every important ball in the second half and don’t forget Crumpler’s drop in the endzone before the first quarter field goal. From the time they left the locker room and Welker was benched for the first series, nothing went smooth for the Pats on Sunday.
  2. Bill Belichick lost his Midas touch and made some coaching miscues. One wonders how the flow of the game would have been different had Welker played from the beginning. The fake punt was undoubtedly designed well, but executed horribly. The receivers couldn’t hold onto the ball and the usually resourceful defense didn’t force any turnovers. Also, the lack of a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter left viewers wondering what was wrong.
  3. The Jets beat the Patriots with a performance that reminds of the Patriots of the early 2000’s. They were outgained and seemingly outmanned going into the game. But the quarterback came through with clutch plays and the defense got stops when they needed them. There were some lucky plays, like the drops; fake punt and passes, and brain cramps by the opposition. You could have switched uniforms and gone back 7 years to watch this one.

Offseason Preview

New England Patriots

Head Coach: Bill Belichick

  • Not one concern. He’ll come back with a vengeance next season. He’s got an extra 3 weeks to prepare for the season now.

Quarterback: Tom Brady

  • Brady spent the Saturday night game between the Colts and Jets on Broadway with Gisele. Imagine if that were Tony Romo? Brady will be 34 and his window is getting narrower. He actually might go into next season tied with Roethlisberger for Super Bowls won by a QB. Expect to see that matchup on the opening Thursday if the Steelers are champs.

Other: Everybody is talking about the Pats needing a fast, big-play receiver. How soon does everybody forget that they won all three of their Super Bowls WITHOUT Moss and lost the one that he played in. Does that mean that they won’t pick one? With 3 of the top 33 picks in the draft, I expect them to fully vet all of the top receivers to see if there might be another Jerry Rice-type. Read: No high maintenance types. The biggest area that they need to address offensively is the running back position. Green-Ellis was serviceable, but despite the numbers, they had problems running when they needed to against the Jets. Their best running back during the Belichick era was Corey Dillon. Perhaps a veteran like Marion Barber would be a good fit to team with Green-Ellis next season. The Lawrence Maroney busted first rounder might make Belichick uneasy about using another high pick on a runner. Also on offense, Matt Light has been very good for a very long time. It might be time to look for an heir apparent for the soon-to-be 33 year old left tackle. Center Dan Koppen will be 32 and his replacement might be available as well. Also expect them to sign Logan Mankins to a big contract as he is still an elite guard.

Defensively, they have needed a dominant lineman to replace Richard Seymour when they traded hi m away before last season. Fittingly, they will most likely utilize the first rounder from Oakland to pick his replacement. Look for the Pats to use their largesse of picks to move into the top 10 or even top 5 to get the lineman they want. Da’Quan Bowers from Clemson, Nick Fairley of Auburn, and Marcell Dareus of Alabama are all possibilities for Belichick. Their young linebackers are fine, but don’t be surprised if they bring in a veteran pass rushing linebacker and somebody with experience to give them depth in the middle. Another cornerback might be picked to help out in the nickel. As for next season, will they win 14 again? Maybe. If they play 16 with a full training camp, the Patriots are as good a bet as any to be playing in Indianapolis next February. This young team now has a bitter playoff experience to drive them next year.

Pittsburgh Steelers out of challenges in first quarter, NFL replay system needs overhaul

Roethlisberger gets sacked by Terrell Suggs and the ball comes loose. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is forced to use his final challenge in the first quarter.

I’m not rooting for anybody in this game, but I’ve seen too much of referee Jeff Triplette and by botching the call on the opening kickoff, the Steelers entered the second quarter of the AFC Division playoff game without the ability to overturn a bad officiating call for the rest of the game, except the final two minutes of each half.

The first challenge was a net gain of about 15 yards on the opening kickoff in a game that is expected to be decided by less than a touchdown and every yard counts. The second challenge was on the forced fumble of Ben Roethlisberger when he was in the pocket pump faking. The play resulted in a touchdown and any coach in the league would have used a challenge there. The problem is that the ONE failed challenge keeps the Steelers from overturning ANY bad call made by Triplette’s crew.

The system just needs to be altered to compensate for the potential of multiple bad game changing calls by the officials. I’m writing this during the second quarter and have no knowledge of whether the Steelers will need another challenge. But if they do, they don’t get it. The issue for the NFL is the amount of time diverted away from game action. Something that doesn’t bother them through the endless commercials that comes with almost every change of possession.

The changes to the system are simple. Let each timeout double as a challenge. If a team has a timeout remaining, they can utilize it as a challenge. No timeouts, no challenges. Even with a full complement of timeouts at the beginning of the second half, the Steelers might not need any of them. But they might need a challenge. For the NFL to arbitrarily restrict the number of mistakes that referees make to two or three is senseless. They don’t cap quarterback interceptions at two or three. Why do referees get a pass? Perhaps this game will have a game changing play that becomes the difference in the final outcome that cannot be challenged because of this limited rule. If so, the NFL only has themselves to blame and the calls for an overhaul of this moronic system will take place.

Watch the game changing play below:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/09000d5d81db2b2e/Redding-gets-rewarded-for-being-alert

NFL Division Round Preview

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers:

Notes on the regular season matchups:

1. The Ravens are 1-0 against Charlie Batch and 0-1 against Ben Roethlisberger. Guess who’s at QB on Saturday for the Steelers?

2. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs combined for 4.5 sacks in the 2 matchups

3. Ravens ran 47 times for 113 yards. That’s an average of 2.4 yds per carry.

Keys:

1. The Ravens front seven have to stop the run and force the Steelers to pass. Although the Steelers passing game is not a weakness, keeping the Steelers from controlling the time of possession and giving Ed Reed an opportunity to make a big play or two is their best strategy. The Steelers, likewise, need to stop the run because their pass defense isn’t as good and when they don’t make teams one dimensional, they lose.

2. A big turnover caused by Troy Polamalu caused the forced fumble that led to the game winning TD in Baltimore in their last matchup and he also returned an interception for a TD in their last playoff matchup after the 2008 season. Turnovers are critical in all games, but if either team loses that battle, the assumption here is that they lose.

3. Ben Roethlisberger is 8-2 in the playoffs. In those two losses, Big Ben threw 3 interceptions and fumbled in each. He lost one of those fumbles. Anything close to 3 1/2 turnovers for Big Ben and the Ravens win by double digits.

Pick: Steelers in double overtime. Don’t expect to watch the beginning of the Packers-Falcons game without a second TV.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons:

Notes on the regular season matchup: 20-17 Falcons

1. Aaron Rodgers fumbled at the goal line in the 2nd quarter and the Falcons drove the length of the field and scored a TD.

2. Besides that crucial fumble, there were no other turnovers during this well-played game. Michael Turner scored and ran for over 100 yards on almost 5 yards per carry for the Falcons. Matt Ryan was almost perfect as he completed short pass after short pass for 197 yards and completed over 80% of his passes. Aaron Rodgers played as well as anybody could expect, except for that critical fumble that turned out to be the difference in the game. An example of how effective each quarterback was, each completed passes to NINE different receivers.

3. The Packers outgained the Falcons by 120 yards in total offense. Why did they lose? That fumble at the goal line, 8 penalties for 66 yds vs. 4/50 and Eric Weems outgained his Packers counterpart in return yardage by 10 yds per kickoff. Turnovers, penalties, and special teams. Those three areas are what separates otherwise even teams.

Keys:

1. Rodgers led the Packers anemic run game with 51 yards. Packers RB’s ran 11 times for 27 yards. Last week in Philly, rookie RB James Starks ran 23 times for 123 yards. That kind of production can tilt the balance in the road team’s favor.

2. The Packers didn’t lose a game by more than 4 points and never trailed by more than 7 points all season. Putting the Packers in a position to have to come back would force the Packers to do something they haven’t done this season.

3. Penalties: Green Bay was the least penalized team in yardage (37.2/gm) and Atlanta was the least by number (3.6/gm). Both teams were well above their averages in their regular season matchup. Look for a critical penalty or turnover to turn this game. Otherwise, we could be headed to overtime and a game ending around midnight in the East.

Pick: Falcons are getting no respect from most. I’ll give it to them. Falcons 27-23

 

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears:

Notes on the regular season matchup: 23-20 Seahawks

1. Matt Forte ran 8 times for 11 yards . Forte and the Bears running game struggled early in the season, but Forte averaged 83 1/2 yards per game in the final 8 games. That’s a 1336 pace for a full season.

2. The Bears were 0-12 on third downs. O-fer twelve! Don’t expect that again. The Bears were only 27th in 3rd downs conversions, but the shutout is extremely unusual.

3. Devin Hester had an 89 yard punt return for a touchdown. The Seahawks had 5 penalties for 83 yds vs. 2/18 for the Bears. The turnovers were even.

Keys:

1. The Bears have to win the ground battle. They won 7 of 9 after the bye week because they rearranged their offensive line to protect Cutler and ignite the running game. The sacks went down and the rushing yards went up and the Bears won. This formula will continue to be a key for the Bears.

2. The Bears are second in the NFL against the run, allowing 90 yards on 3.7 per carry. The Seahawks allowed nearly 120 yards per game and gave up 4.2 per carry. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor must run for at least 130 yards for the Bears to win. Typically cold and windy conditions in Soldier Field will make the running game a priority for both teams.

3. The Bears were +4 and the Seahawks -9 in turnover margin this season. Last week the Seahawks were even in their win. They were plus 8 in their 7 regular season wins, and -17 in their 9 losses. It’s no wonder the Seahawks didn’t lose any games by less than 15. The Bears had unusual numbers in that they were even in three of five losses, but minus 7 in the two others. That makes them plus 11 in their wins. Playoff football is about time of possession, turnovers, and special teams. Whoever wins these three categories will win.

Pick: Bears by less than a touchdown. Julius Peppers will make a turning point play.

New York Jets at New England Patriots:

Notes on the regular season matchups:

1. The home team was +3 in the turnover battle in both games. The home team also had an advantage in penalty yards. The first game: NE 6/79, NY 6/58 second game: NY 4/56, NE 1/10.

2. The Jets outrushed the Pats in both games. Game 1: NY 32/136, NE 20/54 Game 2: NY 31/152, NE 26/101. The Pats improved both in total rushing yards and average in the second game. Passing yards in both games: Game 1: NE 239-NY 200. Game 2: NE 304-NY 149. The Pats are clearly a pass-first team and they double the Jets in the second game in the air. But their running game doubled from the first game and gaining over 100 yards provided a balance that wasn’t evident in the first game.  

3. Tom Brady was 21/29 in their win. He was 20/36 in their loss. That accuracy in game 2 was a factor in the Patriots time of possession advantage despite getting outgained on the ground by 50. Completions keep the clock rolling just like a running play. The team with the TOP advantage won both games.

Keys:

1. Its pretty obvious: Penalties, time of possession, turnovers, and special teams always play a major role before anything. Special teams were neutral during the regular season, but the team that won the 3 other categories won both games.

2. Rex Ryan calls this the most important Jets game since Super Bowl III. Are you kidding? Last year’s AFC championship game wasn’t more important? How about the 1998 AFC championship? 1982 AFC championship? Come on Rex. The talk this week appears to have turned to desperation for the Jets and typically the dogs with the loudest bark don’t have the nastiest bite. Ryan’s made a great defensive adjustment last week in Indy by calling off the blitz most of the night. That might have worked this week as well, but last week’s scheme is now on tape and the Pats have surely dissected it. What does the defensive guru, Rex Ryan, have in store for Brady and the Pats? If he comes up with something original, the Jets have a chance. Barring that, Brady is seeing everything and rarely makes mistakes when he isn’t fooled.

3. There’s doubt in the Jets’ minds. You can see it with the talk. The numbers are self evident from their regular season matchups and that will tell the difference in the game when we look back at it. But the Jets have to start quickly and stay within one score because the Jets are wannabe bullies and bullies don’t usually respond well to adversity and falling behind. That’s what happened in their last meeting.

Pick: Patriots in a thriller. This one should be close and will be won on a Brady drive for a FG or TD, whatever they need to win. Look for some early penalties on both sides to tone down the talk as well.

NFL Week 16 Preview

December 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Here are my thoughts on this week’s NFL slate of games while I wonder where TO will be keeping it real next year…

Cowboys at Cardinals: Tonight’s game is the first of a group of “who cares” games. Both teams are positioning for a top 10 pick on draft day 2011. The Cards know they need a QB and the Cowboys fans know they need a new QB. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, the owner/president/general manager doesn’t know this yet. The Cowboys have been winning some ugly football games with Garrett and should continue tonight.

Patriots at Bills: The Pats just need a win to clinch the division and home field throughout the AFC playoffs. The Bills have won 4 of 5 and are taking themselves out of position for a top 10 pick. This week should get them back on track as the Pats clinch.

Jets at Bears: The good news for the Jets is that it looks like Mark Sanchez will start. The good news for the Bears is that it looks like Mark Sanchez will start. Why? Sanchez has thrown for only 4 TD’s and 17 INT’s in games played in less than 45 degrees. Guess how cold it’s supposed to be in Chicago for this one? Add in the Bears stifling run defense and you can imagine Sanchez running from Defensive POY candidate Julius Peppers frequently. The Bears have won 6 of 7 and the key has been Matt Forte and the ability to protect the football. After breaking 45 yards just once in his first 7 games, Forte has gone over that total in 6 of the last 7. The only game Forte didn’t run that well was against the Patriots. He’s averaged over 81 yards per game in those 6 victories. The Bears have also taken care of the football by winning the turnover battle by 8 in their 6 wins. The Jets win this one and they’re in the playoffs. The Bears need this to keep ahead of the Eagles for the NFC 2 seed and a wild card round bye. Look for the Bears defense to force 3 or more turnovers and either score on defense or special teams to give them the win at Soldier Field.

Ravens at Browns: The annual Art Modell Hate Bowl is being held tomorrow in northeast Ohio. The Ravens need to win and they’re in. If they win out they can win the division if the Steelers lose next week.

Titans at Chiefs: The Titans broke their losing string last week, but that was more of a win for the man who pays the checks as they beat Bud Adams’ hometown team. This week, they face the Chiefs who are 6-0 at Arrowhead. The Chiefs are playing well with Cassel at QB and Jamaal Charles might win the rushing title. The Chiefs need to win out with two home games. This will be the first of two needed wins.

49ers at Rams: My favorite division. The Rams control their own destiny and the Niners control theirs if the Bucs beat the Seahawks. Got that? The Niners go back to Troy Smith this week but are still 1-6 on the road. The Rams get the win and play for the division next week in Seattle.

Lions at Dolphins: The Lions broke their NFL record 26 game road losing streak last week in Tampa and stay in Florida to play the Fins. The undercard might be Ricky vs. Gunther. Pedro Martinez against Don Zimmer, football style. The Dolphins are 1-6 at home and heading for 1-7. Lions win.

Redskins at Jaguars: MJD is doubtful, heading towards out. That leaves Rashad Jennings to attack the worst defense in the league. The Skins are slightly better against the run at 27th in the league. The Jags need help to win the division or get a wildcard. But they don’t have a chance if they don’t win this one. The Rex Grossman era started with a 4 TD game in a loss last week for the Skins. Look for bad Rex to show up and the Jags keep their playoff hopes alive.

Chargers at Bengals: The Chargers are 2-4 on the road and need two straight and a Chiefs loss to win the division. They also have a long shot at the wildcard. The weather in Cincy is sure to be un-San Diego like as they expect a wintry mix. This was the site of one of the coldest games in NFL history when the Bengals beat the Chargers on their way to Super Bowl XVI. It’s been over 20 years now since the Bengals appeared in the Big Game. The Bengals broke a 10 game losing streak last week, but will get back into the loss column against the Chargers.

Texans at Broncos: This is the Gary Kubiak Bowl where the winner might have Kubiak as head coach next season. Why? Because he keeps his job by winning and he’s reportedly the favorite in Denver if he’s available. Tim Tebow starts for the second time. Let’s go with the Broncos in this one.

Colts at Raiders: The Colts now control their own destiny after running and stopping the run last week for the first time all season. Can they keep this up? The Raiders have a great running game as they have run for over 239 yards in 4 games already this season. If the small Colts defensive front can’t handle the physical Raiders front, the Jags are back in it. The Raiders are also 5-2 at home and are starting to make the Coliseum a tough place to play for the first time in years. The Raiders have a solid defense and Peyton Manning might need to find somebody besides Reggie Wayne if Asomugha is covering him. This might be the best matchup of the day and the Raiders get a win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.

Giants at Packers: There isn’t a game with more on the line than this one this week. The Giants win and they’re in. The Packers win out and they’re in. Aaron Rodgers returns after missing last week with his second concussion this season. The Giants have knocked out 6 QB’s already this season and an already woozy Rodgers in their sights. The Giants shouldn’t be in this position as they have blown some games (last week) with careless turnovers and play calling. The Packers have to feel the same as they’ve lost 4 games by 3 points and two others by 4. So expect a close game at Lambeau. Matt Flynn showed that he can play with a solid performance last week and could be called on again. If Eli can limit his turnovers, the Giants win. Look for a steady dose of Brandon Jacobs in the cold and short passes to Kevin Boss to keep the chains moving. A screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw will break this open in the second half and the Giants win by 3 or 4.

Seahawks at Buccaneers: Seattle is home of the 12th man and the Buccaneers are just looking for 12 fans. Expect a post Christmas crowd of less than 50K again in the worst sports region in North America. The Seahawks win out and they’re in the playoffs. The Buccaneers can win out and get in with a Saints loss on Monday and a little more help. The Bucs are 8-1 against teams with sub .500 records. With the Bucs still playing for something expect them to win.

Vikings at Eagles: It looks like the Favre era might finally be done. But he does like the primetime spotlight. The Eagles win and they are in, but they need to beat out the Bears to get a bye. Otherwise they might be seeing a ticked off Giants squad bent on revenge in two weeks. Look for this to be a game for a quarter or two before the Eagles break it open. The Vikings haven’t put together a full game defensively in weeks (months?). Mike Vick continues his MVP march with another big game Sunday night and the Eagles are NFC East champions.