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Archive for December, 2007

*In a meaningless game 16 against the Broncos in the 2004-05 season, Manning played one series, went 1-2 for 6 yards passing, and then sat out the rest of the way.  I don’t begrudge the Patriots going for the undefeated season but it’s worth remembering that Manning played it smart in his last game when he broke the record and he didn’t spend half the season classlessly running up the score on his opponents either.

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Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong Steeler fan.

  • This team isn’t much better than last year’s 8-8 squad. In fact, it may be worse, because…
  • Remember how every commentator and sportswriter liked to talk about the NFL’s “Age of Parity” caused by the salary cap, expansion, free agency, etc.? That doesn’t exist anymore–this year there are definitely sharp dividing lines between the “haves”, the “have nots” and a good bunch of teams in the middle… and the Steelers have benefited. The Steelers have now lost to New England and Jacksonville. The regular season schedule will not include Indy, San Diego, Green Bay, or Dallas. Instead, the Steelers’ best win looks to be the victory over a Seattle team that dropped one to injury-destroyed Carolina today. After that? I guess you can throw in the two wins over Cleveland (although one of those was pre-Derek Anderson) and perhaps Buffalo as solid victories. The Steelers can get to 10 wins next week at improving St. Louis, but in any event they are lucky the AFC North drew the NFC West as its counterpart this year. Had it been, say, the NFC East, we might be struggling for .500.
  • I love the Jaguars. Okay, I hate the Jaguars. Er…
  • Let me explain–when the NFL allowed Art Modell to move the Browns to Baltimore several years ago, I’ve often thought about what team I would pull for if the Steelers ever just ceased to exist. By the same token, that injustice later created another one: when the Browns were reinstated and the Texans added to create 32 teams, the Steeler-Jaguar divisional rivalry was destroyed. Maybe it didn’t mean much to people in the big media centers, the same people who have no problem with Dallas being in the NFC “East”, but Pittsburgh-Jacksonville had developed into a brutal bloodfeud over the years. Coughlin-Cowher, Brunell-Stewart, Bettis-Taylor… the two teams were a good match in their flaws and strengths and even to this day everyone knows a Jacksonville-Pittsburgh game will be an orgy of big hits. Anyway, the NFL took the twice-a-year rivalry away and my feelings have cooled. And now, I love the way the Jags play–with Gerard taking care of the football and Taylor and Jones-Drew combining to form the perfect (and always rested) halfback, the Jags are playing Steeler football better than ever.
  • The Steeler offensive line isn’t as bad at pass-blocking as the stats would indicate. They have two things holding them back: Ben dances and holds on to the ball too long sometimes and the Steelers are trying to win the Super Bowl with 2 NFL-quality receivers. Nate Washington and Ced Wilson need to be upgraded in the offseason–whether we get a burner, a jack-of-all-trades like Randel-El, or even a big tall possession guy, the Steelers can do better.
  • All that said, the Steeler line isn’t very good. Faneca is definitely on the downside and I’m glad he’s not getting a big contract, and the truth is all five starters could use an upgrade.
  • Troy Polamalu is overrated. Period. He has a wonderful skill set which enables him to make spectacular plays like the stop of Gerard in the first quarter. He has good speed and great acceleration too. TV announcers like Dan Dierdorf always see that. But what they miss is the bad footwork and angles that Troy makes on too many plays, and even worse, his horrible “tackling”. Polamalu is at the forefront of the modern tackling movement, in which players do not run at the opposition and attempt to wrap them up and bring them down but instead shoulder-dive for the legs and hope that’s enough to make them stumble. Unfortunately, the unasked question is: does Polamalu tackle like that because he thinks it works, or does he tackle like that because, as we saw a few times in this game when he manned up against Fred Taylor, he doesn’t have the strength to take on backs and tight ends and bring them down. Maybe a little less yoga and a little more lifting would help the highest-paid safety in the NFL this offseason.
  • I think everyone likes Daniel Sepulveda’s physique and attitude. But he’s not getting the job done in the field position game. We didn’t just spend a fourth-rounder on the guy, we traded up to get him! His numbers aren’t that bad, and at least he finally got a 50 yarder for the first time since Week 9 against Baltimore, but one has to wonder if the Steelers couldn’t have done just as well with an undrafted college kid or a free agent.
  • Of course, he isn’t the only one. Allen Rossum and crew are doing nothing in the return game. With the offense foundering and the defense not creating much, a little spice from the special teams would be a nice bonus. The Steelers are losing out on the returns area almost every week though.
  • Finally, the defense. Mike Tomlin needs to take a long look at this entire unit in the offseason. The Steelers pressured Brady for a half but never sacked him and it happened again today against the Jags. The defensive line isn’t getting better and the linebackers are a far cry from the glory days of Kevin Greene-Levon Kirkland-Chad Brown-Greg Lloyd. If Tomlin intends to at some point blow it up and switch to the 4-3 there’s no time like the present because the current unit is getting worse, not better. Don’t be fooled by the stats–the Steelers have benefited from a soft schedule and some ridiculously bad field conditions this season, but Blitzburgh is dead: too old, too slow, too predictable this year, and with Aaron Smith out things are going to be worse. 

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