Posted on: September 5, 2012 6:08 am

And So It Begins - the 2012 NFL Season

For fans of the NFL, the offseason can be particularly brutal.  Once the stadium lights are shut off and the cameras have gone, we mourn the end of a season, feeling the first symptoms of withdrawal.  We commence the countdown of months, days and hours until the first kickoff of the next season. In the process, we satiate our need by watching replays of the games from the past, build our warboards for the draft and above all, realize we no longer have an excuse not the clean out the garage.  We might follow players on Twitter and Facebook just to keep that connection.  Read and re-read reports from the Combine, the draft and training camp. 

In less than twenty-four hours, the party in Arlington, Texas will begin. Opening day of the 2012 NFL season will be ushered in with the trumpets from heaven and a chorus of angels in the splendor that is known as Cowboy Stadium. With the first kickoff, flashes of light will erupt, as if the very stars from the galaxy came down to bear witness.  And fans, in jubilant proclamation will shout out, "it's here, it's finally here."

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit, but you have to admit, Mariah Carey has one heck of a voice. 

NFL 2012 will be a bittersweet season for me.  As a Steelers fan, I will miss the smile of Hines Ward as he gets up from a play.  And to no longer hear James Farrior name be mentioned and missing Aaron Smith on the line. Time marches on though and with that positives advance.  Which diamond in the rough will shine this year?  What play will leave me pondering? Of course, my ponderings aren't limited to just the Steelers.

The New York Giants come into this season defending their crown and are the team to beat this year.  The watch is on to see how long they can go before they are defeated and who will be the team to do it this year. My recommendation is lose a game early, get it over and done with and get rid of that one distraction.  Giants seem to do better when they're the underdog, the team that might not be perfect to garner the attention of the media.  The David against the Goliath in a division where their nemesis have been perceived as trying to by championships.  They quietly got the work done last season.  Can they do it again this season though?

And on the other side of the coin, you have the Dallas Cowboys, who are faced with their own distractions.  There's no doubt that quarterback Tony Romo is frustrated with the questions about the window of opportunity closing.  And of course there will be the attention paid to wide receiver Dez Bryant, unfortunately more for what he's doing off the field than on it.  Have the Cowboys front office done enough to beef up their defense to help the team get over that hurdle? 

Focus has been on the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, mostly due to the hold out of Maurice Jones-Drew.  It's not likely that the attention will lift anytime soon as we watch to see how last season's top rusher will perform.  If his numbers drop, chances are great that analysts will point to the hold out as the reason.  Still, in a way, I'm pulling for the Jags to have a decent season.  I like coach Mike Mularkey.  I believe, given time, he can acquire the talent to get the team to the playoffs.  But it's easier to pull the trigger than it is to have patience to grow a team. 

One wonders what the direction of the Oakland Raiders will be now that Al Davis is no longer with us.  It was always believed that the late owner was holding the team back with his hands-on approach in ownership.  I'd like to see Terrelle Pryor get his shot and do well.  Pryor made his name as the number one prospect coming out of Jeannette High School.  I like to see kids that graduated from the same school I went to, make good.  Pryor is no exception.  Still, one can't argue that the Raiders have no talent.  It's just a matter of finding the right magic to make it work. 

If there is any team that is facing distractions this season, it will definitely be the Saints.  No one will argue that they, as a team will be under a microscope with both the press and the fans, watching to see how they rebound from the scandal and if "bountygate" was the reason for their past success.  They have two options, shoot everyone the bird and come out with a "we'll show you" attitude or succumb to the pressure.  I'll say it's the former.  Quarterback Drew Brees is nothing but a passionate and consumate leader who has the ability to rally his troops in the face of adversity. 

One thing I do know, that as with each season it will be electrifying and disappointing on the road to the playoffs.  The days of manicured nails and quiet Sunday afternoons are now gone until February.  And if one is disappointed that the window of opportunity to clean out the garage has gone, well, there's always the bye.


Posted on: December 7, 2008 9:13 pm

Bitter Cold but a Sweet Win

The field conditions weren’t what Steelers fans were hoping for at the beginning of the game, but it was cold and it was windy.  It would be a game that left fans of both teams crowing about their defense and still questioning their offenses.  In the winter, it becomes about the defense.  When the game finished, there would be a total of 8 sacks and 7 turnovers.  The offenses would look rather mediocre, but then, good defenses tend to do that to offenses. 

After week 14, the Steelers defense would still have not given up 300 yards in a game and would make a huge defensive play that would bring about the win over the Dallas Cowboys, which wasn’t an easy task, given how the Dallas defense stepped up and showed the “improved” oline of the Steelers, hadn’t actually improved as much as we hoped, with 5 sacks on Ben Roethlisberger.  What can be said about this Steelers defense that we haven’t already lauded on before?  Oh yeah, Steelers cornerback, Ike Taylor finally caught one.  Week in and week out, the Steeler defense has been playing as if they were trying to make a case as to why defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. 

However, what was more impressive was, well the offense.  No, not fantasy football impressive, not statistically impressive.  With the Dallas defense, for the most part, shutting down the Steelers offense for the majority of the game, the questions that surfaced about the Steelers offense not being able to compete against teams with good defenses again.  Although the Steelers took the lead only to be tied going into the half, the Cowboys offense managed to go up ten points.  It was a struggle, especially when a 71 yard drive to the 4th and 1 was stopped, denying the Steelers a touchdown in the 3d quarter.  And for a moment, we were wondering, given the inability to get anything going, would the Steelers be able to come back from this deficit. 

Then a spark, a 47 yd pass to Santonio Holmes on a 3d and 16 would start a drive that would lead to a field goal by Jeff Reed.  A three and out by the Dallas offense and the Steelers offense would drive for 67 yards and come away with a Roethlisberger pass to Heath Miller.  Jeff Reed’s extra point tied the game.  So it wasn’t pretty and may not be impressive, but the Steelers offense finally found the answers to get past the defense that was stifling them.  Oh yeah, and Ben had no interceptions. 

In the end though, it would be the Steelers defense that would win the game with a Deshea Townsend interception on Tony Romo for a defensive touchdown.  Romo would not be able to overcome the Steelers defense to make a drive down the field. 

Of course it’s not everything we would have hoped for.  A rookie running back did get past the Steelers defense for 88 yds, the most a single running back has run against the Steelers all season.  The oline did give up five sacks and failed to create the holes for the running backs, which only ran for a total 53 yds combined. 

A win is a win though, no matter how pretty or ugly, and with this win, the Steelers maintain their lead in the AFC North and Roethlisberger would take the lead in the quarterback with the most wins in his first five years in the NFL.  Oh, and yeah, it came down to a classic Steelers/Cowboy games where the big play, where one score decided the outcome.
Posted on: December 2, 2008 6:54 am
Edited on: December 2, 2008 12:23 pm

Remnants of An Age Old Rivalry

It was once a storied rivalry in the NFL, going as far back to when there was an only an NFL and the AFL was starting out.  A rivalry that would end up providing a true “hatred” against the others team and spark passion with their fans each time they meet up.  It would lead Sports Illustrated to declare the quarterback rivalry of Bradshaw and Staubach as the top quarterback rivalry in the history of the NFL.  No doubt, when you talk about rivalries, this one will top all rivalries to come. 

Not to diminish the division rivalries or conference rivalries because these, for the most part are seen year in and year out on the way to the big game.  But, this one would go as far as the final game of the year, the Superbowl. In fact, if you go through the history of the Superbowl era teams that have faced each other for the Lombardi Trophy, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers will have faced each other more then any other teams.  Three times, in fact.  In those three meetings, the Steelers would hold the advantage 2-1. 
The younger ones may only remember only the Aikmann/O’Neill game, but those of us old enough to remember, those of us that are now sipping geritol and getting around on our walkers remember the true spirit of this rivalry. 

But, this isn’t the Superbowl and as much as I would love to muse on the possibilities of two 5 time superbowl champions meeting under the lights in February, I should focus on the now and present. 

The meetings between the Cowboys and the Steelers have become few and far between now.  In fact, the last time these two teams met was in week 6 of 2004 at Texas Stadium.  In that matchup, the Steelers won 24-20.  Now, four years later, the Cowboys will be going to Heinz Field.  It will be the first time that Tony Romo and this Cowboy team as a team has played here (though one or two of their players can remember losing there).

For the Cowboys, this game could very well be a must win, to stay alive in the race for the playoffs, for the Steelers, well, a win would continue to give them breathing room to stay on top of the AFC North and not have them rely on another team, ironically, the Cowboys in their last game at Baltimore. 

What can we analyze about this game that would give us an accurate barometer.  We can go on common opponents, both teams having won their respective games against Cincinnati, Cleveland and Washington. Defensive stats, well both defenses are extremely good in the pass-rush and getting to the quarterback.  Dallas is a close second in leading the league in sacks at 40, the Steelers have registered only 2 more sacks.  Sacks allowed, well, it’s no secret that the Steelers oline has had it’s problems.  Of course, the Cowboys oline has, in itself, done a good job at protecting their quarterback with allowing only 18 sacks.  Each respective defense have registered 9 forced fumbles and in passing defense and interceptions the Steelers have the edge with 13 interceptions to the Cowboys six. 

I can dwell on stats all day, but this game will be based on the intangibles.  Both quarterbacks are getting healthy from injuries.  Ben Roethlisberger plagues by a shoulder injury and Tony Romo having just come back from a finger fracture.  Though Romo has only been sacked an average of 1 per game, what’s not shown in those stats is that he was sacked 3 times by the Packers defense and 3 by the Cardinals defense.  And though Romo may not have been sacked 4 times against the Giants defense, the Dallas oline did give up those sacks.  So when faced with formidable pass rush, yes, the Cowboys quarterback can be gotten to.  Of course the same can be said about the Steelers oline. 

But again, back to the intangibles.  They are calling for snow in Pittsburgh in the 10-day forecast.  It will be cold, it will be windy and it’s this time of year that is not good for the long deep balls.  Don’t let the scores on the Steelers offense fool you.  The best way to handle a high powered offense is to keep them on the bench.  In the last three games, the Steelers offense had maintained control of the ball for 35 minutes or more.  In the last two games, the offense had found away, not only to get it in the endzone on 3d and shorts.  Had the receivers caught the balls that were placed in their hands, Ben’s numbers would be just a wee bit better.  In fact, the Steelers offense is starting to click at the right time, when it counts. 

The play on the oline has begun to improve, not only on pass protection but also on opening up the holes.  How well will the oline do now against the Cowboys defense, well hard to say, they haven’t faced a formidable pass rushing team since their improvement, but should be at least a little better then in the past given that we’re seeing more mixup in plays, Ben getting out of the pocket and/or releasing the ball more quickly.  It will also depend on the status of Cowboys DeMarcus Ware and his status. 

This game may more then likely come down to who has more mistakes.  The turnover ratio could be an indicator with Pittsburgh with a plus 4 to the Cowboys minus 5. 

No, the Steelers offense is not a high powered offense and this game is an NFL game in December, not BCS football.  Given that the Steelers haven’t allowed one team all season to go 300 yds total on them, this won’t be a high powered shootout but will be dependent on the run, and the quarterback who makes the least mistakes. 

Historical Reference :  Due to the thought there may have been a reference to the Steelers being in the AFL, I should clarify.  The reference to the NFL and AFL was to establish a timeline.  It would be 1960 when the Dallas Cowboys would enter the NFL and play their first professional football game against...the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Both teams were part of the original NFL.  That same year, the American Football League had been formed.  . 

Posted on: September 5, 2008 6:34 am

2008-09 Projections - NFC East

Talk about a stomach bug coming on quickly.  As I type this up, all of the sudden I feel really ill.  Okay, I’ll admit it, it’s because I can only say nice things about the Dallas Cowboys and it’s making me ill. 

NFC North: 

#4) Washington Redskins – Nope this has nothing to do with last nights game, although I think the Jim Zorn will be good for the quarterback, I think that this will be an instance where a rookie coach is going to need to get acclimated and his players are going to have to get accustomed with their system.  Yeah, and Clinton Portis isn’t the key to this team, their defense is.  They do have the best looking coach in the NFL though.

#3) Philadelphia Eagles – somethings missing with this team.  Not sure what it is and it’s definitely not Brian Westbrook or Lito Sheppard.  Just a feeling, you know.

#2) New York Giants – No doubt that what the Giants did last year was remarkable, not only to go on to the Superbowl on the Wildcard, but to beat an undefeated Patriots team to win the trophy.  Those of us who’s teams have been to the Superbowl will tell you, it’s extremely difficult to do back to back unless you have an awesome team.  Giants definitely are a good team with the Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress go to, and no doubt that Brandon Jacobs is a beast.  But the Giants have a bulls eye on their back now and they’re the team to beat and they’ll be seeing the A games from most everyone they meet.

#1) Dallas Cowboys – God this pains me to say this.  The Cowboys have everything it takes to get to the Superbowl this year.  Tony Romo has now settled down and become comfortable, they’ve got a very good defense, Patrick Crayton and Terrill Owens as passing weapons.  Keep an eye on Felix Jones.  He’ll make an impact for the team this year.

NFC East Division Champions – Dallas Cowboys 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com