Tag:New England Patriots
Posted on: November 30, 2008 9:39 pm

Missed Opportunities Make More of a Statement

It was a statement game for both teams.  The Patriots, who had the Steelers number since 2001, needed the win to stay in the hunt for the playoffs, the Steelers needed this win to, not only get the monkey off their back, but to also quiet some critics. 

So it would occur, on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Foxboro where a first year backup quarterback would face his first major challenge after two back to back 400 games, and a veteran quarterback with an offense that was questionable. 

It was a statement game, but started off as anything but that.  A muffed kick off, a penalty and then an interception gave the Patriots good field position, which they were able to run in for a touchdown.  Then, as if the Steelers had made us think they wanted the Patriots to win, the Patriots seemed to want to give the game right back to them. 

Dropped passes and missed opportunities would seem to send the first half would leave fans of both teams scratching their heads and somehow, it was no surprise that the game was tied by half time.  The positive is that the Steelers offense was able to come back from a deficit, even if it was one score, which occurred in a beautiful catch by Santonio Holmes

It didn’t turn out to be the shootout that was expected by many.  The deep balls to Moss never came about.  Instead, the Steelers defense would basically make Moss a non-factor (or can we say that Moss had something to do with being a non-factor also) with only four receptions for a total of 45 yards.  It would be Kevin Faulk who would burn the Steelers, both in rushing and passing.  But it wasn’t enough to counter the mistakes made by the Patriots, combined with an offensive play of the Steelers, who began to control the ball and get down the field. 

Having protected well in the first half, somehow the Steelers front line became sack hungry and was able to get five sacks on Matt Cassel, forcing two fumbles.  James Harrison would be the defensive stud of the game.  Add two interceptions, one by Troy Polamalu, another by Lawrence Timmons and it was apparent that the Steelers defensive line began to rattle and unnerve Matt Cassel. 

The Steelers offense not only was able to eat the field, but also took advantage of the turnovers and turned them into points.  Tight end Heath Miller would lead the team in receptions.  Although no one receiver would reach the 100 yd mark in this game, both teams were able to rush for an accumulative total of 100 plus yards, something surprising given both defenses were strong against the rush. 

Can't say the monkey's off their back, but 30 unanswered points by the Steelers is a good way to start shaking him loose. 
Posted on: November 30, 2008 7:25 am
Edited on: November 30, 2008 7:38 am

Something About Curses

It was the words of an old gypsy woman, who muttered an ominous curse in revenge of...oh wait, wrong curse.  Perhaps it seems like a curse, having lost 6 matchups out of their last seven meetings.  Somehow, the Patriots have seemed to have had the Steelers number since the Bill Belicheck era. 

Today, the Steelers will venture into Foxboro in hopes of reversing the curse, getting the monkey off their backs, per say.  The last matchup got ugly.  With Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Aaron Smith on the sidelines due to injuries that game, the Patriots offense was able to light up a young safety by the name of Anthony Smith, the whole second half of the game.  Definitely something that shook up the young mans confidence. 

Perhaps this year will be the year that the monkey's off their back.  Why not, the Colts had been able to shake that monkey, and this year, the Chargers have also.  Yes, perhaps this is the year.  There won't be a young safety to exploit, but two seasoned veterans who have shown it's pretty hard to knock them off their game.    In fact, the three forementioned defensive players are healthy and anxious to play this game, and they've seen this Patriots team before. 

No doubt, the Steelers defense will have to be on their game, with so many weapons on the Patriots offense.  The difference this year, no Tom Brady.  Last time the Steelers were able to beat the Patriots, they broke the Patriots winning streak with a rookie quarterback.  Tom Brady has seen this healthy defense many times before, however, Matt Cassell hasn't.  Not personally.  No doubt Matt Cassell has come into his own this season, as the Patriots fight for a playoff berth.  His most impressive games were the last two, where he had thrown over 400 yds in each.  Of course, keeping things in perspective, though the passing numbers are impressive and should no way take away from Cassell, they were obtained on teams that rank 26th and 28th in passing defense.  To believe that Cassell is going to be able to throw for 400 yards easily is like saying that the Steelers are going to run all day on the Patriots defense.  Although the Patriots secondary is suspect, even more so with Adalius Thomas out, their front line has been able to stuff the run and no doubt, that's what they'll try to do for the Steelers running game. 

The biggest factor is going to be the confidence of the quarterback and the play of the wide receivers.  If the Steelers wide receivers keep dropping the ball like they did in their previous games, then it's going to be a long day for the Steelers offense.  There's a question of the pass rush on the Patriots though.  Both offensive lines have given up a total of 35 sacks to their opponents, the numbers lessening in recent games.  Can the Steelers blitz get to Cassell enough to keep him from getting the ball deep to Moss?  Of course, there's the threat of Wes Welker, who has the ability to create plays and get away from defenders.  Though the Steelers have their own weapons up the center too with Hines Ward and Heath Miller.  Both quarterbacks are able to get out of the pocket and make plays happen with their feet. 

This season the Steelers have had mixed results in getting that monkey off their back.  They couldn't overcome their history in Lincoln Field, but were able to shake the one that plagued them against the Jaguars.  I won't add to the Cowher curse by declaring a winner for the game today.  I'll sit quietly back and keep my fingers crossed because both sides know the playoff implications in this game, and silently wish that monkey dead.
Posted on: September 3, 2008 4:23 pm

2008-09 NFL Projections - AFC East

Somehow I made it past the temptation of the little voice trying to draw me in to getting involved in Fantasy Football.  Yes it was difficult, I thought, okay, I could take a little taste, put my toes in the water and try it out.  In the end, wiser voices prevailed and I chose to abstain, at least this year anyhow.

However, there’s a lot of little voices calling for me to take a chance on certain subjects.  For awhile now I’ve been avoiding them.  Some, knowing that if I succumbed, I would need intervention to pull me from a deep hole of the firey abyss.  Others I would shrug them off and excuse them as “everyone else is doing them, so no need for me to”.  However, like a bar of rich, milk chocolate right at fingers length, I have chosen to give in to some of these whims. 

Will I regret it?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  Only time will tell.  However, one thing I do know for sure is I love to be right and brag about it, and without anything to point back to I have nothing to show and go…na na na na…I told you so.  So that I have no regrets later and so that there is no need for me to sit on my hands, here are my projections for the outcome of the 08-09 NFL season.

AFC East:

#4 - Miami Dolphins I see this year as improving from last years 1-15 game season.  However, they are now officially a young team in the process of rebuilding, and though Bill Parcells will change the direction of this team, I see them spending this year at the bottom of the AFC East.  Mostly because, the Patriots are still a very good team and both the Bills and the Jets have made improvements to theirs also.

#3 - New York Jets – The addition of Brett Favre has definitely improved this team without question, at least the offense.  Question is though the offense is improved, how well has the defense improved?  I’m seeing them in a close race with the Bills for a wild card slot, though I think, in the end, we’ll see the Jets finishing 3d in the AFC East, because the Bills defense seems to be just a tad bit better.

#2 - Buffalo Bills – Yes, I see this team as wild card contender.   Trent Edwards will be comfortable now and Lee Evans is back.  The only thing that hurt the Bills defense last year was the massive amount of injuries that it took early in the season.  I see the Bills 2nd in the AFC East.

#1 - New England Patriots – There’s no doubt that this 16-0 regular season team will be the force to be reckoned within the AFC as a whole and despite the improvements to the other three teams, it’s the Patriots to lose. 

AFC Division Winner:  New England Patriots.
Posted on: April 29, 2008 5:39 am
Edited on: April 29, 2008 5:55 am

Changes in Attitude

Once upon a time, a family of Bears played host to a little girl with blonde curls.  The bears, always the gracious host, tried to do what they could to answer the little girls needs while she was there.  Unfortunately for them, the girl was a bit finicky and despite trying to be a good guest and take things as they were, by mid-week found herself totally uncomfortable and plagued with back pains.  Papa Bear had been nice and offered up his chair and bed, but the little girl found them too hard.  Momma Bear then offered the little girl her bed and chair but they were just too soft for the little body.  Finally it dawned on them and they decided to bite the bullet.  See Baby Bear didn't like change (or sharing, for that matter), but when the adult bears realized that Baby Bears chair and bed would be a perfect fit for her, they made the littlest of the bear share his things with the darling little girl. 

No, this is not about how we can distort bad fairy tales into worse ones.  It's actually an analogy of how things may have to change to fit the current situation.

When Ben Roethlisberger joined the Pittsburgh Steelers and had the rookie year he did, we had heard that you could put any Quarterback behind that offensive line and be successful.  All we had to do is look at Tommy Maddox to show that wasn't true.  Not that Tommy Gun wasn't a good quarterback, but the Steeler oline was not one you wanted to be behind if you're a pure pocket passer.  The Russ Grimm oline was one built primarily to open up lanes for the rush, and more times then naught, broke down quickly when it came to pass protection, leaving Tommy scrambling outside the pocket, something that was apparently obvious that he was not comfortable with.  What made Ben successful behind that oline was that he was able to get outside the pocket and buy time to extend plays when pass protection broke down. 

Prior to last season, there had been three top olines for the past 5 to 7 years in the AFC.  Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Each different for their system.  The Colts oline, built primarily for pass protection, along with their weapons on WR and a QB with an arm, helped build that team to a consistent playoff ready, high powered offense team.  The Patriots oline not only were able to buy their QB time but were also able to open up holes for their running back to get through.  The Steelers oline could open up holes and give the running backs enough time just to get through in a lane.

Indeed, the Steelers oline was known to be one of the best rushing olines in the NFL.  One of the reasons Alan Faneca was a pro-bowl player was his contribution to opening and keeping open that lane for the running backs to get through.  It was never an oline built to provide consistent pass protection.  Last season, we saw a glaring issue with the oline in the high number of sacks that Roethlisberger took.  We, as fans, looked to the offseason to get help to return that oline back to it's former glory.  Question is, should we?

It's no secret that the oline that the Steelers once had was developed by Russ Grimm.  However, Grimm is no longer on the team and the teams strength is no longer predominantly rushing.  The Steelers now have the capabilities to have a balanced offense.  They have a quarterback in Roethlisberger who improves each year, with his arm and his accuracy.  (If anyone wants to dispute that, he ranked 3d in the NFL and had less interceptions then Peyton Manning).  He now has quite a few good weapons to go to in the air with Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and, now, Limas Sweed (remember Brady's check downs last season?).  Not to mention Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth (who will have gotten over his rookie jitters).  The rushing offense now has both an outside fast runner in Willie Parker and an inside powerback in Rashard Mendenhall, along with the Najeh Davenport to work in as a receiving running back.  There is no doubt that this can become an all around complete offense.  So why keep the Steeler oline predominantly a rushing oline?

I guess the argument could be used that it will take Pittsburgh away from who they are, but not really.  The last two seasons, teams were stacking the box to prevent the run.  The run was opened up with the air game, along with Ben's ability to escape tackles and convert on 3d and longs and 4th and longs through the air.  Despite Roethlisberger ending the season with 32 TDs for over 3,000 yds, Willie Parker was on course to being the leading rusher in the NFL until his injury. 

Perhaps, instead of wishing we picked up draft picks and talent in free agency to shore up the oline, we should be hoping that the coaches in the Steelers organization see the need to change the style of play that the offensive line is use to, to fit the needs of this offense. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com