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Archive for November, 2008

Steelers vs. Patriots haiku

November 30, 2008 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

Okay Steelers fans. It’s time for another Steelers haiku. This time, we’re summarizing the Steelers’ 33-10 win over the Patriots with a commemorative haiku (or two).

Who said football and poetry don’t go together?

Remember, a proper haiku is a 3 line poem with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line, and 5 syllables in the third line. Remember, that’s “syllables”, not “words”. Here we go.

Second half rally
Smash mouth football can’t be beat
Steelers kick Pats’ @$$!

Or how about this:

Rain and snow from sky
Harrison’s unstoppable
Finally beat Pats

Alright readers, it’s your turn. Care to add a Steelers-Patriots haiku?

For a more serious review of the Steelers-Patriots game, please see our Steelers vs. Patriots Recap by clicking here.

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Ryan Clark jacks up Wes Welker!!!

November 30, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players

For those of you who missed it, Ryan Clark put a devastating hit on Patriots’ receiver Wes Welker. Welker never returned to the game after the hit, so I’m going to assume that he was seeing birds and hearing bells.

Let’s take one more look at the hit.

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Steelers vs. Patriots Key Match-ups

November 29, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

Before reading this week’s key match-ups, please read my Steelers-Patriots Preview.  Also, you may want to read our reports on Patriots’ QB Matt Cassel and Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick.

This week, the Steelers will face their perennial AFC rivals the New England Patriots. Anytime you are discussing AFC supremacy, these two teams are likely to be included in the conversation.

Both teams need a win this weekend to stay in the race for division titles.  The Steelers are one game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, but the Ravens play the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend, and will probably get a win.  Meanwhile, the Patriots are one game behind the New York Jets in the AFC East.  They need a win to stay within striking distance of the Jets.

These are the match-ups that I believe will have the highest likelihood of impacting the outcome of the game.

Steelers’ linebackers James Harrison & LaMarr Woodley vs. Patriots’ QB Matt Cassel

We all know that Matt Cassel has been a more than adequate replacement for Tom Brady.  However, Cassel has really not faced many above average defenses.  The toughest defense that he’s faced this year is the Indianapolis Colts, and he lost that game.  The Steelers’s defense is much better than the Colts.

Cassel had proven to be susceptible to pressure.  He’s been sacked even more often than Ben Roethlisberger has this year (and I didn’t think that was possible).  That has got to have Steelers’ linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley watering at the mouth.  Each is among the NFL’s leaders in sacks, and they have a friendly competition going against one another.  They’ll both be looking forward to adding to their sack count against Matt Cassel.  Advantage: Steelers.

CB Ike Taylor vs WR Randy Moss.

Despite his hands of stone, Ike Taylor is one of the best cover corners in the NFL.  He has the size and speed to guard even the biggest and fastest receivers.  He’ll need every ounce of his size and speed this week when he faces Randy Moss.  Moss epitomizes the tall, fast receiver.  If there is a receiver in the NFL who is more dangerous than Randy Moss, I don’t know who he is.  After a terrible stint with the Raiders, Moss has been reborn with the Patriots.  This may be the best match-up of the game. Advantage: Patriots

Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau vs. Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick

One of the best match-ups of the game won’t even take place on the field.  Instead, it will take place along the sidelines as Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau matches wits with Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick.  Belichick has owned the Steelers since he became head coach of the Patriots.  Some would argue that his success is due to his cheating, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Belichick runs a complicated 3-4 defensive scheme, so he is not as unfamiliar with what LeBeau does as many opponents are.  Belichick always develops game plans that are perfectly crafted to beat the Steelers.  Against any other foe, Dick LeBeau would have the advantage, but against the mad scientist Bill Belichick, well……… Advantage: Patriots.

WR Santontio Holmes vs. Patriots’ CB Deltha O’Neal

Deltha O’Neal couldn’t guard the Steelers’ receivers when he was a young cornerback playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.  He certainly can’t contain them as a 75 year old cornerback for the Patriots.  Unless Holmes breaks his leg during the game, he should burn O’Neal like firewood.  Advantage: Steelers.

DE Travis Kirschke vs. G Logan Mankins

It’s not often that Travis Kirschke’s name is mentioned as a key match-up.  However, this week he will play a pivotal role in the game.  Starter Brett Keisel is out with an injury, and Kirschke will be called upon to fill in for him.  Kirschke must hold stout against the run in order for the Steelers to contain the Patriots offense.  Kirschke, along with backup defensive ends Nick Eason and Orpheus Roye, have played surprisingly well each time they’ve been called upon this season.  Advantage: Neither.

Steelers’C Justin Hartwig vs. Patriots’ NT Vince Wilfork

Justin Hartwig was brought in to handle the big AFC nose tackles who seemed to overpower Sean Mahan last year.  Hartwig has held his own so far, but he will receive a good test from Patriots’ nose tackle Vince Wilfork.  Wilfork is a former 1st round draft pick, and at 6’2″ 325 lbs, he is built very similar to Steelers’ NT Casey Hampton.  He is short for his size, which allows him to get under his blockers and use incredible leverage to collapse the line of scrimmage.

Hartwig has held his own against Browns’ NT Shawn Rogers and Chargers’ NT Jamal Williams, two of the best in the game.  Moreover, he practices everyday against Steelers’ NT Casey Hampton, so he should should be well prepared for his battle with Wilfork.  Advantage: Neither.

Overall, I anticipate that the Steelers’ defense will contain the Patriots’ offense, while the Steelers’ offense overwhelms the Patriots’ defense.  Final score prediction: Steelers 24, Patriots 14.

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots Preview

November 29, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

The Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Foxboro this weekend to take on the New England Patriots.  The Steelers have lost 6 of their last 7 games against the Patriots.  They’ve fared even worse when playing on the road, having lost 4 in a row at Gillette Stadium.

The biggest difference between this game and the aforementioned games is that the Patriots will be without star quarterback Tom Brady.  Ordinarily, losing Brady would have been enough to cause Patriots’ fans to give up on the season.  However, the Patriots have gotten surprisingly good play from backup quarterback Matt Cassel.  You can read our scouting report on Matt Cassel by clicking here.

Matt Cassel has led the Patriots to a commendable 7-4 record, and second place in the AFC East.  More importantly, Cassel has been able to maintain the Patriots passing game.  Over the past two weeks, Cassel has had back-to-back 400+ yard passing games.  That’s an accomplishment that even Tom Brady has never been able to achieve.  So for those of you who are expecting Cassel to blow the game for the Patriots, think again.  This kid can play.

Cassel has connected with Randy Moss for 4 touchdowns during the past 2 weeks.  Three of those touchdowns occured last week against Miami.  Ike Taylor is going to have his hands full containing one of the NFL’s most talented receivers.  Though Moss has a 2 inches and a 15 lb. advantage over Taylor, Ike always seems to rise to the occasion when facing his most difficult foes.

A big difference between this year and last year will be the fact that Ryan Clark will be backing up the cornerbacks against the deep ball.  Despite his guarantees last year, Anthony Smith proved that he wasn’t up to that task.  When Smith had to step in last year when Clark was out, we all learned just how important Clark’s disciplined approach to his position really is to the Steelers.

The Steelers’ top ranked defense should be able to contain the Patriots’ offense.  Particularly since the Patriots are without starting running back Laurence Maroney.  In Maroney’s absence, the Patriots have relied on back-ups Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  This 3-headed running back committee has made the Patriots the 8th ranked rushing team in the NFL.  So while they have no established stars in their running game, they are a competent group.  Unfortunately for them, it will take more than competence to move the ball on the ground against the Steelers.  Just ask Clinton Portis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Brandon Jacobs, or Fred Taylor.

The battle of the Steelers’ defense versus the Patriots’ offense should be the marquee match-up of the game.  The Patriots’ offense has generated 511 and 530 yard of offense over the past two weeks.  Meanwhile, the Steelers’ defense has held every opponent under 300 yards of offense.

Despite the strength of the Steelers’ defense, their offense has been less than stellar this season.  Far too often, they have been forced to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns.  The Patriots may be just what the doctor ordered as a cure for that condition.  The Patriots have given up more touchdowns this season than any other team in the AFC.

The reason for the vulnerability of the usually strong Patriots’ defense is injuries to key players like Adalius Thomas (out for season with a broken forearm), and Rodney Harrison (out for season with a thigh injury).  In addition to key players who have been lost for the season, Mike Vrabel has also been battling injuries, but is likely to play against the Steelers.

The Steelers have had a long layoff since playing the Cincinnati Bengals last Thurday night.  The added time should see them well prepared to face the Patriots.  It has also given them a little extra time to heal.  Running back Willie Parker was back to practice late this week, and is likely to play against the Pats.

When Parker plays, he makes things much easier for the Steelers passing game.  Big Ben played well last week, and with Parker running the ball this week, he should see lots of open receivers on Sunday.  If he minimizes turnovers, he should have a good game against a depleted Patriots’ secondary.

The one X-factor in this game will be Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick.  Belichick has enjoyed tremendous success against the Steelers since he became head coach of the Patriots.  He will have his team well prepared to face the Steelers.  Unfortunately, it just won’t be enough to offset the Steelers’ superior talent.  I predict that the Steelers will win this game by a score of 24-14.

For more information about this Sunday’s Steelers-Patriots game, please see our Key Match-ups by clicking here.

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Scouting Matt Cassel

November 28, 2008 By: Admin Category: Lists, Pre-Game Analyses

This week, the Steelers must face the New England Patriots, led by surprising quarterback Matt Cassel.  Prior to this season, many fans had probably never heard of Matt Cassel.  When Tom Brady went down with an injury, most fans probably wrote off the Patriots.  But Matt Cassel has played extremely well, and passed for back-to-back 400+ yard games.  More importantly, the Patriots are 7-4, and are in contention for a wildcard playoff spot.

Most Steelers fans are probably asking “who is this Matt Cassel guy?  Isn’t he a scrub who hadn’t started a game since high school”?  Well, the answer to that question is “yes and no”.  It IS true that prior to this season, Matt Cassel hadn’t started a game since high school.  However, it is not necessarily true that he is a scrub.

Coming out of high school, Cassel was ranked as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country.  As a result, he was recruited by Pete Carroll to play at USC, one of the most prestigious programs in the nation.  Cassel probably would have become a starter if he had chosen to attend any other school that recruited him other than USC.

While at USC, Cassel spent his entire career as a backup to Heisman trophy winners.  Cassel started his college career as a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer.  He ended his college career as backup to another USC Heisman Trophy winner, Matt Leinart.

Despite having never started a game in college, pro scouts recognized Cassel’s potential.  At 6’4″ and 230 lbs., he had nice size.  More importantly, he had a strong arm.  Ultimately, he was drafted in the seventh round by the New England Patriots.

Many fans thought it was a fluke when Cassel passed for 400 yards against the New York Jets two weeks ago.  When he followed that game up with a 415 yard passing game against the Miami Dolphins last week, suddenly Cassel could no longer be taken lightly.

Most Steelers fans would probably agree that Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback.  Nevertheless, Roethlisberger has never thrown for 400 yards in an NFL game.  Cassel has done it twice in the past 2 weeks.  In fact, Cassel leads Roethlisberger in almost every statistical category this year.

Cassel is 8th in the NFL in passing yardage with 2,615 yards.  Roethlisberger is 17th with 2,233 yards.  Matt Cassel is ranked #10 with a passer rating of 90.5, while Roethlisberger is ranked 21st with a passer rating of 80.5.  Cassel has thrown 13 touchdown passes this year.  Big Ben has 11.  Cassel has completed 66.3% of his passes.  Roethlisberger has completed 61.6%.  Cassel has thrown 24 passes this year that were for 20 yards or more.  Big Ben has only thrown 20 passes for 20+ yards.  The only important category that Big Ben leads Matt Cassel in is interceptions.  Big Ben has thrown 11 interceptions, while Matt Cassel has only thrown 8.  Oh wait, that’s bad, isn’t it?  Ummmm, forget that last one.

Since Big Ben is a franchise quarterback, and Matt Cassel’s statistics are better than Big Ben’s, Matt Cassel must also be a franchise quarterback, right?  Moreover, since Cassel’s stats are better than Roethlisberger’s he must be a better quarterback than Big Ben.  Make sense?  Actually, no.  It doesn’t make sense.

Let’s look at Matt Cassel’s accomplishments a little closer.  Matt Cassel has never faced a passing defense that was ranked in the top 1/3 of NFL.  The best passing defense that he’s faced is the Indianapolis Colts, and he lost that game.  The best defense that he has actually beaten is the 6-5 Buffalo Bills’ defense.  The Bill’s passing defense is ranked #16 in the NFL (out of 32 teams).  That means that they are just barely in the top half of NFL passing defenses.

The Bills’ defense gives up 211.5 passing yards per game, and they have a total of 18 sacks.  By comparison, the Steelers defense is ranked #1 in the NFL against the pass and against the run.  The Steelers allow a measly 168 passing yards per game, and they’ve accumulated a total of 37 sacks.  Translation:  Matt Cassel has been playing against JV defenses.  This Sunday, he’ll be facing his first varsity squad.

While many teams were unprepared for Cassel, after two consecutive 400+ yard passing performances, the Steelers will not take him lightly.  Coach Dick LeBeau will have his defense ready to teach Cassel a thing or two.  The Steelers are likely to try to confuse Cassel by constantly shifting their defensive looks right up to the time of the snap.  More importantly, the Steelers have one of the few cornerbacks in the league who has the size and speed to shadow Randy Moss.  With Ike Taylor taking away some of the advantage that Moss usually enjoys, it is going to make Cassel work much harder for his yards than he usually has to.

With his home run target partially neutralized, Cassel is going to have to spend more time searching for his second and third passing options.  This will give the Steelers’ pitbulls, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, time to get to Cassel.  Cassel has already been sacked 34 times this season.  That’s even more sacks than Big Ben has taken, and we all know that Ben gets sacked waaayyyyyyy too often.  So while Matt Cassel will enter the game with 34 sacks, he’s not likely to leave the game with 34.  36 or 37 is far more likely.

The one X-factor that might change the complexion of the game is Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick.  For those of you who don’t know, I don’t like Bill Belichick.  Besides being a cheater, Belichick is also a Steelers killer.  He has a knack for creating perfect game plans for facing the Steelers.  There is little doubt in my mind that Belichick will have Cassel and the rest of the Patriots well prepared for this game.  The fact that the game is being played in New England won’t help either.

The bottom line is that Matt Cassel is a decent young quarterback.  However, he has never faced a defense like the one that he’s going to be facing this weekend.  Bill Belichick will have him well prepared, but it won’t make a difference.  The Steelers are going to beat the Patriots.  The only quarterback who can potentially change that outcome is Ben Roethlisberger, not Matt Cassel.

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