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Archive for December, 2008

The case for James Harrison as NFL MVP

December 30, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players

December 29,2008
By Donald Starver

Sports writers are hypocrites.  They are quick to spout trite phrases like “defense wins championships”, yet when they are called upon to show what they really believe, their actions prove that they believe that offense wins championships.

Each year, the Associated Press selects the NFL MVP.  And each year they go through their annual ritual of proving that they only value offense.

Since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970 there have been 40 NFL MVP’s.  Of those, 25 have been quarterbacks and 12 have been running backs.  That’s 92.5% for those of you who like statistics.  The only anomalies from this rule were linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986, kicker Mark Moseley during the strike shortened 1982 season, and DT Alan Page in 1971.

Two defensive MVP’s since the merger.  Pathetic!  So much for “defense wins championships”.

Of the NFL’s 5 top ranked offenses, 4 of them will be watching the playoffs from their living rooms.  Prolific passer Drew Brees and the #1 ranked New Orleans Saints offense had an amazing season.  Too bad their season’s over.  Same for the Denver Broncos, the NFL’s #2 offense.  The Houston Texans had the 3rd best offense in the NFL this season.  They’re also vacationing now.  So how important is offense if it can’t even carry a team into the playoffs?

Contrarily, 4 of the top 5 defenses in the NFL will make playoff appearances.  The lone holdout was the Washington Redskins, and if they played in any division other than the brutal NFC East, they too would probably have made the playoffs.  Despite these obvious arguments for the importance of defense, look for Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Kurt Warner, and Philip Rivers to garner most of the MVP votes.  Idiotic, if you ask me.

In January of 2001, when the Baltimore Ravens where enjoying a parade following the first Super Bowl championship in team history, was there anyone in the known universe who didn’t agree that Ray Lewis was the MVP?  I’m not talking about the Super Bowl MVP.  I don’t mean the Defensive Player of the Year.  Nope, Ray Lewis was the friggin’ NFL MVP.  For the Ravens, defense DID win a championship, and Ray Lewis was the engine that drove that defense.  Some quarterback or running back may be babysitting his MVP trophy, but we all know it belongs to Ray.

This year, we have the potential for a similar injustice.  The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the playoffs with the league’s #1 ranked defense.  They allow the fewest points per game.  They allow the fewest yards per game.  They are #1 against the pass, and #2 against the run.  They were #1 against the run as recently as week 14, but were surpassed by the Minnesota Vikings’ defense late in the season.  Suffice it to say that the Steelers’ defense is pretty good.

The best player on that defense is James Harrison.  Harrison was voted team MVP for the second year in a row.  He will also make his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance since becoming a starter last year.  The Steelers have a $100 million quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, but James Harrison is the team’s two-time MVP.  Think about that for a moment.

On a team with a tradition for great defenses, James Harrison broke the Steelers’ all-time record for sacks in a season.  Neither Joe Greene, nor Jack Lambert, nor Greg Lloyd, nor Kevin Greene, nor Jack Ham, nor Joey Porter, nor Jason Gildon, nor L.C. Greenwood, nor any other Steeler has ever harrassed opposing quarterbacks like James Harrison did this year.  When you think about all of the Hall-of-Famers who have played for the Steelers, that’s pretty amazing.

Sure, there are other defensive players who deserve attention.  DeMarcus Ware and former Steeler Joey Porter both had more sacks than Harrison.  But in many ways, they’re both one trick ponies.  Ravens’ safety Ed Reed and Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu also had fantastic seasons.  But they didn’t fill stat sheets like Harrison.  Same with Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth.  He had a great year.  Just not as great as Harrison’s.

Harrison’s off-field demeanor is so quiet and understated that it’s easy too overlook his accomplishments.  No defensive player filled stat sheets quite the way Harrison did.  Harrison ended the season ranked #4 in sacks.  However, unlike the 3 players who were ahead of him, Harrison is asked to do far more than sack the quarterback.  Harrison had 17 more tackles than sack leader DeMarcus Ware, 54 more than Joey Porter, and 63 more than John Abraham.

Anyone who has ever watched James Harrison play has probably noticed that he isn’t satisfied with simply sacking a quarterback.  When Harrison sacks a quarterback, he seems to think that forcing a fumble is also a requirement.  He led the league with 7 forced fumbles.

Harrison was tied for second in the NFL in forced safeties.  How many did Albert Haynesworth force?  zero.  How about DeMarcus Ware?  Zero.  Joey Porter?  Zero.

If you look at the league leaders in total tackles, you notice that this statistic is traditionally dominated by inside/middle linebackers and safeties, the guys who roam the middle of the field.  If we eliminate the inside/middle linebackers and safeties, and look at tackles by players at all other positions, James Harrison is 9th in the NFL.  Even when you add the inside/middle linebackers and safeties back into the statistics, Harrison is still 25th in the league.  Not bad for a guy who is only responsible for one side of the field, and who has to take on the opponent’s toughest offensive lineman (the left tackle) on every single play.

James Harrison is tied for 7th in the NFL in interceptions.  He has the same number as defensive backs Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, Jonathan Joseph, and Lawyer Milloy.

Harrison even has 4 passes defensed.  That may not sound like a lot, but for an outside linebacker, that it tremendous.  DeMarcus Ware has none.  Joey Porter has none.  See my point?

There is no doubt that Peyton Manning has had a great season.  And this Friday, I expect to hear his name called as this year’s NFL MVP.  But the reality is that Peyton Manning has not had as good a season as James Harrison.  In order to match what Harrison has done on defense, Manning would have to be among the league leaders in passing yards, rushing yards, punt return yards, kick return yards, and field goals.  That may sound like a ridiculous statement, but when you look at how broadly James Harrison has filled the defensive stat sheets, you quickly realize that it is an appropriate analogy.

Peyton Manning will probably receive his third NFL MVP Award this Friday.  However, those who truly understand football will know that he is merely babysitting James Harrison’s award, just like Marshall Faulk is babysitting Ray Lewis’.

If sportswriters had any courage, they would use their vote to correct this injustice.  But they don’t.  So they won’t.  Congratulations Peyton.

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Steelers spank Browns

December 29, 2008 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports, We hate the Browns!

December 28, 2008
By Donald Starver

I wrote a piece on Christmas day called Steelers vs. Browns Recap (In Advance).  In that piece, I stated that the outcome of the Steelers-Browns game was so inevitable that I could write the post-game recap before the game was even played.  Well, now that the game is over, I see that I wasn’t very far off.

I predicted that the Steelers would beat the Browns 31-6.  The actual score was 31-0.  I also said that the Steelers would keep the Browns from scoring a touchdown for their sixth consecutive game.  They did.  Lastly, I said that Romeo Crennel would be fired after the game.  I believe that will happen within the next 48 hours.

Now, back to the game.

The Steelers won by a score of 31-0, but the score should have been 45-0.  The Steelers had a touchdown brought back when a flag was thrown on Limas Sweed for holding on a Steelers’ touchdown.  Another touchdown was called back when the referees incorrectly said that a Browns’ fumble that Anthony Smith returned for a touchdown was an incomplete pass.  Steelers’ head coach should have challenged the ruling on the field, but for some reason he didn’t do so.  Had he challenged the play, it would have proven to be a Steelers touchdown.  Fortunately, we didn’t need those 14 points.

Despite the two lost touchdowns, nobody can complain about a 31-0 victory.  There were a couple of positive things about the game that should be mentioned.

First, wide receiver Hines Ward surpassed 1,000 yards receiving for the fifth time in his career.  He also caught his 800th career pass during the game.  Both are Steelers records.  Not a bad day’s work.

Also on the offensive side of the ball, running back Willie Parker ran for over 100 yards for the first time in…..way too long.  The Steelers need the running game operating on all cylinders if they’re going to be effective in the playoffs.    The 176 rushing yards that the Steelers accumulated Sunday against the Browns should make them feel good going into the playoffs.  Of course, the Bengals’ Cedrick Benson rushed for 171 yards last week against the Browns, so maybe we shouldn’t take too much comfort from this.

The Steelers’ defense held the Browns to 126 yards of offense.  That’s right, 126 yards.  Total.  Now that’s some mighty fine defense.  Bruce Gradkowski passed for 18 yards on 16 attempts.  If that’s not some kind of defensive record, then I’d sure like to see what defense allowed even fewer passing yards.

Steelers’ safety Tyrone Carter, who was starting in place of Ryan Clark due to injury, recorded 2 interceptions during the game.  He ran one of those interceptions back for a touchdown.

On the negative side, Ben Roethlisberger did have to leave the game due to a concussion.  Roethlisberger was hit hard by D’Qwell Jackson and Willie McGinest.  Roethlisberger stayed on the ground for a long period of time, and was finally carried off the field on a stretcher.  As he was leaving the field, Roethlisberger gave the thumbs up sign to the crowd to let the fans know that he was okay.

Mike Tomlin had planned to play Roethlisberger in the first half, and then play Byron Leftwich in the second half.  The plan almost worked, but Roethlisberger got hurt with only 1:58 left in the half.

Some will say that Roethlisberger shouldn’t have even played during a meaningless game, but that isn’t necessarily true.  There is no definitive answer to whether a coach should rest veterans late in the season.  The Colts rested their key players 3 years ago and then lost their very first playoff game because the players were rusty.  It’s a catch-22 for coaches.  If they don’t rest their players and they get hurt, then the coach will be questioned for playing them.  If the coach rest them and they lose in the playoffs, the coach will be questioned for allowing them to get rusty rather than keeping them in playing condition.  The coach just can’t win.

Every indication is that Big Ben should be fine for the Steelers’ first playoff game.  With the bye week, he will have two weeks to recover from the concussion that he incurred.  If Ben can’t go, the Steelers can take comfort knowing that they have a veteran QB like Byron Leftwich waiting in the wings.  Leftwich is a playoff veteran, and is more than capable of leading the Steelers’ offense.

Let the playoffs begin!

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Top 10 Reasons the Browns will lose to the Steelers

December 28, 2008 By: Admin Category: We hate the Browns!

As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to play the Cleveland Browns, I started thinking about the reasons why the Browns will lose.  Here are my top 10 reasons why the Browns will lose to the Steelers.

#10) Bruce Gradkowski is from Pittsburgh. He may be playing for Cleveland, but his heart will always be in Pittsburgh.  He hates the Browns as much as we do.

#9) Hines Ward. The only thing standing between Hines Ward and his fifth 1,000 yard season is the Cleveland Browns.  I’d hate to be the Browns.

1,000 yards baby!

1,000 yards, baby!

#8) The Browns were shut out by the Bengals. That’s right, the Bengals!  14-0.  It’s hard to lose to the Bengals, but getting shut out by them is nearly impossible.

#7) Any team that’s named after a color deserves to lose. Teams should be named after animals.  Or clever references to the town in which they play.  Or racist nicknames for native americans.  But teams should NOT be named after colors.  How would the Los Angeles Lime Greens sound?  About as silly as the Cleveland Browns.

#6) It’s one of the Ten Commandments

Thou shalt not steal

Thou shalt not kill

Cleveland shalt not defeat Pittsburgh

#5) Kellen Winslow Jr.



#4) Mike Tomlin won’t let the Steelers take the game for granted. Meaningless game?  Use that term in front of Mike Tomlin, and you might just get punched in the face.  Mike Tomlin plays to win.  Period!

There are no meaningless games.

There are no meaningless games!

#3) Eleven is the Browns’ lucky number. Why stop at 10 straight losses to the Steelers?

#2) Braylon Edwards.

Oops, I dropped it again!

Oops, I dropped it again!

#1)  Inferior coaching. Romeo Crennel is the Elmer Fudd of coaching.   Who else could take the Browns’ roster and get shut out by the Bengals?  Crennel belongs in the Hall of Fame of bad coaches.

Fourth and 20?  Let's go for it!

Fourth and 20? Ummm, let's go for it!

As you can see, the Browns have no chance of beating the Steelers.  Besides, they’re more comfortable losing.  Kellen Winslow Jr. is a born loser.  So is Braylon Edwards.  Why change now?

Generations of Cleveland fans have grown up losing to Pittsburgh.  It’s now genetically encoded into their DNA.  Cleveland losing to Pittsburgh is like The Penguin losing to Batman; it’s inevitable.

Losing to Pittsburgh is practically a law in Cleveland.  Fighting it would be like fighting gravity.  Some things are just meant to be.

So let’s watch and enjoy the game despite its inevitable conclusion.  Go Steelers!!!!

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Steelers vs. Browns Preview

December 28, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses, We hate the Browns!

By Donald Starver

Today the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns in what should be a meaningless game.  However, we’ve all learned by now that Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t allow his team to become complacent.  Not even for a meaningless game.  So Tomlin is using the goal of sweeping the AFC North as motivation to make sure that his team doesn’t have a letdown.

I’ve heard differing opinions about Coach Tomlin, but this writer really likes him.  I love the way that he makes sure the Steelers stay focused.  Can anyone even imagine Coach Tomlin allowing his team to lose on purpose?  Neither can I.  Even if the Steelers had one of the worst records in the NFL, I think Tomlin would still want to win, rather than lose intentionally to get a better draft pick.  Some would say that would be poor strategy.  Perhaps they’re right.  But I still love the fact that he wants to win, no matter what.  In my opinion, that unquenchable urge to win is a consistent trait of champions.  Michael Jordan had it.  Derek Jeter has it.  Tom Brady has it.  And Mike Tomlin has it.

Because of Tomlin’s desire to win, we will probably see Ben Roethlisberger start the game.  So will Willie Parker.  So will Hines Ward.  Tomlin will not use this as an opportunity to get Limas Sweed some catches.  Or to see what Tony Hills can do in the starting lineup.  He won’t use it as an opportunity to see what Gary Davis could do if he got 20 carries.

The one thing that’s for sure is that Tomlin will rest safety Ryan Clark who injured his shoulder during the Tennessee Titans game.  Ryan will be needed for the playoffs, so he will get some much needed rest.  But everyone else will probably play.  Even linebacker James Harrison, who injured his hip during the Titans game.  Knowing Silverback, he wouldn’t want to sit out the game even if Coach Tomlin suggested it.  Harrison would probably prefer to add to his sack total, which is already a Steelers’ record.

If the Steelers get a lead, we will probably see Byron Leftwich replace Big Ben.  But other than that, don’t expect to see anything but the Steelers fighting to win another game.

The game won’t be meaningless to the Browns either.  Their fans are already disappointed enough with their team.  They came into the season as the favorites to win the AFC North.  The NFL thought that they had so much potential that they scheduled them for at least 5 nationally televised games.  That never happens to a team that didn’t even make the playoffs the previous season.  To salvage a very disappointing season, the Browns need a win over the Steelers.

Browns head coach Romeo Crennel is definitely on the hot seat.  His team has underperformed more than any other team this year except the Dallas Cowboys.  Crennel had better start updating his resume, because he is probably going to need it if the Browns lose today.

Not only have the Browns lost when they were expected to win, but Crennel has also become known for making baffling coaching decisions.  Unusual play calls can make a coach look like a genius if they work, and if the team wins.  But when the team loses, and the plays don’t work, the coach ends up looking like an idiot.  That’s where Crennel finds himself.  Idiot is tattooed on his forehead.

Despite desparately wanting a win over the Steelers, it won’t be easy for the Browns.  They have already lost 10 games in a row to the Steelers.  Despite having many talented players on their roster, the Browns found a way to get shut out by the Cincinnati Bengals last week.  That’s right, they were shut out by the Bungles.  There is only one logical conclusion to draw from that; the Browns suck!

To make things even worse, the Browns are going to have to face the Steelers with their 4th starting quarterback of the season.  Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are both on injured reserve (IR).  Ken Dorsey got hurt last week, and he won’t be able to go today.  So the Browns are forced to start Bruce Gradkowski, who wasn’t even on the Browns’ roster in November.

Gradkowski is a Pittsburgh native who played high school football at Seton-LaSalle.  I’m sure that as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, he probably fantasized about being on the field with the black and gold.  But in those fantasies, he probably wasn’t playing for the Browns.  And he probably wasn’t running for his life from Steelers’ linebackers.  Gradkowski’s dream has somehow morphed into his worst nightmare.

Some of the Steelers also have something special to play for.  Wide receiver Hines Ward needs just 27 receiving yards to break 1,000 yards for the season.  This would be Ward’s fifth 1,000 yard season of his career.  Not bad for a guy who was always thought to be too small and too slow.  Take that, Troy Edwards!

Though Mike Tomlin will strive to get another Steelers’ victory today, I believe that we will see some players that we haven’t seen much of.    Why not allow Lawrence Timmons to start, and possibly even play the entire game?  Let’s see what the former #1 draft pick can do when given the opportunity.  He’s shown us glimpses already.  Why not turn him loose on the Browns.  Same thing with Limas Sweed.  Throw the kid some balls and see if he can catch or not.

One Steelers rookie who just might see some playing time today is QB Dennis Dixon.  The Steelers have had Dixon imitate Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs during practice.  Cribbs is the Browns’ featured player when they go to their “wildcat” offense.  Dixon was apparently so effective running the offense in practice, that several Steelers defensive players requested that the Steelers use him during the game.  They said that if the Steelers’ defense couldn’t stop Dixon, the Browns’ defense won’t be able to either.

“I think we can make plays with him on offense,” inside linebacker James Farrior said of Dixon. “The man’s a great athlete”.  That’s pretty high praise coming from the Steelers’ defensive captain.

The Steelers’ offense has struggled this year, and I don’t think they should ignore any opportunity to add a spark to their offensive attack.  More importantly, this is their final opportunity to fine tune their offense before the playoffs start.

The Steelers must get their running game on track.  The Steelers, who have historically been a running team, have struggled to run the ball this year.  Even running back Willie Parker has said that the Steelers have gone away from playing “Steelers football”.  The running game is going to be vital for the Steelers in the playoffs.

Hopefully, we will see the Steelers working to impose their will on the Browns’ defensive line.  The Steelers have to find a way to get short yardage when they need it.  They haven’t been able run the ball effectively in short yardage situations for most of the year.  I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is getting tired of seeing the Steelers running game get stuffed on 3rd downs.

So, both the Steelers and the Browns have something to play for this week.  This might not be a meaningless game afterall.

Also please see our Top 10 Reasons the Browns Will Lose To The Steelers found here.

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Steelers vs. Browns recap (in advance)

December 26, 2008 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports, We hate the Browns!

Merry Christmas Steelers fans.  It’s Christmas day, and I’m traveling due to the holidays.  I don’t know how much access I am going to have to a computer while I’m on vacation.  Therefore, I decided to write my recap of this coming Sunday’s Steelers-Browns game now.  Some of you may be asking yourselves “how can he write a recap of the game before the game even happens?”  Well the answer to that question is pretty simple.  The Steelers have beaten the Browns 10 straight times.  The Browns haven’t scored a touchdown in five straight games.  So do you really think my recap will be that different if I write it before the game or after the game?  Neither do I.  Therefore, without further ado I present my Steelers-Browns recap.  Have a very happy holiday.

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers played the final regular season game of the 2008 season against their long-time rivals the Cleveland Browns.  The Browns came into the game nursing a bruised ego due to ten consecutive losses to the Steelers.

Both teams were seeking to rebound from losses the previous week.  The Steelers lost to the Tennessee Titans 31-14.  Meanwhile, the Browns were shut out by the lowly Cincinnati Bengals 14-0.

In what should have been a meaningless game for both teams, the Steelers entered the game determined to win and finish a sweep of their AFC North opponents.  When asked about resting veterans, Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear that his goal was to win the game, not to rest players for the playoffs.

The Browns were forced to start Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback.  Gradkowski had only joined the Browns 3 weeks earlier.  Both Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson had been placed on injured reserve (IR) by the Browns, then third string quarterback Ken Dorsey suffered a concussion and bruised ribs last week.  Thus, the Browns were forced to start Gradkowski at quarterback.

Gradkowski faced pressure from the very beginning.  Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau chose to start linebacker James Harrison despite a hip injury that Harrison had suffered last week against the Titans, and Harrison proved that to be a smart decision.  In the first quarter, Harrison beat Browns tackle Joe Thomas and recorded his 17th sack of the season.  Fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley also got into the action and sacked Gradkowski in the first quarter.

To make matters even more difficult for Gradkowski, Browns’ starting wide receiver Braylon Edwards dropped several passes that probably should have been caught.  Edwards has been a model of consistency this season.  Prior to Sunday’s game against the Steelers, Edwards had recorded a reception in 57 consecutive games.  Unfortunately, Edwards had also dropped at least one catchable pass in 75 consecutive games.

Edwards has not been a fan favorite in Cleveland, and earlier in the year, he claimed that Browns fans didn’t like him because he played for Michigan.  He failed to consider the possibility that fans might not like him because he drops too many passes.

Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor shadowed Braylon Edwards through most of the game.  He harassed him all game long, and caused Edwards to end the game without a single reception, thus ending his 57 game streak.

Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. whined through much of the game, and he was actually seen crying several times during the game after hits by Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu.

Browns head coach Romeo Crennel made several puzzling calls during the game, including attempting a 73 yard field goal, three failed on-side kicks, punting the ball from the Steelers’ 13 yard line rather than attempting a field goal, and calling a quarterback sneak on a 4th and 11 play.  Crennel was fired immediately following the game.

On offense, the Steelers were able to run the ball at will.  This didn’t come as much of a surprise, since Bengals running back Cedrick Benson had torched the Browns for 171 yards rushing the previous week.  Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore combined for over 200 yards rushing.

Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had fumbled 4 times and thrown 2 interceptions against the Tennessee Titans, was much more careful with the ball this week.  Roethlisberger completed 11 of 13 passes in the first half and threw 1 touchdown pass before being replaced by backup Byron Leftwich in the second half.  Despite his earlier claim that he had no intention of resting players, Coach Mike Tomlin decided to sit Roethlisberger for the entire second half in an apparent effort to avoid injuring his quarterback during a meaningless game.

Replacing Roethlisberger, Leftwich threw 2 touchdown passes in the second half.  Running back Mewelde Moore also ran for a touchdown.

The Steelers’ defense kept the Browns from scoring a touchdown for a sixth straight game, as the Steelers beat the Browns 31-6.  The Browns were able to score two field goals, but were kept out of the endzone by the stingy Steelers defense.

The Steelers will now get to rest during their first round playoff bye.  They will await the results of the first round playoff games to see who they will play in round two.  Regardless of who their opponent will be, the Steelers take comfort in knowing that they will have to come to Heinz Field where the Steelers are very hard to beat.

Also, please see our Top 10 Reasons the Browns Will Lose To The Steelers found here.

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