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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens preview

October 01, 2010 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

There’s really only one appropriate way to begin a Pittsburgh Steelers versus Baltimore Ravens game:

Unfortunately, the NFL probably has rules against that.

Anybody who has ever watched a Steelers/Ravens game knows that anytime these two teams get together, we are in for a heavyweight prize fight.  No wimps need apply.

Things will be no different this year when the 3-0 Steelers face the 2-1 Ravens.

Contrary to current trends in the NFL which seem to indicate that offense wins championships (after all, it was Peyton Manning’s Colts that faced Drew Brees’ Saints in the last Super Bowl), these two teams still do it the old-fashioned way; with defense.

Each time the Steelers and Ravens face one another, it’s always a battle to determine which team has the best defense.  This isn’t a new trend.  It’s been going on for quite some time.  Since 2000, the Steelers have been #1 in the NFL in total defense (280 yards allowed per game), while the Ravens are right behind them at #2 (283.6 YPG).  The Ravens have the league’s top scoring defense during that span (17.0 points per game), while the Steelers are #2 at 17.3 points per game.

Get up. I dare you.

This year, both teams have a legitimate argument for being crowned top defense.

If you base your ranking on which team has allowed the fewest yards per game, the Ravens are #1 in the NFL.  However, if you base your ranking on which team has allowed the fewest points per game, then the Steelers are #1 in the NFL.

If you look at which team is harder to pass on, then the nod would have to go to Baltimore.  The Ravens have the #1 passing defense in the NFL so far.

If you look at which team is harder to run on, then the Steelers definitely have an advantage.  The Steelers have held three premiere running backs to almost no rushing yards.  Atlanta’s Michael Turner rushed for 42 yards, Tennessee’s Chris Johnson ran for 34 yards, and Tampa Bay’s Cadillac Williams ran for 13 yards.  That’s less than 100 COMBINED rushing yards for the 3 star running backs.

Baltimore, on the other hand, hasn’t been quite as hard to run on.  Last week some guy named Peyton Hillis (who?) ran for 144 yards against the Ravens.  Or was it 1,044 yards?  I forget.  But I know that Ray Lewis is probably still having nightmares about that game.

Steelers/Ravens games are so defensively oriented that I don’t think that fans of either team would be opposed to the idea of letting both defenses take the field simultaneously and just fight until only one team is left standing.

But once again, the NFL probably wouldn’t go for that, so the offenses are going to have to take the field as well.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw 3 TD passes to WR Anquan Boldin last week against the Cleveland Browns.  Not to be outdone, Steelers 4th string QB Charlie Batch also threw 3 touchdown passes; 2 to Mike Wallace, and 1 to Hines Ward.    Obviously, we don’t expect Batch to do this every week, but all he has to do is be successful enough in the passing game to keep Baltimore’s defense honest so they can’t stack the line to stop Rashard Mendenhall.

Mendenhall is having a breakout season this year.  He rushed for 143 yards last week against Tampa Bay, and he has accumulated 332 rushing yards in the Steelers first 3 games.

Charlie Batch should prove to be the key to a Steelers’ victory.  If he can mix it up and show the Ravens early on that he is a passing threat, the Steelers will win this game.

I expect Charlie to do exactly that.  I predict that the Steelers will beat the Ravens 21-10, and Big Ben is going to find himself returning to a team with a 4-0 record.  Who woulda thunk it?


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James Harrison > Ed Reed

January 06, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players

As you’ve probably heard by now, Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press.  This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.  Afterall, Harrison was the only defensive player to receive any votes for NFL MVP.

Despite the obvious logic of the choice of Harrison as DPOY, I have been hearing lots of negative comments about the selection.  Several commentators on ESPN and NFL Network have implied that the award should have gone to Baltimore Ravens’ safety Ed Reed.  Some have argued that Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware should have gotten the award.  But the outcry has been far more noticeable for Reed.  This is probably due to the fact that Reed has been on a tear as of late.  He recorded two interceptions in the Ravens’ playoff game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.  He also had two interceptions in each of the Ravens last two regular season games.  That’s 6 interceptions in 3 games.  Pretty impressive.  But does it qualify Reed for DPOY?  No.

Let’s take a closer look at Ed Reed’s numbers.  Fans remember seeing Reed on SportsCenter returning interceptions for touchdowns.  It seemed like he was doing it all the time, right?  Wrong.  Ed Reed had two “pick sixes” during the regular season.  Two.  Not 6.  Not ten.  Two.  But “pick sixes” are a SportsCenter producer’s opium.  They can’t get enough of it.  So when one happens, they show it over, and over, and over, and over again.  Pretty soon we start to think that Ed Reed has twelve of them.  But he only had two.

We have to give credit where it is due.  Ed Reed did lead the NFL in interceptions.  He had nine.  That’s pretty impressive.  But six of those came during the Ravens’ last four games.  That means that for the first 12 weeks of the season, Reed had only 3 interceptions.  Not sounding so impressive anymore, is it?  After week 12 of the season, NOBODY was mentioning Ed Reed for any type of post-season award.

If you look at the entirety of the season, you’ll notice two things.  Firstly, you’ll quickly see that Ed Reed had a below average first 3/4′s of the season.  Second, you’ll notice that Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu had a better season than Reed.  Let’s compare their numbers.  Reed had 9 interceptions, Polamalu had 7.  Reed had 25 passes defensed, Polamalu had 24.  Reed had two touchdowns, Troy had none (But he really had one.  The NFL acknowledged that the refs blew the call when the Steelers played the Chargers, and that Polamalu’s touchdown should have counted).  So overall, their stats look pretty similar.  But the area where Polamalu really blows Reed out of the water is in total tackles.  You know, the primary thing that defensive players get paid to do.  Reed ended the season with 41 tackles, while Troy Polamalu had 73.  That’s 32 more tackles than Ed Reed!  For the mathematically inclined among you, that’s 78% more.  Seventy eight #$%%^# percent!  Which would you rather have from a defensive player, 2 extra interceptions or 78% more tackles?

SportsCenter never talks about tackles.  Tackles aren’t sexy.  Instead, they want “pick sixes”.  They want 75 yard touchdown runs.  They want helmet shattering hits.  They want touchdown celebrations.  They want the spectacular.  They elevate style over substance.  But football is won by fundamental blocking and tackling.  It’s about substance, not style.  And Troy Polamalu’s season had more substance than Ed Reed’s.

So, not only was Ed Reed’s season not better than James Harrison’s, it wasn’t even better than Troy Polamalu’s.

I wrote an article called The Case for James Harrison as NFL MVP.  It can be found here.  In that article, I outlined all of James Harrison’s accomplishments this season.  Rather than rehash them here, I’ll let you go back and read that article.  Suffice it to say that Harrison’s season eclipses Troy Polamalu’s, and I’ve just shown that Polamalu’s was better than Ed Reed’s.  My fourth grade math teacher would write that relationship as follows:

James Harrison > Troy Polamalu > Ed Reed

So all of you Ed Reed apologists can climb back into the closet that you crawled out of.  Ed Reed wasn’t even the league’s best safety this season, much less it’s best defensive player.  James Harrison was, without a doubt, the best defensive player in the NFL this year.  Ed Reed had 3 great games.  James Harrison had an incredible season.

Congratulations Silverback.  You earned the DPOY award.  How about a Lombardi Trophy to complete the set?

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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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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans Preview

December 19, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

The time is finally here. Let’s get it on!

Is it just me, or has the rest of Steeler Nation been looking forward to this game since about week 9 of the season? Back then, the Titans were undefeated, and I just knew in my heart that the Steelers could beat them. I hoped that nobody would beat them before the Steelers got the opportunity to exert their dominance over them.

Of course, the New York Jets ruined that dream when they beat the Titans 34-13 in Tennessee. Then the Houston Texans further messed up my fantasy by beating the Titans last week by a score of 13-12.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot on the line when the Steelers play the Titans this Sunday. Both teams have already clinched a first round playoff bye. But the winner of this game will gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Some will say that home field advantage may not be a good thing for either of these teams. Afterall, the Titans were 13-3 in 2000 and had earned home field throughout the playoffs, but lost their very first game. Similarly, the Steelers had the #1 seed in 1994, 2001, and 2004, but lost in the conference championship at home each time. To that, I say “phooey”! Only a complete idiot would say that earning home field advantage is not a good thing. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. The Steelers should want home field advantage.

By gaining home field advantage, they will have the benefit of having the crowd on their side. They will also avoid unnecessary travel that can take so much out of a player. They will get to sleep in their own beds, and eat their own food. That’s worth a lot. And most importantly, the Steelers should want to earn home field advantage as a gift to their fans. Sure, Steeler Nation will follow the black and gold wherever they go. But what could possibly be better than playing all of their playoff games in the ‘Burgh in front of the world’s greatest fans?

As investment companies say, “past performance is not an indication of future results”. That’s how I feel about the Steelers’ past playoff history with home field advantage. It is meaningless. Those games have nothing to do with the ones that the Steelers will play this year. Home field advantage is a prize that is to be sought. Period.

A win over the Cleveland Browns in the final game of the season is essentially guaranteed. Afterall, the Browns haven’t beaten the Steelers since…… ummmm, I can’t even remember when it was. But I’m pretty sure that Jim Brown was still playing for Cleveland at the time.

Since the win over Cleveland is all but assured, the Titans are the only real obstacle in the Steelers’ quest for home field advantage. That is why this may be the most important game of the season.

The Tennessee Titans are the AFC’s #1 ranked running offense. Unfortunately, they are about to run into the AFC’s #1 ranked rushing defense. The Titans average 142.8 yards per game on the ground. However, the Steelers’ defense is only giving up 75.8 rushing yards per game. Something has got to give.

The Titans’ rushing attack is led by the running back tandem of LenDale White and Chris Johnson. They go by the nickname of “Smash ‘n Dash”. However, like Clinton Portis, Brandon Jacobs, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee, Fred Taylor, and Brian Westbrook before them, “Smash ‘n Dash” is about to find out that nobody can run against the Steelers’ defense. Nobody. White and Johnson don’t know it yet, but the Steelers are going to crash and bash “Smash ‘n Dash”.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans won’t present the challenge that they might have earlier in the season. Two of their best defensive players, DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, are out with injuries. The Titans don’t blitz much as a team. Instead they rely on their 4 man rush. Without two of their four front line players, their rush will be greatly diminished. That’s bad news for the Titans, but great news for Big Ben.

With their pass rush rendered impotent, Ben Roethlisberger should pick the Titans’ secondary apart. Last week, Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson burned the Titans for over 200 receiving yards. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes may not get that many yards, but they should have a good game.

Barring divine intervention, there is little doubt in my mind that the Steelers are going to beat the Titans. The Steelers are a better team, and they’ve faced better opposition. The Steelers’ opponents this season are a combined 98-95-2, while the Titans’ opponents are 82-113-1.

The Titans are merely the next rung on the ladder that the Steelers have to climb. I predict a final score of Steelers 24, Titans 10.

If you like the picture above, you can download it here. It is a Steelers cheer card. They are available for free at Check them out before each game.

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview

December 13, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Baltimore, MD to take on their AFC North rivals, the Baltimore Ravens.  Last week, the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 20-13, while the Ravens defeated the Washington Redskins 24-10.

The Steelers and Ravens are locked in a race to the finish for the AFC North crown.  The Steelers stand at 10-3, and have a one game lead over the 9-4 Ravens.  If the Ravens win on Sunday, the two teams will be deadlocked at 10-4.  If this should occur, it actually favors the Ravens, who have a slightly easier schedule the rest of the way.

In week 16, the Steelers have to travel to Tennessee to take on the 12-1 Tennessee Titans.  The Titans have the best record in the NFL, and are the only AFC team that has already clinched their division.  The Ravens, on the other hand will be traveling to Dallas to take on the 8-5 Dallas Cowboys.  The Cowboys are locked in the midst of T.O. drama (no surprise there), and seem to be intent upon imploding as the season draws to a close.

In week 17, both teams will conclude their season with home games.  The Steelers will play the 4-9 Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, while the Ravens will play the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Stadium.

The Steelers’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 16-10, while the Ravens’ opponents are 12-14.  That is why winning this week is so important for the Steelers.

As we look at the two teams, we see teams that are very similar.  Both are defensive powerhouses, with mediocre offenses.  The Steelers’ defense comes into the game ranked #1 in the NFL.  The Ravens’ defense is right behind them, ranked #2 in the NFL.  Contrarily, the Ravens’ offense is ranked #19 in the NFL, while the Steelers offense is ranked #25.  Neither offense is going to keep the opposing defensive coordinator awake at night.  The defenses on the other hand…….  Let’s just say that both offensive coordinators have probably been drinking Maalox as though it were orange juice this week.

Looking at the two defenses, we see defenses with slightly different strengths.  The Steelers are very good at getting pressure on the quarterback.  They have generated 45 sacks as opposed to only 28 by the Ravens.  The difference is primarily attributable to the Steelers dynamic duo of outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.  Harrison and Woodley have combined for almost as many sacks (26.5) as the entire Ravens defense (28).   The pressure that the Steelers are likely to apply to Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco has likely been the focus of Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.  He has likely had his running backs and tight ends practicing blocking schemes to support the offensive linemen.  Everyone’s primary responsibility will be to keep Joe Flacco on his feet instead of on his butt.

The Ravens defense poses a slightly different challenge.  What Bruce Arians has been focusing on is probably how to deal with the Ravens tremendous ability to generate turnovers.  Unlike the Steelers, the Ravens don’t dominate teams by sacking their quarterback.  Instead, the Ravens’ strength is in their secondary.  They are exceptional at generating interceptions.  In fact, as a unit, the Ravens lead the NFL in interceptions.  Troy Polamalu may be the individual interception leader, but the Ravens lead as a unit.  Moreover, they are very good at turning those interceptions into scores. 

Bruce Arians has probably spent a lot of time this week with Ben Roethlisberger coaching him on being careful with his passes and making sure that he doesn’t try to force passes into coverage or to throw passes when he is under pressure.  Untimely interceptions can be devastating when playing a team like Baltimore.  The Steelers’ defense can probably control the Ravens’ offense, but a pick six or two by Big Ben could prove to be disastrous.

When the #1 defense in the NFL squares off against the #2 defense, it’s not likely to be a high scoring affair.  A final score of 6-3 is not out of the question.  3-2 might even be possible.  We don’t think it will be that bad, but 49-42 is highly unlikely.

If When the Steelers win this weekend, they will break a 5 year drought in Baltimore.  We predict the Steelers will begin a winning streak in Baltimore on Sunday with a 17-7 victory.

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