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Troy Polamalu’s interception clinches game for Steelers

January 19, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players, Post-Game Reports

The play that finally slammed the door on the Baltimore Ravens’ chances of beating the Steelers and moving on to the Super Bowl was Troy Polamalu’s interception that he returned for a touchdown.

Prior to the game, all anyone talked about was Ed Reed and his uncanny ability to generate interceptions and return them for touchdowns.  Everyone seemed to forget that the Steelers have a pretty good safety too.  His name is Troy Polamalu!!

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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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Way to go, Ike!

December 09, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players

As our regular readers know, we have been pretty hard on Ike Taylor at times.  It’s not that we don’t like Ike.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  We love Ike.  When T.O., or Randy Moss, or Plax are in town, there is not a cornerback that we’d rather have covering them than Ike Taylor.

Unfortunately, when there is an easy interception to be had, there is nobody we’d like attempting to catch it less than Ike Taylor.  Let’s face it, Ike has hands of stone.  I know a guy who had both of his hands amputated who can catch better than Ike.

Some of you felt that we were being too hard on Ike when we wrote an article called “Catch the damn ball, Ike!!!”.  Perhaps we were a bit hard on him.  That’s why we are taking the time now to publically acknowledge Ike Taylor’s great performance this past week against Dallas.

Ike did a tremendous job of shutting down Terrell Owens (on T.O.’s birthday even) this past Sunday.  In fact, in consecutive weeks, Ike has held Randy Moss and Terrell Owens to 45 yards receiving and 32 yards receiving, respectively.  More importantly, he only allowed 1 touchdown between the two of them.  That lone touchdown only happened because the Steelers dropped both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley into coverage on the play.  That left Tony Romo with plenty of time to finally find T.O. in the back of the endzone.  If either Silverback or Woodley had been pursuing Romo, there’s no way that touchdown happens.  But even Ike can’t cover T.O. indefinitely.

Anyone who watched the game on Sunday knows that there was one extraordinary moment that stood out above all others.  No, we’re not talking about Deshea Townsend’s game winning pick six.  Try again.  Nope, we’re not talking about Troy Polamalu’s 7th interception.  Care to take another guess?  Nope, we’re not talking about Hines Ward’s 159th consecutive game with a catch.  Guess again.  No, we’re not talking about James Harrison’s 7,000th (or at least it seems like that many) sack/forced fumble combination.  No, silly rabbits, we’re talking about Ike Taylor’s first interception of the season.  Yahoo!!!!!!!

Ike snagged his first interception of the year on a diving catch that actually had a pretty high degree of difficulty.  Any interception by Ike is cause for celebration, but a diving interception is cause for a party in “the Burgh”.  Light the fireworks!  Release the pigeons!!

We’re not going to mention the fact that Troy Polamalu has 7 interceptions.  Or that seldom-used backup safety Tyrone Carter already has an interception.  Or that linebacker LaMarr Woodley has as many picks as Ike.  Or that fellow sackmaster James Harrison also has as many picks as Ike.  Moreover, we’re not going to mention that backup linebacker Lawrence Timmons also has the same number of interceptions as Ike.  Nope, we’re not going to mention any of that.  We’re just going to let Ike have his moment in the sun.

Savor this moment.  Afterall, seeing an Ike Taylor interception is about as rare as…..well, seeing a unicorn.  There are even those who put Ike Taylor interceptions into the same mythical category as unicorns.  But this Sunday, Ike proved them wrong.  The Loch Ness Monster may not exist.  Bigfoot may be an urban legend.  but Ike Taylor interceptions really do happen.

Look what we saw on Sunday

Look what we saw on Sunday

Ike may not catch another interception before the end of the season (or the end of the decade for that matter).  But as long as he keeps running stride-for-stride with the best receivers in the league, we want him lining up for the black and gold.  In fact, we wouldn’t trade him for any other cornerback.

We all know what we get with Ike Taylor.  Ike is paid to shadow the league’s best receivers and defense passes.  Nobody expects him to intercept the ball.  An occasional interception is just icing on the cake.  Way to go, Ike!

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Troy Polamalu interception versus Chargers

November 17, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players

For those of you who didn’t see Troy Polamalu’s interception yesterday against the San Diego Chargers, here it is. Even if you saw it, this play is so good that it deserves another look. It’s plays like this that show why Troy is a Pro Bowl safety.

Here we go Steelers, here we go!!

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Catch the damn ball, Ike!

November 12, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players, We hate the Browns!

In the Steelers’ game against the Colts, Ike Taylor had two opportunities to defend (and perhaps even intercept) passes, that unfortunately were instead tipped and caught by opposing receivers. If Taylor had been able to intercept one or both of those passes, the results of the game would have probably been very different.

But of course, Ike didn’t intercept the passes. Ike seldom intercepts passes. Heck, if I had a dollar for every potential interception that Ike Taylor has dropped, I’d be a rich man.

That is why I am officially introducing a new term into the Steelers lexicon. My new word is “ike”. No, not the name Ike. This “ike” is a verb. It means “to drop a catchable pass”. Here is the word used in a sentence; “Tony Romo was disappointed when a wide open Terrell Owens iked his pass”. Here is another example, “Big Ben thought about throwing Dallas Baker the ball, but he hesitated because he thought Baker would ike the ball”. See how it works? “Ike” is a new verb.

Some will argue that I am being unnecessarily mean to Ike Taylor. They will argue that Ike Taylor is the Steelers’ best cornerback. They will tell of how he is often called upon to shadow the opposing team’s best receiver. I’ve even heard some Steelers fans say that he is one of the best shut down corners in the NFL. I tend to disagree.

I do agree that Ike Taylor has exceptional physical tools. At 6’2″, he is a “big” cornerback. Moreover, he is fast enough to run with just about any receiver in the league. Those are great credentials for any aspiring cornerback.

Despite Ike’s impressive physical talents, I don’t think he is an elite cornerback. I sat down and listed the players that I considered to be the top cornerbacks in the NFL. Ike Taylor didn’t make my top 10. In fact, he barely made my top 20.

The players who immediately came to mind when I thought of the league’s best cornerbacks were people like (in no particular order) Champ Bailey, Dre Bly, Nate Clements, Asante Samuel, Lito Sheppard, Rashean Mathis, Marcus Trufant, Ronde Barber and Chris McAlister. All are smaller (and probably slower) than Ike Taylor, but all are undoubtedly better than Ike.

Even among the Steelers’ cornerbacks, Ike Taylor may not be the best. Before he got hurt, Bryant McFadden was establishing himself as the Steelers’ best cornerback. And DeShea Townsend has always made up for his limited physical tools by being a heady player who rarely makes mistakes.

Bryant McFadden has played in about half as many games as Ike Taylor, yet he has the same number of career interceptions. Ike Taylor averages the lowest number of interceptions per game among the Steelers’ 3 key cornerbacks. This is particularly disappointing because Taylor averages the highest number of passes defensed per game. That means that he has more opportunities to make interceptions. However, when you look at his ratio of interceptions to passes defensed, Taylor’s ratio is less than half that of either Bryant McFadden or DeShea Townsend. Both Townsend and McFadden will make approximately one interception for each 4 passes defensed. Taylor, on the other hand, intercepts one pass out of every 10 passes defensed.

When we look below at my list of the league’s best cornerbacks, we see that Ike Taylor’s career average for interceptions per game is the lowest on the list.

Player/Interceptions per game
Asante Samuel/.30
Champ Bailey/.29
Rashean Mathis/.28
Ty Law/.28
Dre Bly/.26
Nate Clements/.23
Lito Sheppard/.21
Ronde Barber/.19
Chris McAlister/.19
Marcus Trufant/.18
Ike Taylor/.08

His career average of .08 interceptions per game is less than half that of the next lowest cornerback on my list (Marcus Trufant averages .18 interceptions per game). Champ Bailey and Asante Samuel both average almost .30 interceptions per game.

I believe that most fans would agree about what separates good cornerbacks from great cornerbacks. Good cornerbacks block the pass. Great cornerbacks intercept the pass.

Player/career interceptions

Ty Law/52
Champ Bailey/43
Dre Bly/38
Ronde Barber/33
Nate Clements/28
Chris McAlister/26
Asante Samuel/25
Rashean Mathis/24
Lito Sheppard/18
Marcus Trufant/16
Ike Taylor/7

Someone once said that “if defensive backs could catch, they’d be wide receivers”. This is probably true. With Ike’s size and speed, I’m sure that at some point in his football career, a coach has tried to turn him into a wide receiver. But that experiment probably didn’t last very long.

To be fair, interceptions are not the only measure of a cornerback. Ike Taylor averages more passes defensed per game than every cornerback on my top CB list except for Asante Samuel and Marcus Trufant.

Passes defensed/game
Asante Samuel/.90
Marcus Trufant/.89
Ike Taylor/.79
Rashean Mathis/.69
Chris McAlister/.66
Nate Clements/.64
Lito Sheppard/.63
Champ Bailey/.62
Dre Bly/.60
Ronde Barber/.52

That means he is tough to throw against. Very tough. He is also a very good tackler. However, if he were able to increase his interception rate to anything close to the league average, I believe he could be a Pro Bowl cornerback. Moreover, he could have a game changing impact on a Steelers defense that is already one of the best in the league.

During training camp this summer, it was reported that Ike Taylor was working out with the wide receivers. The media mentioned that story once or twice. If the Steelers’ receivers were honest, they’d probably admit that they kicked Taylor out of their practices because they got tired of watching him ike the ball.

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