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Challengers to the throne

July 12, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

July 12, 2009
By Donald Starver

I was asked by Most Valuable Network (MVN) to write a 2009 season preview on the Steelers.  In this article, I made a statement that upset some Steelers fans.  I stated that I didn’t think that the Steelers were the best team in the NFL last season.

If you think back to the 2008 season, you’ll remember that the Steelers were soundly defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles.  Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to facing them again.  Similarly, the Tennessee Titans manhandled the Steelers during the regular season.  Perhaps it is blasphemous for me to say this, but I breathed a sigh of relief when the Baltimore Ravens knocked the Titans out of the playoffs.  The New York Giants had also beaten the Steelers during the regular season.  Though that game was much more competitive than the Eagles or Titans games, I still think the Steelers and Giants were pretty evenly matched, and a rematch could have gone either way.  Lastly, who predicted that the Arizona Cardinals, the lowest seed in the NFC playoffs, would take out the top-seeded Carolina Panthers?  The Panthers were probably the hottest team in the NFL going into the playoffs.  One could have made an argument that any of these teams was actually better than the Steelers.

So were the Steelers the best team in the NFL in 2008?  There’s no way of knowing.  But the Steelers got it done when it counted, and that is all that anyone will ever remember.  Moreover, that’s all that counts.

Going into 2009, the Steelers appear to be just as good as they were in 2008, if not better.  The team returns almost all of the starters from their Super Bowl championship team. They are likely to  get a greater contribution from their 2008 rookie class (which made almost no impact last year).   They also had an excellent 2009 draft.  Combine that with a much easier schedule than they had in 2008, and the Steelers appear to be guaranteed to make another deep playoff run.

Unfortunately, the rest of the NFL isn’t just going to hand the Steelers the title.  If the Steelers want to repeat as champions, they are going to have to hold off several worthy challengers to the throne.

Below is my list of the teams that may pose the greatest challenge to the Steelers’ continued dominance.  Please note that these teams are not listed in any particular order:

New England Patriots - Let’s face it.  The Patriots just aren’t the same team without Tom Brady.  As much as I hate to admit it, Brady may be the best quarterback in the NFL.

In 2007, the Patriots almost went undefeated.  Brady and Randy Moss rewrote the record books.  Matt Cassell’s Patriots of 2008 were a mere shadow of the 2007 team.  But the 2009 Patriots should be very reminiscent of the 2007 team.  Only they’ve added Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway.  Gulp!

The Patriots are the most important hurdle for the Steelers to overcome.  Not only must the Steelers prove that they are more than just interim champs who were merely keeping the throne warm until Tom Brady’s return.  They must also establish their dominance over the Patriots in order to prove that they, and not the Patriots, are the team of the decade.

New York Giants - The Giants won the Super Bowl the year before the Steelers did.  Moreover, they beat the Steelers in 2008.

The Giants are a very well-balanced team, finishing 2008 in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense.

Perhaps their only question mark is their receivers.  Amani Toomer is done, and Plaxico Burress will never play for the Giants again.  However, the Giants have several receiver waiting in the wings to fill the void.  Sinorice Moss may finally be ready to be the field-stretching receiver that he was drafted to be.  Super Bowl hero David Tyree is still in the mix.  Former Michigan star Mario Manningham is highly regarded by the team, and 1st round draft pick Hakeem Nicks may be the best of the bunch.  Suffice it to say that wide receiver should emerge as a strength for the Giants.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Osi Umenyiora will be returning to the line-up?

Philadelphia Eagles - I don’t understand Philadelphia fans.  Donovan McNabb has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for a long time.  He consistently takes the Eagles to the playoffs, yet at the end of each season it seems like Eagles fans are trying to run Donovan out of town.

Personally, I think the Eagles will once again be a playoff contender.  Besides McNabb, the Eagles still have Brian Westbrook, arguably one of the best running backs in the NFL.  Wider receiver DeSean Jackson will be an experienced veteran, and should be even better than last year.  Rookies Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy should contribute during their freshman year.

If you look at the offensive weapons that the Eagles have provided Donovan McNabb, one could easily argue that this year’s Eagles could be even better than the Terrell Owens team that went to the Super Bowl a few years back.

Chicago Bears - The Chicago Bears haven’t had a good quarterback since…..well, ever.  Now they have a young Pro Bowl caliber quarterback in Jay Cutler.

The Bears almost made the playoffs with Kyle Orton at the helm.  What will they do with a star QB running their offense?

Cincinnati Bengals - Just joking folks.  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Indianapolis Colts - Sure, Tony Dungy is gone.  But the Colts shouldn’t lose a beat under the leadership of Dungy’s hand-picked successor.  Besides, Peyton Manning runs this team.  As long as he’s under center, the Colts will be a force to be reckoned with.

Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens were the 2008 AFC runner-up.  Thus, they have to be considered to be a contender.  However, with Rex Ryan leaving as defensive coordinator, Ray Lewis getting yet another year older, and Bart Scott no longer on the team, I don’t think the Ravens will be in the Steelers’ class.

Tennessee Titans - The Titans had a great season last year.  But I don’t expect to see a repeat performance from them this year.  Albert Haynesworth was the heart and soul of that team.  I’m not sure if there is another defensive player in the league who is as important to his team as Haynesworth was to the Titans.  The Titans’ defense should see a significant decline without him.

On offense, I think “smash & dash” will prove to be one-hit wonders.  I just don’t believe that LenDale White can be a consistent threat in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers - Is there a better running back tandem in the NFL than DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart?  Julius Peppers will be back with the team next year.  So will Steve Smith.  The only thing holding this team back is Jake Delhomme.  It’s too bad the Panthers signed him to a 5-year, $42.5 million extension.

San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys - Both teams are better on paper than their on-field performance indicated in 2008.  I expect the return of Shawn Merriman to help the Chargers.  Similarly, the Cowboys should benefit from the removal of distractions like T.O., Tank Johnson, and Pac-Man Jones.

Notice I didn’t include the Arizona Cardinals.  Despite making it to the Super Bowl last year, the Cardinals are still……..the Cardinals.  They were the lowest seed in the NFC playoffs last year, and I believe that the Bears and Cowboys will be greater threats in the NFC in 2009.

I feel much better about the Steelers’ chances this year than I did last year.  With a better team and a much easier schedule than they had last year, a 14-2 regular season record is very feasible this season.

Will they bring home another Lombardi Trophy?  Only time will tell.  After all, anything can happen in the playoffs.  But one thing seems certain, if the Steelers can stay healthy they will be a playoff team.

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Giants kick Ravens’ ***!

November 16, 2008 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

I don’t usually write about other teams on this website, but this is an exception. The only thing that makes me happier than a Steelers win is a Ravens loss. And when the Ravens get absolutely demolished, well that’s even better than sex.

That is exactly what happened when the Ravens played the Giants. The Giants trounced the Ravens 30-10. The Ravens’ vaunted defense got trampled for 207 rushing yards. That’s right, 207 yards!!! Hahaha, way to go, Ravens. The Giants averaged 6.3 yards per carry against the defense that was #1 in the NFL against the run. In this game that pitted two blue collar teams, the Giants were the hammer, and the Ravens were the nail.

By the way, this is the same Giants offense that met with utter futility when trying to run against the Steelers. Remember how the Steelers repeatedly stuffed the Giants’ run on short yardage situations? Well, that is exactly what the Ravens were unable to do to the Giants. I’ve always felt that the Steelers’ defense was much better than the Ravens, and this game just cemented that belief for me.

The best part of the entire game was watching Ray Lewis get faked out of his shoes by Ahmad Bradshaw, and then watching Bradshaw run the ball 77 yards while Lewis half-heartedly pursued the play. Good effort, Ray. You just cost your team 77 yards.

I hope the NFL Network airs this game again. I think I’ll enjoy watching this one even more the second time around.

James Harrison as long snapper?

October 27, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players, Post-Game Reports

James Harrison is the Steelers’ backup long snapper????? WTF???!!!!

Is it just me, or were other Steelers fans completely baffled when James Harrison lined up as the Steelers’ long snapper when Greg Warren went out with an injury? If you had told me prior to Sunday’s game that the Steelers coaching staff would ever use James Harrison as a long snapper in an actual NFL game, I would have accused you of smoking one of Santonio Holmes’ special cigars. But use him they did. Even after the fact, I’m still stunned.

To make matters worse, after James Harrison launched his first (and hopefully last) long snap over punter Mitch Berger’s head, I saw James Farrior warming up on the sidelines to give it a try on the next punt. These are definitely signs of the apocalypse. Repent, for the end is near.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know about as much about long snapping as I do about cold fusion. Nevertheless, I am completely confused by why the Steelers have a linebacker as their backup long snapper. Afterall, they have a guy on their team named Justin Hartwig. You know, the center. The guy who is paid to snap the ball for a living. Sure, he makes his living performing regular snaps, but how much different can a long snap be? Isn’t it pretty much the same as snapping the ball to Ben Roethlisberger while he’s in the shotgun formation? Something tells me that if Hartwig had snapped the ball to Berger, it wouldn’t have gone 10 feet over his head.

Or how about Darnell Stapleton? You know, the undrafted free agent who has worked his way up to Steelers’ starting right guard. He was the starting center for Rutgers while in college. In fact, he was so good at it that he was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded annually to the best center in college. Are you telling me that guy has never snapped the ball to a punter before?

I’ve never been a fan of Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein. This latest debacle just cemented that opinion.

The Steelers were dominating the Giants until the point where Harrison snapped the ball over Mitch Berger’s head for a safety. After that, everything just seemed to change.

I’m not going to blame the loss on that one play. That would be silly. But I sure do wish the Steelers could take that one play back. Don’t you?

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Curse you, Santonio!!

October 25, 2008 By: Admin Category: Players

@#$&^@$!!!!!!! I’m sure that pretty much captures how most of Steeler Nation reacted when they found out that Santonio Holmes had been pulled over by police and was found to have marijuana cigars in his car (as well as the smell of recently smoked marijuana). To make matters worse, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has suspended Holmes for Sunday’s crucial game against the NFC East leading New York Giants. #[email protected]%&#!!!!!

Sunday’s game is probably the toughest and most important game on the Steelers schedule so far this season. It pits two division leaders with identical 5-1 records. Both teams need a victory to cement their place among the NFL’s elite teams.

I’m sure that Coach Tomlin has reiterated the importance of this game to his team, and he’s probably made certain that they are prepared for the battle ahead. He probably expected his players to take his motivational speeches to heart, and to use whatever method they required to prepare themselves for the game. However, he probably didn’t expect any of his players to use the “big Jamaican blunt” method of preparation. Nor did he probably expect any of his players to find themselves on the wrong side of the law this week. Santonio Holmes did both.

In some ways, we can’t blame Santonio. Afterall, this isn’t his first time being on the wrong side of the law. His life experience has taught him that if you are a talented athlete, all you get for breaking laws and violating societal norms, is a slap on the wrist. That has probably been re-enforced to him since he was in high school. Coaches have probably let him get away with things that non-players would have never been able to do without repercussions. Teachers have probably given him grades that he didn’t deserve. Recruiters have probably offered him money under the table. And then we wonder why these guys turn out badly. They are the monsters that we create.

I’m not saying that Santonio Holmes is a bad guy, or that he is in the same category as Jeffrey Dahmer. He’s not. But in fact, Santonio and so many other athletes are given a free pass that normal citizens are not provided. Would anyone be surprised if they heard that Santonio really had a much larger quantity of drugs on him than the reports have indicated, but that the police doctored their report in order to keep Santonio from getting in trouble? I’m not saying that events occurred like that. I’m just pointing out that in Pittsburgh, Steelers players are treated like gods, and Santonio Holmes would not be the first player that was given a pass by Steelers fans in blue.

It wasn’t long ago that two Steelers players got in trouble for domestic violence against women. Cedrick Wilson, a borderline wide receiver, was cut for his transgressions. Meanwhile James Harrison, a pro bowl linebacker, was given a slap on the wrist for a similar offense. What athletes learn is that the better they perform on the field, the more willing society becomes to turn a blind eye towards their transgressions. In fact, if they perform well enough, they can get away with just about anything. Drugs, violence, infidelity, and other indiscretions are ignored, so long as the athletes continues to perform on the field.

At some point, professional athletes need to be held accountable for their misdeeds. If not, they never learn the lesson that most of us learn in kindergarten; follow the rules, boys and girls.

Santonio has to learn that he hasn’t just let himself down. He’s let down his family. His mom can’t feel very good each time she hears that her son has gotten into trouble (again). He’s let down all of the kids who look up to him as a hero and a role model. He’s let down all of his teammates who were depending on him to perform in this game that means so much to the team. And he’s let down the legions of Steelers fans who support him, and who probably allow the Steelers’ performance to play a much bigger role in dictating their emotional well-being than they probably should.

It’s time to grow up, Santonio. You’re an adult now, and people depend on you. You have been blessed with the opportunity to play a game that you love, and to make millions of dollars for doing so. That is not to be taken lightly. Hopefully, Roger Goodell will deem the Steelers’ one game suspension to be adequate punishment, and he won’t dole out additional punishment of his own. If so, consider yourself lucky, and learn from this experience.

On Sunday, the Steelers will face the New York Giants in their most difficult test thus far this season. They will need every player to perform at their best in order to win. Unfortunately, one player let them down before the first whistle even blew. Curse you, Santonio!

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Steelers Today faces off on AOL

October 24, 2008 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

This week, Steelers Today was asked to go head-to-head against New York Giants blog Big Blue View on the Behind Enemy Lines segment of the AOL NFL Fanhouse.

Each blogger had to defend their team as they head into this Sunday’s match-up of division leaders. I think I represented Steeler Nation well. I hope you do too.

Please check out the feature here, and then leave me a message to let me know how I did. Thanks.

Here we go Steelers, here we go!!!

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