Monday, January 31, 2011

In Defense of Ben Roethlisberger: An Open Letter to Ann Killion of Sports Illustrated

Dear Ann,

Why did you write this article? Really. I assume it is well-intentioned, but it is also uninformed. The title of your opinion piece is Wins shouldn't make us forget about Roethlisberger's past actions. I don't know where you live, but wins and success aside, nobody in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else for that matter, has forgotten about Roethlisberger's past actions. And rest assured, the 1% of the population that has just become literate in the time between March's events and the Super Bowl in Dallas on February 6 will get every opportunity to read all about what occurred in Milledgeville, Georgia in the coming week.

You write, "We're hearing about the obstacles he has overcome, his resilience, his redemption. And it's making some of us more than a tad nauseous." What is it about this discussion that makes you sick?

Are people defending Ben Roethlisberger's past behavior? Holding him up as an exemplar of the NFL man? That would strike me as off the mark too, but I've read most everything I can find on the topic and haven't seen one instance of anyone defending Roethlisberger's actions. If you can point me to one article that lauds or even defends Roethlisberger's behavior or makes him out to be a "good guy" in regard to the events that happened in Milledgeville, I'd begin to understand your nausea. Just one please.

You write "And nationally, superstar athletes--superstar white athletes in particular--have been given the legal and societal benefit of the doubt forever." That's an aggressive argument to use in the Roethlisberger case. A case that was national news. A case where the district attorney held his press conference on national television, publicly attacked Roethlisberger and then announced that he would not bring any charges. Are you suggesting he got the benefit of the doubt here? Are you suggesting that the D.A. attacked him on national television but didn't bring charges because he was a superstar white quarterback? That's a tough stance to defend given the D.A. came out firing, fans routinely expressed revulsion at the alleged actions, and Roethlisberger's employers, the Rooneys, strongly condemned even the appearance he presented--without hard evidence or anything approaching a trial. I don't think the average man or woman would be so quickly tried in the press. Your broad generalization doesn't seem to hold in this case.

You also dismiss any discussion of the young woman's behavior and role that may have played in the situation. Discussion of her role and behavior is "the same deafening, reactive noise that always surrounds these types of accusations in the sports world: that it is simply he said, she said. The young woman is painted in terms of being a gold-digger or a drunken slut." In this case nobody from the Steelers' organization or the NFL had a bad word to say about the woman. If anything they ignored the fact that she had been following Roethlisberger's group from bar to bar, which along with some obscene writing on their outfits, could have been brought to the public's attention. So who in this case is attacking the woman? You, the media? Other women? Certainly not the accused. Since it "always surrounds these types of accusations" in your words, I would think the "who" in this case would be easy to identify, so maybe you could share that piece of information.

And if you want to be honest, you have to acknowledge that ignoring the woman's actions and behavior would be just as bad as the "benefit of the doubt" culture that you suggest permeates our treatment of stars. The justice system is supposed to work equally and fairly for all involved, men and women alike. An analysis of the young woman's behavior on that evening is part of the police report and deserves to be included in any serious discussion about the case. The fact that there is only eyewitness testimony does make it he said, she said, as many cases are. Your dismissiveness of that type of testimony does not change the reality of the situation or how the case was resolved.

You go on to say, "The justice system of the NFL worked more quickly (than the criminal system)." This is incorrect. In fact, the NFL waited to see what criminal charges were filed and if the case would be brought to trial before meting out its own punishment--a six game suspension. A suspension which, by the way, was the first suspension ever handed down under the NFL's personal-conduct policy to a player that was not arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime. In reality, the NFL took a much tougher stand than the D.A. was able to or believed he should. Again, not exactly the "legal or societal benefit of the doubt" that you allege.

You continue:
The outrage surrounding Michael Vick continues to be expressed at a higher volume than any talk about the Roethlisberger case. Yet Vick served almost two years in prison for his crimes, paid his dues to society.
"Yet Vick...paid his dues to society," Really? What "dues" would you like Roethlisberger to pay. He has been publicly humiliated and been fined millions in salary though not charged with any crime, but, in your mind, he hasn't paid his dues to society? There is a reason Mike Vick served two years in prison. As judge and jury, Ann, after not being charged with any crime, what should Mr. Roethlisberger do to satisfy you?

What annoys me most about your one-sided slant is that you did no research. The piece is no better reported than a typical adulatory puff piece. You didn't interview any of the Pittsburgh media, a group that has trashed Ben on and off the record through the years for his loutish behavior off the field. If you had, you might have gotten some sense as to why they recently awarded him "The Chief Award" given annually to someone in the Steelers organization that exemplified "the spirit of cooperation" with the media. Local writers who were among the first and most vocal critics of Roethlisberger's behavior. But more recently they have suggested he has changed and is a different person this season. Presumably they didn't suddenly develop a white superstar bias.

You also didn't talk to the Rooneys, who publicly expressed shock and disappointment at Roethlisberger's behavior, or to any of the players in the locker room, most notably Hines Ward who has criticized Ben on the record many times over the years, or anyone else who has had contact with Ben over the last ten months. You didn't mention that he got engaged nor touch on any of the charitable work he has committed to locally. That would have required doing some investigating and seeing what has actually happened over the past year. None of this has anything to do with his performance on the football field, but it does influence how people see Roethlisberger now, in the same way Mike Vick's charitable work and time served influence his perception. Instead, you chose to draw one link--because he is winning football games, people are ignoring his past. Maybe you just decided you didn't like the tone of the narrative you have been reading?

Again, not one person, I've read or seen quoted, has condoned Ben Roethlisberger's behavior in Milledgeville that night in March. Not the Rooneys, not the Commissioner and not the fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. And none of those same people are going to suggest that Ben is the greatest person on the planet any time soon, no matter what happens on Sunday in Dallas. But, many of these people can recognize that in the past 11 months Roethlisberger has worked hard to change his life and become a better person. And for that they can congratulate him and encourage him and hope that he continues on that path. Is it a guarantee? Of course not. Is it a good start? By all accounts, yes, very much so.

I'm sorry this all somehow nauseates you, Ann. This acknowledgement that a young man who has made big mistakes in the past is working hard to be a better person. This acknowledgement that he is trying to change the course of his life, reshape his image and be a better son, brother, teammate, employee, sports symbol and now engaged-to-be-married man. I'm sorry you have taken up your pen to say a good word shouldn't be written about this young man who wins games on the football field because has yet to sufficiently pay some debt owed apparently to you. Certainly, and thankfully, most of what is written this week will be about what is going to take place on the football field. If others find time to write that Roethlisberger has worked hard, in the short period of time since March, to become a better person I hope you will be able to stomach it. I wouldn't want you to miss the game.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 31 (1/28)

Episode 31 of The Terrible Podcast is highlighted by an interview with George Whitfield, Jr. Ben Roethlisberger's QB coach during his four week suspension.

We start Episode 31 with a look at the injury report. Speculation regarding Maurkice Pouncey's left ankle has dominated Super Bowl talk for much of the week. It was reported that Pouncey may have a broken bone in the ankle, but the ligament damage is still the bigger issue. We debate the outlook for Pouncey. We also look at Bryant McFadden's abdominal issue and argue whether he or William Gay will be the starter at left corner next week. We touch on Aaron Smith's injury and any roster moves the Steelers may make before game day. We also debate whether Charlie Batch will be a Steeler next year after expressing a desire to come back.

In Part 2 we interview George Whitfield, Jr. George answers all sorts of questions about working with Ben. Great stuff.

In Part 3 both of us rip a couple writers who took shots at the Steelers this week. You can listen as we both start losing it. We also answer some reader questions and discuss Jeff Fisher's surprising departure from the Tennessee Titans. And a request from us.

Hope you enjoy it, thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly-Steelers Edition

After the Steelers practice on Wednesday a bunch of stories hit the wires:

The Good:
In his chat this afternoon on, Chris Mortensen suggested that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau "will give the [Arizona] Cardinals DC job serious consideration." Later in the chat Mort put the odds of LeBeau taking the job at 50.5%.

I don't know if Mort had any sources, but as we suggested on The Terrible Podcast, Episode 30 LeBeau isn't going anywhere. It only took four hours for the Arizona story to get completely shot down. As LeBeau told the NFL Network "I promise you, if I'm coaching, it will be the Pittsburgh Steelers." Thinking LeBeau, age 73, would leave the best defense in football and a group of guys and an organization that genuinely love him seemed far-fetched. Turns out, it was. "With this defense, this group of men, they'll have to run me out of here." And that's not happening either.

The Bad:
Defensive lineman Aaron Smith continued to be limited in practice on Wednesday. Rather than placing Smith on the injured reserve when he injured his triceps in October, the Steelers have effectively been playing with a 52-man roster with the hope that he would be back for the Super Bowl. Former first round pick Ziggy Hood has been outstanding as Smith's replacement and the defense has hardly missed a beat, but a healthy Smith would be an asset. However, for Smith to get a helmet come game day, he's going to have to be able to go full speed next week. There is not charity. If he can't help the team, he'll sit.

Some suspect the unfortunate injury to Maurkice Poucney (see: The Ugly) could open a roster spot for Smith. I think the opposite. If Pouncey can't go the Steelers are likely to dress an extra offensive lineman as insurance and another position will lose a spot, making it even tougher for Smith to get a helmet against the Packers. Another tough break for a standout pro that has had more than his fair share.

The Ugly:
When center Maurkice Pouncey had to be helped off the field during the first quarter of the Steelers AFC Championship game against the Jets, it appeared Pouncey was done for the game and the season. Nonetheless, Pouncey was optimistic afterward saying he would "most definitely" be ready for the Super Bowl.

That appears to have been youthful enthusiasm. While an MRI revealed no structural damage, Pouncey was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain. He said he had sustained a similar injury to his other ankle in college and been back in a week. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that will happen this time. The rookie center is on crutches and in a hard cast as opposed to a soft cast or walking boot. Today he declined to comment on the injury, but fellow lineman Chris Kemoeatu told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "We are definitely sad that he won't be able to be with us in the Super Bowl...We just have to win it for him."

Undrafted third-year pro Doug Legursky will take Pouncey's place with Trai Essex his likely backup. It's a tough way for the rookie Pro Bowl center to end his season and will weaken an already shorthanded offensive line.

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 30 (1/26)

In Part 1 of Episode 30 we start with the injury report and a look at the status of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. We get into a discussion of what the Steelers will do if Pouncey can't go and how that may effect the status of defensive lineman Aaron Smith who is looking to come back from his midseason injury. We also go through the nuts and bolts of Super Bowl week and our thoughts about whether the Steelers Super Bowl experience gives them an advantage over the Packers.

In Part 2 we wrap up our discussion of the Steelers AFC Championship win over the Jets. We talk about the rarely seen use of the "bone" and take a hard look at the performance of the offensive line. You'll be surprised at one player who earned a great grade from Dave. We then talk about the defense, analyzing both the front seven and the corners.

In Part 3 we look at Chris Mortensen's report that Dick LeBeau may be a better than 50% chance to leave the Steelers and head to Arizona and other coaching moves that might take place after the Super Bowl. I then rant about the perception that Ben, Tomlin and the Steelers in general don't get enough respect. We probably don't have the take that you might. We wrap with our thoughts on the Pro Bowl and our take on the Jay Cutler firestorm.

A shout out to those who sent us questions and we hope you enjoy listening!

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quick Thoughts Steelers-Jets, AFC Championship Game

The Steelers and Jets hooked up in the AFC Championship game at Heinz Field, their second meeting in a month. This time the Steelers were so dominate in the first half that despite a defensive meltdown and zero points in the second, they were able to hold on and earn their eighth trip to the Super Bowl. The Steelers defense, which held the Jets to one yard rushing before halftime, scored a late second quarter touchdown which proved to be the decisive score. New York made a game of it in the second half, but some gutsy playing calling by the Steelers on the final drive meant the Jets never actually possessed the ball with a chance to win or tie at any point in the second half. The better team won, but the Steelers never put the game out of reach, which one second half score would have done.

Maurkice Pouncey left in the middle of the first quarter with a high ankle sprain. Pouncey has said that he will definitely be there in Dallas, but don't bet on it. It is unlikely that Pouncey will practice before media day next Tuesday and then he will only have a few practices to prove that he can go. Pouncey relies heavily on his mobility so an ankle injury could really limit his effectiveness. The Steelers may have to make a roster move this week to be sure they have a backup to Doug Legursky if Pouncey can't go.
The Good:
*Rashard Mendenhall ran for 121 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries (take that Peter King). All year Mendenhall has shown an ability to get tough yards near the goal line and he scored his third TD of the post-season on the Steelers opening possession with a hard 1-yard run. He also caught two passes for 32 yards. In The Terrible Podcast we discussed getting Mendenhall the ball in space because of his ability to outrun the Jets linebackers and overpower their corners. We saw it happen Sunday.
*Ben Roethlisberger's running continues to be the most overlooked facet of the Steelers offense. On 3rd-12 on the Steelers opening drive, Roethlisberger recognized the Jets man coverage and ran for 13 yards and a first down. Ben gets credit for keeping plays alive, but just as importantly, he is running more frequently when the opportunities are there and it has been an understated key to the offense's success.
*Isaac Redman continues to be productive when given the opportunity. After a 35-yard gain by Mendenhall on the Steelers third drive, Redman carried twice for 21 yards to help set up a field goal that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead.

*The offensive line continues to do enough despite a rash of injuries. The Steelers hammered the Jets for 166 yards on the ground and Ben was only sacked twice. Doug Legursky did a solid job filling in for the injured Pouncey.

*Two big pass plays closed out the game and never gave the Jets the ball with a chance to win. While Ben did a good job on both plays, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown made excellent catches on difficult balls.
The Bad:
*As good as Legursky was, the two fumbled exchanges with Roethlisberger are unacceptable. One occurred on first down in Jets territory killing the Steelers offensive momentum and the second resulted in a safety.
*All four receivers all had trouble getting separation and combined for only 5 catches for 54 yards, by far their least productive game of the season.

*On the second drive Redman was stopped on a 3rd-1 at the Jets 32 and the Steelers turned it over on the next play. After two ball controlling drives being up only 7-0 felt like too little.
*Antonio Brown missed a hot read in the second half that almost resulted in an interception in Jets territory. Brown was pulled and replaced by Mewelde Moore who caught a big pass the next time the Steelers went five wide.
*The offense only had the ball for four possessions in the second half. One resulted in a safety on the first play, while another closed out the game. The Steelers only gained 56 yards on those four possessions with more than half coming on the last drive. Not the way to finish off an opponent.
The Good:
*Held the Jets to one yard rushing in the first half after giving up a season-high 106 yards in their first meeting.

*Recorded both of their sacks and what proved to be the game-winning TD during a Jets possession with 2:00 left in the first half. It's worth watching Ziggy Hood on the TD. Hood could have picked up the fumble but saw William Gay also in the area and turned instead to clean out the only Jet close to the ball. Hood's excellent play over the second half of the season has probably gone under-recognized.
*Made a goal line stand in the fourth quarter that caused the Jets to go scoreless on a 17-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:00 minutes of clock.

*Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel both batted down passes at the line of scrimmage, helping to slow the Jets passing game.
The Bad:
*After dominating the first half, allowed the Jets to drive 44 yards in the last minute to put points on the board, a big momentum boast for a team that had been completely outplayed and was getting the ball to start the second half.
*Allowed the Jets to go 90 yards in 2:47 to open the second half and completely nullify all the momentum that had been built up during the 24-3 first half. It also took the crowd out of the game for most of the second half.

*The Jets rushed for 69 yards and combined for 239 yards in the second half. Excellent play-calling had the Steelers on their heels.

*The pass defense was riddled in the second half while trying to protect a 24-3 lead. Mark Sanchez went 13-18 for 170 yards and 2 TDs. 
Special Teams:
The Good:
*With 3:06 left and the Steelers ahead 24-19 Antonio Brown returned a kickoff 27 yards to the 41-yard line. The Steelers had their hands team on the field to protect against an onside kick, so Brown had to gain the yardage largely on his own. The excellent field position allowed the Steelers to open the play book and take an aggressive approach knowing they could pin the Jets deep in their own territory if they had to punt. This return and Roethlisberger's 13-yard run during the opening drive are probably the two most overlooked key plays of the game.

*Shaun Suisham's line drive kickoffs combined with excellent downfield coverage generally proved to be very effective (except the OB kickoff, see below), limiting the Jets to 41 yards in four returns.
The Bad:
*Suisham kicked  one of the kickoffs out of bounds giving the Jets starting field position at their own 40-yard line.
*After forcing the Jets to go three-and-out for only the second time, Antwaan Randle-El mishandled a returnable punt that could have set the offense up with excellent field position early in the second half.
The Good:
*Unquestionably the most daring calls, and ones that would have been endlessly second-guessed were they not successful, were the completed passes to Heath Miller on 2nd-9 and Antonio Brown on 3rd-6 during the Steelers last drive. In each case the play design and execution was excellent. Before the last drive Bruce Arians asked Tomlin how he wanted to approach it and Tomlin said, "We aren't going to play not to win." That gave Arians free reign and the Steelers were able to run out the clock. You have to wonder if the home playoff loss to Jacksonville in Tomlin's first year, which saw the Steelers in a similar situation, had an effect on Tomlin's decision-making.

*Dick LeBeau came in with a solid game plan shutting down the Jets running game in the first half.
*The Steelers kept penalties to a minimum, with only four for 25 yards.
The Bad:
*The defense was unable to get consistent pressure, with only two sacks which happened to occur two plays apart.
*The defense didn't respond well to the Jets second half adjustments and allowed New York back in the game.
Big Officiating Calls:
*The two big calls, a personal foul hit on Emmanuel Sanders and a roughing the kicker call, both were good calls and both went the Steelers way.

*The overturn of Heath Miller's 23-yard catch on the opening drive was questionable. The call on the field was a catch, but could have gone either way. The Steelers still scored a TD later in the drive.
Up Next
*Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers in Dallas, Texas February 6th at 6:30 pm EST. The Steelers eighth Super Bowl appearance and third in the last six years.

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 29 (1/24)

I gotta feelin'...Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl!

Episode 29 is a long one, loyal listeners. And how can it not be? It's not every year you get to the Super Bowl, but it is the third time in the last six for the Steelers and their fans, following their 24-19 win over the New York Jets. It should be a great matchup, with the Steelers and Green Bay Packers getting together February 6th in Dallas. Eat your heart out Jerry Jones.

In Part 1 of Episode 29 we take a deep breath and reflect on another Super Bowl and how lucky we are as Steelers fans. Lots of good stories and memories. David (Pittsburgh) gives a recap of the scene was like at Heinz Field Sunday night and then Dave (Florida) takes a look at the injury situation and what the outlook is for Maurkice Pouncey.

In Part 2 we take a look at Florida Dave's fantastic picks so far in the playoffs and discuss the opening line for the Big Game which has the Steelers as 2.5 point underdogs. We also give a little lesson as to how lines are set for those who don't know. Then, we get into Sunday's game and look at the Steelers' dominating first half. Things probably couldn't have gone too much better. But, we also talk about the Jets' last second field goal and Florida Dave's (correct) concern with the Jets getting the ball to start the second half.

In Part 3 we get into the Steelers lack of offensive production in the second half and get into the x' & o's of how and why the Jets were able to make a game of it. At the end, Tomlin & Arians get a lot of credit. As Tomlin said "we're not gonna play not too lose," and they didn't.  Ben and the offense were able to convert two first downs on their last possession to ice the game. We review, in detail, all the decision and all the results. Good hardcore football analysis. We close with a look at All-Pro honors accorded two Steelers.

As always we love talking football, particularly Steelers football. We hope you enjoy listening!

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Friday, January 21, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 28 (1/21)

It's is the AFC Championship Game this week and the Steelers host the New York Jets Sunday at 6:30 at Heinz Field. In Episode 28 of The Terrible Podcast were are pleased to have Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post with us as a special guest. Mike gives us some great insights into the Jets. You can follow him on twitter at @MikeVacc. Thanks again for your time, Mike!

In Part 1 of Episode 28 we open with a look at the build up to the game and then scan the injury report. While it appears that the Jets are relatively healthy the possibility that Bryant McFadden and Will Allen may not play has us concerned. We also note the Jets' change of pregame tactics. Trash talking seems to be out this week and praise and compliments seem to be the rule from both sides. The Jets D-coordinator did, however, get in a shot at Hines Ward which we play for you at the break.

In Part 2 we get an inside look at the Jets from Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post. We pepper Mike with a list of question including the atmosphere around the team, the impact of Dennis Byrd's speech last week and the x's & o's that the Jets will employ this week. Mike has all the answers and a prediction on the outcome.

In Part 3 Dave & Dave go through their own extended analysis of the game and what the keys to success will be for both sides. It's hard core football talk that ends with a prediction of the score and winner of both conference title games.
We hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Key Questions To Steelers-Jets AFC Championship Game

1.) Is there a home field advantage?

The Jets came into Pittsburgh on December 19 and beat the Steelers 22-17 at Heinz Field. They went on the road in the first round of the playoffs and beat Indianapolis, then went to New England and beat the Patriots. They won't be intimidated coming into Pittsburgh. Under Rex Ryan and with Mark Sanchez at quarterback they are 4-1 in the playoffs, all on the road. The Steelers are 6-3 at Heinz this year, 7-1 on the road. Having said that, the crowd at Heinz Field last week was as loud as I have ever seen it. It is the first time, in that stadium, I have ever felt the crowd impacted what happened on the field.

Keys to look for: Expect the crowd to bring it again, particularly if the Steelers get ahead early. Otherwise the extreme cold could dampen their enthusiasm. Unless, of course, the booze renders temperatures moot.

2.) The Jets seem to have changed their defensive philosophy in the playoffs. Will it continue?

This is the most interesting tactical question of the weekend. Last week the Jest dressed 11 defensive backs against the Pats and played them all. They showed a lot of different coverages, but seemed to confuse the Pats by dropping eight and showing a two-high safety look. They used a similar look against Peyton Manning and the Colts. In the two games they have brought an extra rusher only 13% of the time. It will be interesting to see if they revert to form and bring pressure more consistently against Ben Roethlisberger who was sacked three times and fumbled twice in the first matchup.

Keys to look for: The guess here is the Jets will bring the heat consistently this week as they try to exploit the Steelers biggest weakness, the offensive line. Look to see how the Jets defense lines up pre-snap and what kind of personnel groupings are on the field. Bringing defensive backs on the blitz typically is less effective against Roethlisberger because of his size. They Jets may try to confuse Ben by dropping lineman into zone coverages, but I'd be surprised if he has trouble with his pre-snap reads.

3.) How will the Jets matchup against the Steelers receivers?

In their first matchup All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis spent much of his time lined up across from Hines Ward. That left Antonio Cromartie matched up with Mike Wallace and Drew Coleman paired with Manny Sanders. The Steelers looked to attack Coleman first, then Cromartie. Wallace & Sanders each had 7 catches for a combined 180 yards. Speculation is the Jets will move Revis, who has been nursing a hamstring injury all season, over onto Wallace. I doubt it. Cromartie has good speed and can run with Wallace, while Ward has a tougher time getting separation and can be blanketed by Revis. Those matchups play into the Jets' corners' strengths. The Jets will have a much tougher time with Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown. The speed of the young receivers will provide a significantly more difficult matchup than what the Jets had with either the Colts or Pats, both of whom lack dangerous secondary targets. Coleman is going to see the ball coming his way all day no matter who he covers.

Keys to look for: Watch to see if the Jets corners play press coverage on the outside. If they don't, look for Ben to audible into hots and bubble screens that get the ball out quick to his receivers in space. If the corners do press, watch to see whether the Jets bring pressure and provide safety help over the top. This is what the Steelers will try to exploit deep.

4.) Will either team be able to run effectively?

In their first meeting New York rushed for 106 yards, the most by any team against the Steelers all season. They utilized a heavy formation with an extra tackle as a tight end on 22 of 57 plays. The Steelers in turn piled up 146 yards on the ground. The Jets offensive line is the one unit that clearly is better than the Steelers. The problem is they go up against the Steelers' biggest strength, a front seven that had a record-setting year against the run. These two teams ranked first and third against the run. The Jets allowed 90.9 yds/gm while the Steelers were even more stout allowing only 62.8. The Jets ran the ball and dominated the clock against both Indy and New England and that allowed Sanchez to be effective in the passing game. They absolutely have to run the ball to have a chance this weekend. The Steelers have had trouble running the ball effectively in recent weeks, but will run early and try force the Jets to bring a safety down into the box. If they can do that, it will make play action and the passing game that much more effective.

Keys to look for: Expect both teams to mix up their play calling and run some play action on early downs, but try to establish the run even if they don't have success early in the game. If healthy, look for the Jets to try Brad Smith running the wildcat. The Steelers have had trouble with that in the past. Otherwise it's all in the hands of the quarterbacks and that's a big advantage for Pittsburgh.

5.) Is the addition of Troy Polamalu the biggest difference between the initial matchup and this one?

Troy is a great player who undoubtedly strengthens the Steelers defense even though he didn't have a good game against the Ravens last weekend. But the addition of Heath Miller who missed last month's game with a concussion will be more important. Miller will be a beast of a matchup for the Jets linebackers and safeties. Matt Spaeth was targeted nine times in the first matchup because the Steelers loved what they had. They will like those matchups even more with Miller on the field.

Key to look for: Look for the Steelers to spread the Jets corners and then target Miller over the middle, particularly if the Jets continue to play two safeties deep. They may also run some screens with Mendenhall, something they rarely did during the regular season.

6.) Where can the Jets exploit the Steelers defense?

The injury to Steelers corner Bryant McFadden is significant because of the domino effect it has on a secondary which lacks depth. If McFadden can't go it most likely leaves William Gay on Braylon Edwards and forces Anthony Madison into the nickel package against Jeremy Cotchery. Both of these are bad matchups for Pittsburgh. Edwards size will be a problem for Gay who is better in the slot where he is often used to bring pressure. Madison is a good special teams player who will be a liability in man coverage no matter who he goes up against. Look for the Steelers to play some more zone coverages to protect these two.

What to look for: Watch for Keenan Lewis to possibly get time in both the nickel and dime packages. He matches up well size-wise with Edwards who has been excellent in the playoffs. It's a risk for the Steelers either way, so heavy pressure and zone may be LeBeau's best option. In that case look for tight end Dustin Keller to get more targets in the middle of the field. Keller is a good receiver whose usage has diminished as the season has gone on. He could be the x-factor for the Jets offense.

7.) What other things could impact the outcome?

It almost goes without saying that turnovers and special teams can determine the outcome of any game. It's hard to predict turnovers and it's worth nothing there were none in their earlier meeting. Roethlisberger has gone a career high number of attempts without throwing an interception, but Tom Brady was in a similar situation last week and threw one on the first drive.

The Jets have an edge in special teams. Brad Smith's opening kickoff return for a TD in the first meeting was the difference, but his health is a question mark. If he can't go Cromartie takes his place returning kicks and has been equally dangerous. Both kickers are a bit suspect and the Jets have the better punter.

What to look for: The Steelers coverage teams were awful toward the end of the season and got torched again last weekend by the Ravens. They may decide to pooch kickoffs high and short to limit the big return, but it virtually guarantees the Jets starting no worse than the 30-yard line.

8.) So who wins?

This matchup favors the Steelers. The Jets play right into the Steelers strengths. New York's formula for winning is pretty simple. Control the ball with the run game and play action, limit mistakes and keep the opponent from hitting on big plays. So far it's worked. It won't this week. The Steelers have a better defense and are much more balanced offensively than the Colts or the Patriots. They outgained the Jets 378-276 and recorded 25 first downs to the Jets 17 a month ago. The Jets won because they had about a hundred more return yards and were able to limit the Steelers to one sack for zero yards. You can't count on either of those things again this week. For the Jets to win they are going to have to create turnovers by pressuring Roethlisberger. I don't see it. The Steelers have too many offensive weapons and Ben is playing the best football of his career. The Steelers defense is the best in the game. I think the Steelers take care of business at home and move on to Dallas.

Pittsburgh 27 New York Jets 13

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 27 (1/19)

Just a heads up that we will have Mike Vaccaro, the esteemed writer from the NY Post on our Friday Podcast. We hope you'll check in for that. If you have any Jets questions you'd like to ask Mike send them to He's a great guy and great writer. You can follow him on Twiiter @MikeVacc.

In Part 1 of Episode 27 we discuss Mike Tomlin's Tuesday and Wednesday press conferences. Tomlin ripped Bob Holtzman of ESPN a new one in his Wednesday presser and we tell you why. We rarely get to see the coach mad, but he was today.

In Part 2 we look at offensive line participation and break down their performance. You will hear some surprising news about Jonathan Scott's performance. We also look at the evolution of Flozell Adams. We close Part 2 with a great question from a brilliant listener about Rashard Mendenhall.

In Part 3 we recap the Jets victory over the Pats and take a look at their personnel and talk about some general keys to Sunday's matchup. We close by noting the Ravens D-coordinator resigned. Playing the Steelers twice a year is too tough!

Hope you enjoy it and thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Playoff Potpourri

It's amazing how quickly opinions change. One game and much of what we thought goes out the window leading to a whole new list of questions. The Jets made the unstoppable Patriots offense look pedestrian. How did the Pats actually beat them 45-3 on the same field less than two months ago? Aaron Rodgers was ridiculously good and carved up the Falcons so easily it is hard to believe the Pack is the sixth seed while the Falcons were the first. We questioned whether the Seahawks should even be in the playoffs and then they beat the defending Super Bowl champs. This week we remember why we wondered if they should be in the playoffs. The Steelers-Ravens matchup is perceived to be a great rivalry, but the Steelers have won the last seven games that Ben Roethlisberger has started. It just shows how little we actually know. In the NFL the edge can be very slim and change very fast.

*During a six week stretch of the regular season the Patriots beat the four teams playing in the Conference Championship Games by a combined score of 151-63.

*The Patriots were 12-2 before Spygate and are 2-3 since. Tom Brady has now lost his last three playoff games, recording a combined passer rating of about 75. Brady had thrown 335 passes without an interception coming into the Jets game, but he threw three picks at home in the Pats loss to Baltimore in his last playoff game and has thrown 13 INTs in his last nine playoff games. His legacy isn't tarnished, but it's nicked.

*I credit Bill Belichick for not killing Patrick Chung for making the call that led to the botched fake punt at the end of the first half. I also think it's a bit of results-based analysis to kill the Pats for the call. But I do have two problems 1.) If BB thought it was a bad call in hindsight, he has to do a better job of communicating with his special teams coach and players as to when they can audible into that call. 2.) The Pats defense can't let the Jets roll into the endzone, even with a short field. That did more damage than the failed fake itself.

*We've seen Brian Westbrook, Peyton Manning go down when they could have scored at the end of games. Shonn Greene should have gone down rather than go into the endzone with a 1:40 left in the game. Highly unlikely the Patriots win either way, but that would have been a better choice as the Jets could have taken a knee and run out the clock.

*Where are all the sanctimonious writers who ripped Rex Ryan after "Footgate?" Seriously. So many killed Ryan for his style of coaching, his bombastic and self-confident, even arrogant approach. It would be nice to see just one writer issue a mea culpa. Instead the story now is about how great it is that he has the players' backs and puts all the focus and pressure on himself. Ridiculous. Ryan has never changed. Love him or hate him, he's been consistent. Only the media flips back and forth.

*Joe Flacco had a 4-2 career playoff record, all on the road, coming into this past week's game in Pittsburgh. His four road wins tied an NFL record for most career road wins joining Len Dawson, Roger Staubach and Jake Delhomme. Sunday Mark Sanchez raised his career playoff record to 4-1, all on the road. This week it's his turn to go into Pittsburgh looking for his fifth road win. Let that settle in. If the Jets win this week, Mark Sanchez will have won more road playoff games than any quarterback in NFL history.

*If the Jets are able to go into Pittsburgh and win, they will also have beaten the winning quarterback in six of the last nine Super Bowls on their road to Dallas.

*Steelers-Ravens is a rivalry in name only. The Steelers are 7-0 in the last seven games that Ben Roethlisberger has started and Ben is 6-0 career against Joe Flacco.

*In the third quarter the Ravens had four possessions. They ran nine plays which netted -4 yards and they turned it over three times.

*The four remaining teams were 4th, 11th, 22nd & 24th rushing the football during the regular season, but were 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 18th (Packers) in rush defense.

*None of the four remaining quarterbacks was named to the Pro Bowl.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 26 (1/17)

Playoff Week 1 for the Terrible Podcast and we proudly sit undefeated. A fantastic effort by the Steelers as they came back from a 21-7 halftime deficit and defeated the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 at Heinz Field.

In Part 1 of Episode 26 we break down the first half. We discuss the stirring atmosphere at the stadium and we take a close look at how the Steelers got themselves into such a big hole. Despite trailing by 14, we both felt confident in the team's ability to come back.

In Part 2 we focus on one of the most dominating quarters in Steelers playoff history as the Black & Gold completely turned the tables in the third quarter. The Steelers stuffed the Ravens on all four possessions, causing three turnovers and turning a 14 point hole into a three point lead early in the fourth. In particular we review the great play of Ryan Clark, Ike Taylore and Ben Roethlisberger.

In Part 3 we step back and look at the numbers. The stats clearly show the total dominance of the Steelers. From net yards to time of possession to the turnover battle, the Steelers were better in almost every phase of the game. We take a look at the Jets surprising victory over the top-seeded Patriots and glance at the two NFC battles that went exactly how we predicted. We conclude with a nod to the great work of the both the defensive line and linebackers who were excellent throughout the game.

Thanks for listening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

NFL Playoff Picks-Divisional Playoffs, Sunday Edition

Ka-Ching. We rang the register yesterday with the Steelers and the Packers and I opined that neither game would be close. Steelers-Ravens went down to the wire, but it sure didn't feel like they were two evenly-matched teams and it sure doesn't look that way when glancing at the statistics. Analysts can stop talking about Joe Flacco making the leap. The Ravens couldn't move the ball all day. The only yards they got were on screens and a great draw call for a TD and finished with just 126 net yards. I didn't see much of the other game, but I did see Matt Ryan throw a pick six at the end of the first half. Great job by the corner to recognize the situation and jump the route. I don't understand why more guys don't make that play. Neither Flacco nor Ryan throws the ball down the field or moves their team consistently. I just don't get the love. Ryan probably sneaks into my top ten. Flacco, no chance.

Seattle at Chicago -10:
I don't have any feel for this game. I haven't watched the Bears play often this year and the one time I sat and watched closely the Patriots crushed them. Seattle looked great offensively last week, but the Saints were terrible. Jay Cutler is Brett Favre lite. If nothing else he makes it exciting. I'm gonna go with the Bears because I think there is a reasonable chance Matt Hassleback doesn't finish the game. He had his hip and knee drained yesterday and the Bears will be coming after him. All nine of the Seahawks losses have come by 15 or more points, so it could get ugly. I'm not gonna load the gun on this one, but I think Chicago may blow 'em out.

I'll take the Bears 30-13, but only for half a unit.

New York Jets at New England -9:
The storylines for this game are awesome. I'm genuinely excited to watch. As a football fan, I like Rex Ryan, I like Tom Brady, I'm amused by all the talk. Now it's time to play. To me it's very simple. Mark Sanchez sucks. That's it. The Jets have a good team, but they are weakest at QB. I like Sanchez. I think he'll eventually be a decent quarterback, but he isn't there yet. The Jets won in spite of him last week, but they won't this week. The Pats defense is playing much better than they were earlier in the season and I'm sure Belichick will scheme like crazy to confuse Sanchez. The Jets chance is to pound the ball on the ground and keep it close. Once they get behind ten, they're toast. They'll be behind ten in the first quarter. I am loading the gun for this one. I'll be in Foxborough next week for the Championship Game.

Just like last time. Pats 38-13.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Terrible Podcast - Episode 25 (1/14)

Episode 25 is our last before the Steelers open their playoff run with the game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday 4:30 at Heinz Field.

In Part 1 of The Terrible Podcast we look at the Steelers offense against the Ravens defense, breaking down key matchups and talking about the players who will have the biggest impact.

We break up the two parts of our breakdown with an interview of Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders. is a groudbreaking web site that takes a deep analytical look at football through statistical analysis. Aaron, Founder and President, brings his insights to The Terrible Podcast and makes some playoff predictions at the end. Great stuff, thanks Aaron.

In Part 3 we look at the Steelers defense against the Ravens offense and again give our keys to the game. We conclude with our picks for the three other playoff games and then.....the answer to Steelers-Ravens. Thanks for listnening!

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

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NFL Playoff Picks-Divisional Playoffs, Saturday Edition

We were 2-2 picking winners last week cashing in on the Seahawks and the Pack and getting nicked by Baltimore and the Jets. 11-0 is out of reach, but some solid work this weekend can still make it a profitable playoff season.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh -3.5:
If you have been paying attention there is no doubt you have heard about how evenly-matched these teams are and how, recently, all the games have been decided by three points. Only the second part of this is true. The reality is that although the games have been close, the Steelers own this matchup, going 5-2 in the last seven, only losing without Roethlisberger. This isn't to say the Ravens aren't a good team, only that they are the second best team taking the field at Heinz toady.

Quarterback Play
Ben Roethlisberger is playing the best football of his career. His decision making has been impeccable, evidenced by his 158 consecutive passes without an interception. He has developed a good understanding with his two rookie receivers as the season progressed which has made the passing game much more dangerous. Also, Ben has been looking to run more when flushed from the pocket, posting the second highest rushing mark of his career this season. He hasn't lost to the Ravens since 2006, he is 5-0 in his career against Joe Flacco and 8-2 lifetime in the playoffs. Look for Ben to have a big game.

Joe Flacco has never played a playoff game at home, but has posted a very respectable 4-2 record, tying Len Dawson, Roger Staubach and Jake Delhomme for most career playoff road wins. Flacco was excellent last week against a Kansas City team that was able to bring some pressure. He did a good job of eluding the rush and ran better than advertised when he had to. The Steelers will look to keep him in the pocket and let James Harrison and Lamar Woodley tee off on the edges. It will be interesting to see how often the Ravens look to go deep, because that would be one way to "contain" Troy Polamalu.

Players to Watch:
Emmanuel Sanders. I expect Manny to be the x factor in the game. While the Ravens will often look to bracket or double Mike Wallace and will be aware of Hines Ward and Heath Miller in the middle of the field, they won't be able to matchup with Sanders.

Lamar Woodley: Woodley has two sacks in every playoff game in his career. If the Ravens give Michael Oher help on the left side with Harrison, Woodley should have a one-on-one matchup on his side.

Rashard Mendenhall: In the last matchup Mendenhall was slow to hit the hole and tried to bounce runs outside with little success. Look for him to have learned from Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs who gouged the Ravens between the tackles early in their game last week.

Anquan Boldin: The Steelers have had trouble with big receivers in the slot and in the middle of the field this season. T.O. and the Rob Gronkowski among others were difficult matchups. With Todd Heap back healthy after missing the last game, Boldin will be a tough assignment for William Gay and the other Steelers defensive backs.

Ray Lewis: Ray Ray might be the sixth best linebacker on the field in this game. The Ravens got pushed around early by the Chiefs and it will be important for Lewis to control the middle to stop the Steelers run game. Ray's Pro Bowl status was more on name than merit this year. We'll see if he can elevate his play for this one.

Matt Birk: Birk has a bad knee that has kept him out of practice this week and has him listed as a game time decision. The Harvard grad is getting on in years, but is still a very capable center and the anchor to the Ravens line. If he can't go or is limited, that could be a real problem for Baltimore.

--Ray Rice was sick yesterday, and although he will play, I doubt he will be at full strength.

--Bryant McFadden is recovering from an abdominal strain. Look for the Ravens to test him early. If he can't go, the Steelers will be exposed at the nickel if they move Gay into McFadden's corner spot.

--The Ravens do have two of the best specialists in the game. Heinz field should neutralize Billy Cundiff's long kickoffs a bit, but Baltimore has a clear edge here.

The Answer:
The Steelers offense is gelling at the right time and they have the better defense. If turnovers are close I expect the Steelers to win this game in surprisingly easy fashion. Give me the home team at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh 24-10.

Green Bay +1.5 at Atlanta:
My pregame responsibilities are going to prohibit a full write-up on this one. Aaron Rodgers is playing as well as any quarterback in the league right now and Green Bay's defense will play fast indoors in Atlanta. I picked Pittsburgh and Green Bay to meet in the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season. I don't see either one getting derailed today. 

I like the Pack 27-17.