Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Making the Rounds

The Terrible Podcast Episode 2 will be up later today both here and at In Part 1 we take a look at Mike Tomlin's press conference, injuries and fines levied by the league and in Part 2 we look at the AFC playoff race.

We will have our iTunes account open shortly and you can subscribe a variety of ways.

I was a guest on Craig Wolfley's podcast on Tuesday. Thanks to Craig, Frank Murgia and The Talent Network for having me on. You can listen to or download the show here.

I will be hosting the afternoon drivetime show on 970 AM this afternoon from 3-7. I'll be on-site at Hemingway's Cafe on Forbes Avenue in Oakland. Listen in or, better yet, stop by and start the holiday festivities.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Steelers-Raiders

The Steelers couldn't have asked for a better opponent this past Sunday than the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders strengths fit right in to what the Steelers do well and the Steelers had the added incentive of the Raiders win last year at Heinz Field. The Steelers were coming off an embarrassing defeat at home on national television to the New England Patriots and had something to prove, to themselves and their fans. And they did, despite a plethora of penalties that Coach Tomlin didn't always agree with. An excellent game across the board.

Overall the Steelers came out of this game in reasonably good shape. The offense line again got dinged up with Maurkice Pouncey suffering a knee bruise/thigh contusion, Chris Kemoeatu suffering cramps (?) and Jonathan Scott having a leg injury. None of the injuries are expected to be serious, a good thing as the Steelers are already a bit shorthanded on the offensive line.

A couple new injuries were reported for the first time in Mike Tomlin's press conference Tuesday: Antonio Brown apparently has some swelling on his knee which will slow him this week and may mean he doesn't get a helmet on Sunday. Matt Spaeth suffered a concussion and will undergo the requisite testing.


The Good:
*Ben Roethlisberger played a great game throwing for three TDs and running for another while getting 55 yards on the ground. Roethlisberger talked about providing more leadership during the week and he delivered in a big way leading the team to 431 yards of total offense and converting all three drives in the red zone. His best performance of the year.

*Mike Wallace continues to impress with three more catches for 116 yards. He's second in the NFL in catches of 20+ and 40+ yards and leads in yards/catch at 23.0. He also has eight TD catches, one in each of the last three games. His 52-yard catch and run was jaw-dropping and he added 19 yards on a reverse hand-off. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level at the moment.

*The offensive line dealt well with various injuries. Guys came off the bench and others were moved around and the unit still did an adequate job of blocking and protecting Roethlisberger.

The Bad:
*The Steelers continue to come out slow since Roethlisberger has taken over at QB. They have only 10 first quarter points in six games and went three and out on their first two possessions on Sunday.

*Rashard Mendenhall fumbled for the first time this year, the Steelers only turnover.


The Good:
*The Raiders run-first scheme was just what the doctor ordered as the defense was excellent to a man. They held the Raiders to three points, 182 yards of total offense, rang up six sacks and forced three turnovers. They held yds/gm leader Darren McFadden to 14 yards on ten carries. They will be hard-pressed to play a better game all year.

*Singling out players is probably inappropriate with such a good team effort, but James Farrior continues his recent run of excellent play, leading the team with seven tackles and a sack.

*After questioning Troy Polamalu last week, he was back to his old self this week creating havoc in the box from the edge, recording six tackles and making a nice interception and return to seal the game. The Steelers defense needs to scheme against the opposing offense, but they seem to be markedly more effective when Troy is up in the box frequently.

*James Harrison continues to dominate with five tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

*The secondary seemed to turn the corner after four consecutive tough weeks. Ike Taylor was outstanding and William Gay much-improved.

The Bad:
*Nothing. The penalties, but we'll get to that below.

Special Teams:

The Good:
*Antonio Brown got a helmet for one of the few times this year and looked very dangerous returning punts averaging nine yards on seven returns. He took one punt back but the Steelers committed two penalties on the play. He and Sanders are providing a potent punch in the return game.

*Shaun Suisham didn't exactly get a baptism by fire, but he converted all five extra points in his first game in a Steelers uniform.

*The coverage units were again able to totally shut down the opposition's return game.


The Good:
*Mike Tomlin and his staff get an A+ this week. After the loss to New England Tomlin took the unusual step of putting the team in pads on Wednesday to raise the intensity level. He also made the decision to cut Jeff Reed, bench Trai Essex and dress Antonio Brown. The message was clearly sent and received.

*In such a blowout few in-game decisions have much impact, but both coordinators dialed up excellent game plans.

*Tomlin did an excellent jog keeping the team focused and under control in the face of so many questionable penalty calls. This carried through after the game as well and shows a very disciplined team.

The Bad:
*I'm reaching here, but while I like gadget/trick plays I thought Arians decision to call one on the fourth play of the game was a little early. Nonetheless Ward was open on the play and Roethlisberger underthrew him.

Big Officiating Calls:

*Simply put, it was the worst officiated game in terms of the impact on the Steelers that I have ever seen. The Steelers were flagged 18 times, with 14 accepted, for a total of 163 yards. The personal foul calls on Ryan Clark, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were questionable at best (Woodley/Harrison) or just flat out wrong (Clark). The Steelers have a reason to feel targeted when such things happen repeatedly. The League office has already apologized for the two blown calls in the Cincinnati game that almost cost the Steelers the win. It will be interesting to see if its more apologies this week or fines instead. Stay tuned.

*Richard Seymour's $25K fine by the league office for punching Roethlisberger seems light.

Up Next: The 2-8 Buffalo Bills in Buffalo at 1:00 on Sunday. The Bills are coming in off their first two wins of the season, including a big comeback last week in Cincinnati. They will throw the ball aggressively and it will be more of a test than the casual fan might think.

"Way Back Home"--Awesome Video

I'm working on my multimedia skills this week. If you have eight minutes, take a break and watch this. Great cycling stunts, great scenery and hopefully also puts a smile on your face. Thanks. (h/t Rocco DeMaro)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Terrible Podcast, Episode 1

The Terrible Podcast - Steelers Podcast

New: The Terrible Podcast!

Dave Bryan from Steelers Depot, the best Steelers site on the web, and I have recorded the first Terrible Podcast. It should be up later today on both our sites and will be available shortly on iTunes, no charge of course. Today, we take an in-depth look at yesterday's big Steelers win--in under 30 minutes.

We will be doing three podcasts a week: Monday being a game recap; Wednesday focusing on injuries, preparation and news from around the league; and Friday previewing this week's opponent and taking a look at other big games in the NFL with a few gambling favorites sprinkled in.

We hope you'll take a listen and give us your feedback. Just two guys talking Steelers football. Download it to your iPod or mp3 player and listen anytime.

We'll have the twitter and email accounts set up shortly so you can follow us and send any questions or comments you may have.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paydirt: NFL Week 11

We stand at 19-14 entering Week 11 after going 2-3 last week. Let's take a look at where we're going to ring the register this week. Lots to like:

Baltimore -11.5 at Carolina:
A Five-Star Pick. Nothing this year will be better than the Steelers laying three at Tampa in Week 3, but we have a contender. It's really hard to love a team on the road when they are laying double digits, but it's equally hard to figure out how Vegas made this line. Carolina is starting Brian St. Pierre at quarterback. Pierre will be the Panthers fourth quarterback this season. He's a seven-year veteran who has played in two games, no starts, and thrown five passes in his career. He was signed as a street free agent November 12. Sixth round draft pick Tony Pike who has played in one game, throwing 12 passes, actually has more game experience but St. Pierre is getting the nod, leading to speculation of a mutiny by Coach John Fox. Mutiny or not, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are salivating. The line moved from 10 to 11.5 with the QB change but I think it should be at least 14 as the Panthers also put leading rusher DeAngelo Williams on the IR this week. If you like to play teases wheel the Ravens with everyone.

UPDATE (11:15 AM): I laid 10.5 when Carolina named St. Pierre the starter on Thursday. The line moved to 11 yesterday and 11.5 this morning. It is now 13. I would play it all the way to 14, but at these levels it is no longer a five-star pick.

Pittsburgh -7 vs. Oakland:
Fans are fickle, Vegas isn't. The Steelers looked terrible getting smoked by the Pats last week while the Raiders have won three in a row and looked good doing it. But Jason Campbell isn't Tom Brady and it's hard to imagine Darren McFadden, the NFL's leader in yards/game, is going to run wild against the Steelers defense. The memory of last year's loss to the Raiders at home and their national television embarrassment by New England means the Steelers will be focused today. Lay the points and another good one to throw in your tease.

Cleveland +2.5 at Jacksonville:
Josh Cribbs is out for the Browns. Five weeks ago that would be a crippling blow, but with the emergence of Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis, it isn't going to shut down the Cleveland offense. Jacksonville is the luckiest team in the league and they really aren't that good. The Browns are 1-4 in games decided by less than seven points and Jax is 3-0. Look for that to be reversed this week. The Jags have cost me money this year. I'm going to get some back this week.

New England -4 vs. Indianapolis:
Watching last week was scary. The Pats offense was awesome and Tom Brady had one of the best games of his career. This is a great rivalry and I don't expect it to be easy as Indy is getting a little healthier, but New England is going to take care of business at home where Brady has won 24 straight.

San Francisco -3.5 vs. Tampa Bay:
The Niners have won three of four and are getting themselves back in the hunt. Tampa is not going to travel well going across the country. Lay 'em.

Other Picks: Atlanta -3 at St. Louis and Arizona +8 at Kansas City.

I'll have some more thoughts on the late games and the night game up around 3 today. Good luck.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bob Errey's Candid Assessment of Evgeni Malkin on NHL Live

Penguins television announcer Bob Errey was a guest on NHL Live with E.J. Hradek today. Hradek asked Errey how Malkin has performed so far this season. Errey pulled no punches:

"It's been up and down. You're talking about a centerman, he's a guy that can't win draws worth a lick. I mean, he just puts his stick in there and it's going the other way. He's a guy that's gotta turn a lotta pucks over [forcing turnovers, in a positive fashion], he does. He probably does that better than anybody in the league.

He's a guy that's looking for somebody to defer to on his line and he really hasn't had that guy. Now Aaron Asham, believe it or not, has kinda provided that, a little bit over the last couple of hockey games. And I don't want to take anything away from Aaron Asham. We're talking about a guy the Penguins got at a great price and scored the other night, a big goal, and he is playing some pretty good hockey right now. But he's not a 30-40 goal scorer. Consequently, Malkin's not gonna give him the puck everytime he wants. I think if he had that gunner on the other side he would use his wingers a lot more. He seems to be trying to run the gamut and trying to go one on the world, which is great in pond hockey...

You know, Malkin, his upside is better than, to me, anybody in the game. When you go one-on-one he can do some things on the ice with that puck that I haven't seen many players do in the last couple years. But you just can't beat four or five guys and the other team knows that and they'll just pack up the house and let Malkin beat the first two guys...but it's like Kovalev was his last couple years in Pittsburgh, it's just tough to beat the same guy five times.

Malkin, I think, has got all the game, he's got all the goods, he's got some great tools. His ability to use his wingers or really, want to use his wingers, isn't there right now. I don't know if he just doesn't have enough faith in them, doesn't think they can get the job done, [that] he's better with the puck in his hands, I don't know. But his game, his actual game, skill-wise and the way he's feeling right now, is at a great level. It's just a matter of him trying to play, I don't want to say within the rules, but use the players around him. If he could use the players around him a little bit better he'd reap a little bit more than what he's getting."

There is a lot to take from that. It is interesting that Errey's first comment referred to Geno's weakness on faceoffs. It is widely talked about how Sid, when he came into the league, was very weak on the draw, but through hard work has now made himself one of the best faceoff men in the game. Clearly the organization isn't pleased with Malkin's effort in that area. The rest of it seems spot on. Malkin tries to do too much himself, and while he is great at forcing turnovers, he is a turnover machine himself, particularly when skating laterally at either blue line. It will be interesting to see if Jordan Staal's return and pairing with Malkin--as Bylsma had planned to do coming into the season--really elevates Malkin's game.

Good stuff from Errey.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Fall of Troy

Where is Troy Polamalu and what is going on with the Steelers' pass defense?

Years ago, baseball analysts realized the importance of statistical analysis and developed sabermetrics. While your eyes can tell you some things, can you really see the difference between a .260 hitter and a .300 hitter? The season is 26 weeks long. If a players gets 25 at bats a week, that is 650 at bats for the year. One hit every two weeks is the difference. A blob single here, bad hop there and we're talking about the difference between making $2 million and $10 million a year. Unless you see a player every day, it can be difficult to discern such things. Statistics provide some of the details that clarify the picture.

Football is different. The game doesn't revolve around one individual match-up, pitcher vs. batter, the way baseball does. Football is the ultimate team game. Certainly there are one-on-one match-ups that take place all over the field, but those match-ups are augmented by schemes and formations. On offense, statistics tell us something about quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, but might not tell the whole story. Sunday night Ben Roethlisberger threw for 387 yards and three touchdowns in the Steelers 39-26 loss to the New England Patriots. While superficially impressive, anyone who watched the game knows how meaningless those numbers are. Roethlisberger piled them up when the outcome of the game was already decided. They look nice, but had no impact on the game.

Defensive statistics are even less refined. Sacks, tackles, interceptions and fumble recoveries provide some insight, but different schemes require different players to do different things. If Aaron Smith can occupy two offensive linemen LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are free to wreak havoc. Smith's numbers don't show up in the box score, but his contribution is obviously essential to the defense's success.

But team statistics do tell a story, and combined with Troy's total lack of impact plays, the conclusion is obvious. Troy Polamalu has disappeared and the Steelers defense can't stop the pass as a result. The perennial All-Pro and heart of the defense had an interception in each of the first two games but hasn't had one since. He was credited with one pass defensed in each of the first two weeks but none since. He hasn't recorded a sack, forced a fumble or recovered a fumble yet this year. The Steelers defense which didn't give up more than 17 points in any of the first five games has given up 20 or more in each of the last four and the pass defense has dropped to 26th in the league, giving up more than 250 yards per game.

Troy himself said he had a terrible game against the Saints and expected to play much better the following week in Cincinnati. Against the Bengals, Pittsburgh jumped out to a comfortable 27-7 lead. But during the second half the Bengals moved the ball virtually at will against a defense that rolled safety coverage toward Chad Ochocinco and allowed Terrell Owens to run free out of the slot against William Gay. Polamalu and Ryan Clark were nowhere to be seen as Carson Palmer drove them down the field three different times, the last ending the game when a pass was dropped on the Steelers five-yard line with less than two minutes to go.

This past Sunday Tom Brady threw on the Steelers at will. Brady carved up a secondary that again had no answer for a big receiver, in this case tight end Rob Gronkowski, running out of the slot. Brady threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns, all to Gronkowski, and the game was over in the third quarter. Receivers rand down the middle of the field uncovered all game.

Throughout his career Troy has been a star. He is the guy who makes the game-changing, the splash plays ever week--the incredible interception against the Falcons in week 1 or the great leap over the line of scrimmage to stop the Titans late in week 2. That guy has disappeared. And like last year when his season-ending injury lead to the collapse of the Steelers pass defense, his disappearance is killing the team. Certainly the sub-standard play of Gay, Clark and Bryant McFadden has also contributed. But Troy is the key. If he doesn't improve the Steelers are again going to struggle down the stretch to make the playoffs.

Belichick is LeBeau's Daddy; Other Thoughts on Steelers-Pats


There are a lot of fingers to point after this debacle, but I think the blame for this one lies squarely on the coaching staff. This was by far the worst coaching performance in the Dick LeBeau-era and the offense, as against New Orleans, could do nothing early. The stats and points put up when the game was out of hand only serve to mislead. The Steelers were beaten badly in every aspect of the game.


The Steelers continue to get dinged up. Hines Ward left Sunday night's game early with a concussion which ended his streak of consecutive games with a catch at 186. To his credit Ward deemed the hit he took to be a clean one and didn't seem overly concerned with the streak. He expects to be back Sunday. Others injured included Lawrence Timmons, Troy Polamalu and Crezdon Butler. All will be limited in practice this week, but Timmons and Polamalu are expected to play Sunday. Will Allen and Brett Kiesel could be back Sunday, while Aaron Smith is still weeks away.


The Good: (Silver Linings)
*Mike Wallace has now established himself as one of the better receivers in the game. Against the Patriots he had career highs with eight catches for 136 yards and two TDs. Wallace is now third in the league in receptions of 20+ yards with 14, his 21.4 yards/catch is fourth in the NFL and his seven TDs is tied for fifth among receivers.

*It continues to be overlooked, but the Steelers are running the ball reasonably well. They had 69 yards on 12 carries in the first half for 5.8 yard/carry average, but only ran it four times in the second half because they fell so far behind.

The Bad:
*The Steelers were again held scoreless in the first quarter and have scored a total of ten first quarter points in Ben's five games as QB. Those ten points came against the Bengals and were a direct result of Cincinnati turnovers deep in their own territory.

*Roethisberger was 7 for 20 for 90 yards in the first half and looked confused by the defensive schemes the Pats were throwing at him. He also threw another pick six.

*The Steelers went three-and-out on their first possession of each half and the Pats scored on the ensuing drive each time.

*Wallace and Antwaan Randle El dropped touchdown passes in the first half that would have helped keep the Steelers within striking distance later in the game.

*The makeshift offensive line gave up five sacks to a team that had 13 thru eight games coming in. As in the game against the Saints, the line showed very little ability to adjust to the different schemes being thrown at them.


The Good:
*Nothing. Really. Maybe the fact that they won't play Tom Brady again during the regular season. He was fantastic.

The Bad:
*Everything. Really. This is what I wrote last week after the Cincinnati game: 
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark were non-existant in pass defense for the second week in a row. Receivers have been running down the field uncovered and the Steelers did nothing to counter the Bengals move of putting T. O. in the slot, where he was able to take advantage of a much smaller William Gay. The Steelers safeties have to play better, especially Troy who seems to have gone missing the last 3-4 games.
Change "Owens" to "Gronkowski" and the paragraph is unfortunately useful again this week.

*The defensive line was completely neutralized. The Patriots were able to mix their play calling efficiently and move the ball on the ground. They got 17 yards on their first running play from scrimmage and finished with over 100 yards on the ground, the first Steelers opponent to do so this year.

*The linebackers got very little pressure on Brady and he was able to pick apart the defense as a result. Football Outsiders rated Brady's performance in terms of DYAR the best of the year and the second best against the Steelers since 1993. The best? Brady's performance against the Black & Gold in 2007.

*The secondary. Gay has been awful covering the slot of late and McFadden hasn't been much better. Polamalu has not made an impactful play in weeks.

*The defense created no turnovers.

Special Teams:

The Good:
*Emmanuel Sanders continues to be a threat and has ensured he will get a helmet every Sunday. He'll probably also soon supplant Randle El as the third wideout in the three-wide formation. 

The Bad:
*Jeff Reed missed a 26-yard field goal. He is no longer employed by the Steelers.


The Good:
*It's hard to find anything good in an ass-whipping like that. I guess the fact that the Steelers were only down 10-3 at the half is a credit to something.

The Bad:
*Bill Belichick has repeatedly beaten the Steelers by relying on a short passing game, knowing the Steelers will give up the underneath stuff and protect against the deep ball. This wasn't a secret. The interesting aspect of the tactical battle was to see how Dick LeBeau and the Steelers defense would respond. Nothing. LeBeau dialed up nothing new and the Patriots methodically picked the Steelers apart underneath and out of the slot, something the Bengals had exposed the week before. It was the worst coaching performance in the Dick LeBeau-era in my opinion.

*The Steelers have come out slow in each game with Roethlisberger as QB. They need to figure out a way to jump start the offense so they can play with a lead, mix the play calling and run the ball more often.

*The Steelers had no answers to the Patriots defensive formations and blitz packages early and were again hesitant to go to the no-huddle which has been effective in the past.

*Once again the defense was unable to make in-game adjustments when exposed by their opponent. 

Big Officiating Calls:

*Nothing that impacted the flow or outcome of the game.

Up Next: The 5-4 division-leading Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field at 1:00 Sunday. The Raiders beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year 27-24, scoring 21 4th quarter points, the Steelers fourth of five consecutive losses.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jeff Reed's Steelers Career Over?

UPDATE: No need for the question mark in the title. This morning the Steelers worked out Shaun Suisham and liked what they saw. Jeff Reed has been let go and Suisham signed. Suisham was in the Steelers camp in 2005 and has kicked for the Cowboys, 49ers and Redskins. For his career he has converted 87 of 110 field goal attempts, 79.1%.
No question Jeff Reed's poor performance this season is the major contributor to the Steelers' decision to bring in a couple kickers on Tuesday for a tryout. But, this rant by Reed after the game Sunday night, while wearing a "Haters Hate" t-shirt, is ultimately what is going to cost him his job--probably tomorrow.

The Steelers have lived with Reed's stupidity for a long time. Who can forget the attack on the paper towel dispenser, the citation for public urination and the pre-season accusation that the team lied to him about extending his contract? Obviously, the team has been willing to live with those things and Reed's short kickoffs--bottom third of the league again this year--because Skippy has been so successful kicking field goals, particularly on the difficult surface at Heinz Field. In the off-season the team even franchised the 30-year old, agreeing to pay him $2.8 million, though the kicker was miffed he didn't get a multi-year deal.

This year Reed's field goal percentage is the lowest in the league (minimum 5 attempts), and last night he shanked a 26-yarder. Afterward, he blamed the field and had some choice words for the fans. Bad choice. The Steelers aren't a perfectly-run organization, but they are very aware of the team's public image and they understand the public relations game and its importance. This past off-season they stood behind the league and its decision to suspend Ben Roethlisberger (my article on the Rooney's astute handling of that situation) and they got rid of Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. They know the Steelers are woven into the fabric of Pittsburgh, and while they are willing to turn a blind eye on occasion, criticizing the fanbase is never going to be tolerated. I'm sure Art Rooney II was mad as hell this morning. The result? Unemployed kickers got calls to come tryout.

I'll be shocked if Jeff Reed every plays another game in a Steelers uniform. In fact, I'll go as far as to say Reed may not ever kick in the NFL again. Short kickoffs and boorish behavior can be overlooked for a time. Not when you are making less than 70% of your field goals. You would think in a contract year Jeff Reed would know better. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

(A Jeff Reed photomontage. Worth the click.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NFL Week 10

A 4-2 record last week brings us to 17-11 on the season. We're looking for another good week after having our worst day of the year yesterday with the colleges. We were late getting into Pittsburgh for the Steelers-Pats game tonight, so a quick listing of the games from the gate at the airport is going to have to suffice.

Cincinnati +7 at Indianapolis;  Houston PK at Jacksonville;  Tennessee +1 at Miami;  Buffalo -1 vs. Detroit;  Pittsburgh -5 vs. New England

I like the Browns and the Bucs as well, but am not making them official picks.  Good Luck.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quick Picks in College: Big Ten Favorites and More

The season has taken shape and there are only a handful of games left to determine who is going to play in the BCS title game. TCU absolutely schooled Utah last week. Gameday isn't going to be going back to St. Lake anytime soon. The Utes failed to cross the fifty yard line until the fourth quarter in the 40-7 pasting. Boise St. continues to keep pace on the scoreboard but not in the pools as their schedule isn't doing them any favors. They played last night and went up 28-0 against Idaho in the first quarter. They called off the dogs in the second half, rolling 52-14.

Like it or not, both non-AQ schools are going to be watching Oregon and Auburn if the Ducks and Tigers win out. Nobody has ever played as fast as Oregon. They have 21 touchdown drives that have lasted less than a minute. Not only are they really good, they are in unbelievable physical condition. Tempo and speed. A few teams have kept it close in the first half, but they inevitably get blown out in the second as Oregon wears them down. Nobody is more fun to watch. Auburn has been great, but the Cam Newton story has taken away some of the luster. They still have Georgia today and the SEC title game so they are more likely to stumble.

We logged another winning we last week going 6-4, bringing the season record to 32-22. That's pretty solid. Let's put some more points on the board this week with a focus on the Big Ten favorites. We're tight on time, so we'll just let it roll:

Iowa -9.5 at Northwestern: Northwestern was up 21-0 at Penn St. just before the half last week. Then the roof caved in. I don't think they recover from that and I expect Ricky Stanzi to have a big day as the Hawkeyes rebound from last week's scare at Indiana.

Michigan -13 at Purdue: I don't know that Rich Rodriguez loses his job if the Wolverines lose last week against Illinois, but I sure as hell know the defensive coordinator isn't going to be back next year. Giving up 45 in regulation and three straight TDs in OT means one thing. You suck. You're fired. They'll have an easier time this week, but look for another shootout.

Wisconsin -22.5 vs. Indiana: Wisconsin was a lucky cover last week scoring 28 second half points. They won't let themselves get behind early at home this week. Indiana mails this one in after almost upsetting Iowa. The Badgers are too big and too physical. Camp Randall will be a fun place to be this afternoon.

Oklahoma -15 vs. Texas Tech: Norman is hell in November. Mike Leach isn't there and the Red Raiders can't stop anyone. Look for the Sooners to hit the half century mark today.

Cincinnati +5 at West Virginia: West Virginia fans are going to finally get their wish. Back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Connecticut sealed head coach Bill Stewart's fate. The locals may turn on the home team if they get off to a bad start. Take the points.

Others: Mississippi +2.5 at Tennessee;  Florida -6 vs. South Carolina;  Auburn -7 (assuming Cam Newton plays) vs. Georgia; Oregon -19.5 at Cal. Good Luck.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Steelers-Bengals. Starks out for the Season


The big news coming out of the Steelers 27-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night was injury-related. During the game offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Kemoeatu and Max Starks all left with injuries while a variety of other players got dinged up. Pouncey's injury in the second quarter appeared to be a potentially serious one and would have been a devastating blow. He has anchored an improved offensive line and has performed even better than the loftiest expectations. Fortunately he returned to the game just before the half and didn't seem to suffer any ill-effects. The left side of the line was not as fortunate. LG Kemoeatu had an MRI during the game which showed no serious structural damage, but he could not continue. LT Starks was reported to have a stinger in his neck and shoulder, returned to the game and then left for good. The makeshift line which included Doug Legursky and Jonathan Scott held up just well enough to help the Steelers secure the victory.

At his press conference on Tuesday Mike Tomlin went through the "laundry list" of injuries. A few concussions that would be monitored, Brett Kiesel still having hamstring problems and the offensive line. Pouncey had a bruised tibia and would be fine, according to Tomlin. Kemoeatu had a sprained knee and would be limited during week, while Starks had a stinger. Generally, this was a best case scenario with none of the three missing any significant time.

Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. An MRI later in the day revealed that Max Starks had a significant disc problem and Wednesday morning he was placed on the injured reserve list, ending his season. At the moment it appears Jonathan Scott will be first in line to fill Starks' role. The Steelers will now go the rest of the season with two tackles who weren't in the plans when camp opened in July. Flozell Adams has been a pleasant surprise on the right side. What happens on the left side will go a long way in determining the Steelers' success the rest of the way.

A look at what transpired Monday night:


The Good:
*Rashard Mendenhall again ran the ball really well. While the offensive line opened a few holes, Spindenhall did an excellent job of turning potential losses and no gains into productive runs. In his third year he is clearly emerging as an elite back.

*Mike Wallace has become one of the game's leading deep threats, leading the NFL with a 23.0 yard/catch average. He caught three more long balls on Monday, including one down the sideline on a great throw by Ben and another on a trick-play from Antwaan Randle El. If Ben didn't consistently underthrow him, Wallace's numbers would be even more impressive.

*On the goal line in the first quarter the Steelers lined-up Doug Legursky in the backfield and Mendenhall was able to pound it into the end zone behind solid straight ahead blocking. It appeared the team learned something from their lack of success the week before in New Orleans.

The Bad:
*Roethlisberger's interception was a terrible throw at a very important point in the game. I don't think he saw the safety and tried to float the ball into Heath Miller. Ben can't turn the ball over in that spot and has to do a better job of throwing the ball on the underneath route to the tight end on the outside. He's had trouble with that throw in the past.

*The Bengals only had one sack but Roethlisberger had to avoid pressure on multiple occasions, again doing a great job keeping plays alive. The sack came against the same formation that gave up three sacks last week at N.O., three wides, Heath Miller as TE and Isaac Redman (as opposed to Moore) as a sidecar to Roethlisberger. Miller missed his chip block, but Roethlisberger did have time but couldn't find a receiver. The offensive line appeared outmanned for the second week in a row, although injuries did play a part this week.

*Both Wallace and Hines Ward put the ball on the ground. Ward's resulted in a turnover leading to a touchdown while Wallace's went out of bounds. Last week Heath Miller had a costly fumble and return man Emmanuel Sanders fumbled a kickoff. That is way too many fumbles from receivers who are only touching the ball a handful of times a game.


The Good:
*The Steelers linebackers are an absolutely dominating unit. James Farrior had his best game of the year with nine tackles while Lawrence Timmons again was outstanding. The Steelers had four sacks--all by linebackers, one interception--by Timmons and six tackles for loss--five by the 'backers. The defense is designed to have the linebackers make the plays and they are coming through in dominating fashion.

*The run defense continues to be outstanding. None of the D-lineman was credited with more than one tackle but they did another outstanding job, limiting Cedric Benson to 54 yards after the Bengals had some early success. Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood have been solid if not spectacular in filling in for Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel.

The Bad:
*The Steelers pass defense again had trouble getting off the field on third down, a problem that plagued them last week and all of last year. In the second half the Bengals were able to convert a 3rd & 13 and a 3rd &14. Allowing other teams to keep drives alive in the second half when they are behind is the primary reason the Steelers haven't been able to put teams away.

*Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark were non-existant in pass defense for the second week in a row. Receivers have been running down the field uncovered and the Steelers did nothing to counter the Bengals move of putting T. O. in the slot, where he was able to take advantage of a much smaller William Gay. The Steelers safeties have to play better, especially Troy who seems to have gone missing the last 3-4 games.

Special Teams:

The Good:
*Emmanuel Sanders is proving to be a threat every time he touches the ball. As Mike Tomlin becomes more comfortable with Sanders' ball security I expect him to get more opportunities to return punts. He is already making the kickoff return team look as dangerous as it has in years.

*Sanders and rookie Jason Worilds got the Steelers off to a great start by causing and recovering a fumble on the game's first play. Four plays later it was 7-0 Steelers.

*William Gay had the team's first punt block on the Bengals second drive. That was excellent coaching to call the block on the first opportunity and to then go get it. An early 10-0 lead.

The Bad:
*Jeff Reed again missed a crucial field goal. After hitting a solid 53-yarder to end the first half, Reed missed a 46-yarder that would have iced the game. While Reed hasn't missed a kick from inside 40 yards, he is 0-4 from 40-49 and his 70% conversion rate (14-20) is dead last in the NFL.

*After starting the year with improved distance on his kickoffs, Reed again is having trouble getting the ball past the five. While colder conditions certainly play a part, it will be worth keeping an eye on in coming weeks. His 65.1 yd/avg is mid-league. Let's hope it stays there.

*Dan Sepulveda had an uncharacteristically short punt in the second quarter. This is only noteworthy because he has been excellent with both his gross and net punting average all year.


The Good:
*The Steelers pounded the ball straight ahead on the goal line on their opening drive. They gave the ball to the deep back (Mendenhall) with a lead blocker in the backfield.  Last week against N.O. they gave it to the upback, starting a bad sequence of plays. Lesson learned.

*Arians generally mixed up the run and pass effectively and dialed up a trick play that worked even though Randle El underthrew Wallace. He deserves credit for setting that play up with an earlier call and then calling it when it had a chance to succeed.

*As mentioned above, the punt block was a result of something seen on film. An excellent call and superb execution.

The Bad:
*The Steelers again mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half. With 00:45 left Ben completed a 24-yard pass to Mike Wallace to the Cincinnati 35-yard line. They should have immediately called timeout. Instead the offense got to the line and Roethlisberger spiked the ball with 00:22 remaining. That wasted at least ten seconds and cost them a down. Two incompletions later, they were left with a 53-yard field goal, 00:10 on the clock and two unused timeouts in their pocket. Terrible. Again.

*Once again the defense didn't seem to be able to make adjustments when exposed by their opponent. Dick LeBeau chose to focus on Chad Ochocinco and roll safety coverage his way. The Bengals countered by moving Terrell Owens into the slot and also using him in combination routes against William Gay. Owens finished with 10 receptions, 141 yards and two touchdowns. That's a big day and the Steelers safties were nowhere to be found.

*Continuing a disturbing trend the Steelers committed a number of penalties late in the game and totaled seven for 73 yards.

Big Officiating Calls:

*The Steelers took three consecutive big penalties early in the fourth quarter. On Roethlisberger's interception Flozell Adams got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that set the Bengals up at the Steelers 36. On the first play Casey Hampton got a very questionable roughing the passer call and that was quickly followed by a 20-yard pass interference call on Ike Taylor. The Bengals had the ball at the one and scored on the next play to make it 27-21 with more than nine minutes left.

*With just under two minutes to go and the Bengals facing a 2nd and 10 from their own 48, Ike Taylor took a bad pass interference call on an underneath three-yard pattern. This set Cincinnati up with another fresh set of downs.

Up Next: The 6-2 New England Patriots at Heinz Field Sunday night. A big test for both teams.

Moss Uncovered: The Best Take on Randy

If you missed "The Best That Never Was" last night make a point of watching it when it re-airs. It's an ESPN documentary in it's 30 for 30 series. This one is about the short career of Marcus Dupree. Two hours. Outstanding. I can't recommend it highly enough.
With Randy Moss getting ready to go for his third team this season, here is something you might have missed last week that got lost in the shuffle. The interview with Carter is great.

If you're reading this blog you probably have a reasonable handle on the saga that is Randy Moss. Traded about a month ago from New England to the Minnesota for a third-round draft pick, Moss was released by the Vikings on Monday, a day after they were beaten by the Patriots in Foxboro. Cue drama. The Vikings are the NFL's version of Days of our Lives. Everybody knows about the Brett Favre saga, which mercifully appears to be ending. This week Brett took a back seat to Randy who diverted all the attention (Get the SNL skit ready. Brett, Randy and Brad Childress with owner Zigy Wilf lurking in the background. This will happen.) Honestly, I bet Brett's a bit jealous. He has a busted ankle, took that big hit on the chin Sunday night and lived to tell about it and now all anyone wants to talk about is Randy. But, I digress.

Randy kicked things off for the media during his post-game press conference saying he loved the Patriots, but the real activity had started on Friday during the team's post-practice lunch when Moss loudly complained about the food and the Mom & Pop shop that had delivered it. Combined with Moss' lack of 100% effort, Vikings coach Brad Childress decided he'd had enough, had made a bad decision in acquiring Moss and told his team that they were releasing him. That set off all sorts of problems within the organization because Childress didn't clear it with the front office and owner. Now Childress is on very thin ice. Wednesday the Tennessee Titans, the only team to put in a waiver claim, acquired Moss and he will be in uniform next week after their bye.

That is all background to an interview done by former Vikings wide receiver Chris Carter. Carter was Randy Moss' mentor when he came into the league with the Vikings thirteen years ago. He shared some fantastic insight into who Moss is and what makes him tick on the Mike and Mike Show on ESPN radio Thursday morning 11/4. The podcast is 6:27 long. It's well worth your time. Check it out here under the The Best of Mike and Mike. I highly recommend it, one of the best takes by an athlete I've ever heard.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quick Picks for Week 9

A tough week last week going 0-2 with the picks, but 2-0 with the opinions. Hopefully you played them as well. Here is what I like today:

New Orleans -6 at Carolina;  Atlanta -10 vs. Tampa;  Detroit +5.5 vs. New York Jets; Baltimore -5 vs. Miami.

These are up late but I love the Giants -7 and I like the Eagles -3 in the late games. Good luck.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Pugilist: Why Sidney Crosby Dropped the Gloves

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost 5-2 to the Dallas Stars Wednesday night, but nationally the result of the game took a back seat to the fact that Sidney Crosby dropped the gloves (video here) for only the fifth time in his career. The media butchered this one. Most didn't understand why Sid got into a fight, calling it strange or out-of-the-blue. A few picked up on what Crosby said, but left it at that. There is more to it. Like baseball, hockey has its own unwritten rules, grown out of the culture of the game. These rules, how Sid viewed the Stars and what he thought was best for his own team all played a part in his decision. Here is how it went down:

The Penguins have had a lackluster start to the season. They went into Wednesday's game in Dallas a game over .500, but coming off their best team performance of the year, a 3-0 shutout of Carolina in Raleigh. In the first period Wednesday night the Penguins got worked--big time. They were outscored, outshot, out-hustled, out-everythinged and were behind 2-0. Then the fireworks started.

Midway through the second period an exchange of goals had made the score 3-1 when Pens defenseman Kris Letang and Stars center and captain Brenden Morrow dropped the gloves (video here). At 23, Letang is having a breakout year. He's among the leaders in all statistical offensive categories for defensemen. But he isn't a fighter. He's listed at 6'0", 201. Trust me, he's not. Maybe in his gear. On skates. Letang's been in two regular season fights in his career, and furthermore he recently injured his right hand which caused him to miss the second half of the Carolina game and practices leading up to the Dallas contest. But after an exchange of slashes, Morrow drops the gloves and Letang has no choice but to go. He does his best to clutch and grab because he can't throw his right, but he still gets the worst of it. Afterwards, he has a few choice words for Morrow, telling him about his hand and...well, you can see the rest.

After they clean up the sticks and gloves, Pens coach Dan Bylsma sends Mike Rupp and Eric Godard, two of the Pens "enforcers", legitimate heavyweights, onto the ice along with Crosby. Godard gets sent back to the bench because of a late line change, but it didn't matter. Sid has already planned the whole thing out. This is obvious because Sid decided not to take the draw from the left circle in Dallas' end. Sid always takes the draw in the offensive end. Every time. Instead he lined up along the left boards and, before the faceoff, asked 23-year old, 6'0", 200 lbs. defenseman Matt Niskanen if he wanted to go. I'm sure Niskanen, an American kid, was the most surprised guy in the building. And of course he went, right off the draw. In fact, I'll bet Niskanen thought it was kind of an honor. Not many guys get to fight Sidney Crosby. In fact, he was pretty humorous in the post-game interveiw. When asked if it was a story he could tell his grandchildren someday, he responded, "That I got beat up by Sidney Crosby?"

So why did Sid do it? Well as he said himself, first and foremost he was sticking up for "Tanger". There is no way Morrow should have dropped gloves with Letang, if for no other reason than he had an injured hand. There is a small chance Morrow didn't know about the injury, but I doubt it. And this is why Sid did what he did. Morrow is the Stars' captain. He was a teammate of Sid's on the Canadian Olympic team. They obviously know each other reasonably well. Morrow took on a young Penguins defenseman who he knew he could handle. Sid responded as if it was a baseball game. You hit our superstar, we'll hit yours. You hit our weak-hitting shortstop, then we'll throw at your weak-hitting catcher. An eye for an eye. Sid did it himself because he is the Pens captain and he could nip this whole thing in the bud. Any further action would be left to the heavyweights, an even deal. No one would go headhunting or be looking for a cheapshot.

If Sid doesn't do it? Maybe one of the Pens enforcers goes after Morrow. Then, maybe someone on the Stars goes after Sid. By taking care of business in, literally, two seconds, Sid tried to stick up for his teammate and inspire his team. At the same time he kept the fighting and retaliation from escalating. Dallas kicked the Pens' ass, but no bad blood is festering. The Pens don't play the Stars again this year and next year it won't be part of the storyline. A big story for the national media this week, but nothing else. Another really smart move by Sidney Crosby.

Kickin' Around this Week's College Games

A big 7-3 on campus last week brings the blog to 26-18 on the year, 59%.  Can you believe we are into the last few weeks of the season? We still have a full slate this week before the schedule starts to thin as we head toward the end of conference play.

In terms of level of play, the Canadian Football League probably falls somewhere between very good college and very bad NFL. It never gets any traction in the US because 1) we have plenty of our own 2) the rules are a bit crazy. If you don't think so, watch this play. Check out the video before you read the explanation and see if you have any idea what is going on.

On to the action. This week, six picks and three opinions.

Clemson -3.5 vs. #25 North Carolina St.
NC St. has been one of college football's pleasant surprises while Clemson, with their loss at Boston College, now officially falls into the disappointment category. With Florida St. and South Carolina still on the schedule this is an absolute must game if the 4-4 Tigers want to be assured of going to a bowl game. The Tigers defense has tightened, keeping opponents to 16 points or less the last four games. Clemson has won six stratight in the series. I expect them to kick the extra point at home on Saturday.

#16 Iowa -17.5 at Indiana
Indiana is 4-4, but 0-4 in the Big Ten. Iowa isn't going to have a letdown after blowing out Michigan St. last week. Ricky Stanzi has lead the Hawkeyes to an average of 34.1 points/game. I think 35 should be enough this weekend.

#9 Wisconsin -20 at Purdue;  Florida -14 at Vanderbilt;  Boston College -3 at Wake Forest;  USC -5.5 vs. Arizona St.

Opinions: Tulsa -17 vs. Rice;  BYU-18 vs. UNLV;  Penn St. -6 vs. Northwestern; Alabama -6.5 vs. LSU

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Can the Post-Gazette Writers Get It Right?

I realize not every writer is going to get every fact right and that editors will occasionally miss things as well. I'm sure I'm sure I have incorrectly stated more than one thing in this blog, but I pay close attention when I cite numbers and I try to use fact-based logic when arguing my opinions (the I'm sure I'm sure was a joke--before you jack me up in the comments). That all seems to have gone out of style at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over the past 48 hours. Each of these alone might appear to be nitpicking, but when four different writers make multiple factual errors, it starts to add up, particularly when I have to pay to read most of them.

1.) "Q & A with Dave Molinari--Nov. 2" PG+ (subscription)

Dave is the Penguins beat writer and has been for a long time. He is excellent and is well respected throughout the league by both his peers and players. Thus, I was surprised when, in response to a question about Brent Johnson, he wrote, "Sensational as Brent Johnson has been through the early part of the season, there's a reason he wasn't deluged with seven-figure contract offers when he qualified for unrestricted free agency this summer."

The reality is the Penguins re-signed Johnson on April 13 of last year before the season ended. He never was an unrestricted free agent and thus never solicited or received any contract offers. I pointed this out to Dave and he was exceedingly gracious and apologetic and thanked me for pointing it out. This morning he printed a correction in today's Q & A.

2.) "Hurdle Candidate for Pirates' Job" Nov. 3, by Bill Brink

Bill is new to the Pirates beat. I have no idea how much experience he has in the industry. The regular beat writer Dejan Kovacevic is on vacation. I am not sure what the situation is with Chuck Finder, the other writer who covers the Pirates.

Brink was discussing the process of the Pirates managerial search and looked at some teams who had also recently gone through the process, one of which was the Atlanta Braves. Brink writes, "The interview process varies. [Atlanta GM Frank] Wren and his staff created a comprehensive list of questions that they felt gleaned information about every duty a major league manager has, then asked each candidate the same questions so they had comparable answers."

The problem is, earlier in the article Brink wrote, "The Braves interviewed one man, Gonzalez," who they ended up hiring. And it's not like the Braves go through this process every year--Bobby Cox has been their manager since 1990. I'm not sure I'm using the Braves, who have apparently interviewed one man for a managerial opening in the last twenty years as my go-to source when analyzing the Pirates managerial search. There is a huge disconnect in what he wrote. (To Bill's credit he did respond to my email and point me to some other links.)

3.) "Ed: Is Gibson Next Dwaine Board?" Nov. 3, by Ed Bouchette PG+ (subscription)

Ed Bouchette, is the dean of the Steelers beat writers, covering the team since the Super Bowl days in the '70s. Like Dave Molinari, Ed is respected by his peers. He's having a bad week. From the article above, "The fact the Steelers lost should not be surprising, the fact the final odds favored them by 3 1/2 points should be." It sure as hell surprised me. If I bet the Steelers under Ed's scenario and they won by three points there would be a problem.

Ed missed this one badly. Unless he's calling his local tavern and asking the bartender who sets his own line based on the local clientele, I have no idea where Ed got his -3.5 number. The line opened at "pick" and went to the Saints favored by 1 or 1.5 at game time, depending on where you looked. This article on headlined "Saints by 1 and more NFL lines" by Chad Millman on Friday might have been one place to start doing research. You can't open a piece with that and get it so dramatically wrong.

4.) "Ed Bouchette's Steelers chat: 11.2.10" PG+ (subscription)

More Ed. I realize chats are a live forum and thus more susceptible to errors and misstatements and the chatters are looking for opinions. Got it. The monitor also gets to pick and choose the questions to answer and really isn't held accountable. Ed butchered this.

Nate: Ed, how were they [Steelers] not prepared for the noise. Did you see the freaks in the stands? That is a poor excuse from the team. They have to expect that environment!

Ed Bouchette: I agree. I also was told they pump noise into that place, too.

This is a pretty bold statement by Ed. I don't doubt that somebody may have told him that they pump noise into the Superdome, but that would be a blatant violation of NFL rules. I also have no doubt if it were true that the NFL would not ignore it. I'm sure the Saints would be heavily fined and possibly lose a draft pick. That shouldn't be a throwaway line to toss out there. He is accusing the Saints of cheating. He may not look at it as a big deal, but the League would. The question gets followed right up by this:

Mesto: Is adding noise a legal thing to do in terms of the NFL?

Ed Bouchette: No, but they do not really care that much, not unless it becomes a PR issue.

Well this is idiotic. The only way it becomes a "PR issue" is if someone is actually doing it and it becomes known. You're damn right the League cares. A ton. The League is all about PR and if someone is doing this it is a MASSIVE PR issue because they are cheating. Look what the League did to the Patriots when they were caught taping the Jets on the sideline of a game. A $500,000 fine and loss of a first round draft pick was the penalty. Come on Ed.

5.) "Gerry Dulac's Steelers chat transcript: 11.3.10" PG+ (subscription)

Again we're in a chat, I get it.

Tprod: Gerry, What's with Randel El? He and Roethlisberger missed connecting with a couple of bad underthrows including missing an opportunity to take a pass interference call in the end zone........

Gerry Dulac: .....I thought there could have been pass interference on the under throw to El in the end zone, but, after watching the replay, the defensive back did not try to face guard or interfere with the flight of the ball, which would have been a penalty. All he tried to do was get there in time to hit El if he caught the ball, which, I presume is not a penalty.

Where to start. 1.) Face guarding is not a penalty in the NFL (or college, for that matter). Rule book 101. 2.) The defensive back did not try to "interfere with the flight of the ball, which would have been a penalty." What? That's what defensive backs are paid to do, interfere with the flight of the ball. No, it is not a penalty, it is called breaking up a pass. 3.) You are correct, hitting a receiver that catches the ball is not a penalty. It is called tackling.


Guest: Does Pouncey have a chance at rookie of the year?

Gerry Dulac: In the AFC, maybe, but not likely. Sam Bradford or Dez Bryant will win easily in the NFC. Tough for centers to get noticed. But he is good, and I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow made it to the Pro Bowl. Not at all.

Definitely not likely in the such award exists. There is one AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and one AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. There is not one for each conference. Also, if you feel compelled to mention two guys as competing for your fictional NFC Rookie of the Year Award, it is doubtful either will "win easily."

In a chat, the moderator picks the questions. Don't get the facts wrong.

Again, one or two of these, no big deal. But, I got tired of noting them (and there are more). And, as you can see, most of these come from PG+ which is the Post-Gazette's subscription area. The articles and chats are only available to people paying a fee to see them on the internet. If they are going to charge a fee and this is what one can expect, how can they possibly justify it?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Penguins After Ten (12) Games: Part III, The Forwards

Evaluating the forwards after twelve games isn't much different than it would have been after ten. Last Friday night they played a very solid first twenty minutes against the Flyers, but were terrible the rest of the way. They followed that up with a great team effort Saturday in Carolina. A good night and a bad night. Much as it has been with the Pens' goaltending, the forwards have been up and down. Here's my take (alphabetically, with games played in parenthesis. Part I is here, Part II is here.):

Craig Adams: (10) With four points and a +3 Adams has given the Pens exactly what was expected. Centering the fourth line and killing penalties Adams is the consummate role player and grinder. He tied a career-high with a three point night against Tampa but the Pens blew a 3-1 lead. Grade: B

Arron Asham: (3) After a solid preseason Asham injured his shoulder and missed the first nine games. In limited minutes it already looks like he is going to add toughness and grit and will occasionally take shifts on the top two lines. I imagine he eventually will get back playing with Cooke and Talbot on the third line giving the Pens the most annoying/aggravating line in the game. Grade: Incomplete

Mike Comrie: (11) After an excellent preseason Comrie has gotten off to a disastrous start. Penciled in as a top six forward Comrie has even managed to get himself scratched once due to his poor play. He's come on a little the last few games, but he is the only forward who has played at least five games not to register a goal. He is getting a huge reprieve due to Staal's injury. We'll see if he takes advantage. Grade: F

Matt Cooke: (12) Cooke has picked up right where he left off last year and is more than justifying the 3 year/$5.4 million contract he signed in the offseason. With six points, a +2 and 17 penalty minutes Cooke is doing exactly what he's asked to do while killing penalties--adding two shorthanded goals--and aggravating opponents. Grade: A

Sidney Crosby: (12) It's heresy to say anything negative about Sid, but I don't think we've seen the consistent high level of play that we saw last year so far this year. He's still the best player on the ice most nights and I'm sure he'll be in the center of the Hart debate by the end of the year, but I expect more production from Sid, particularly on the power play. He has to take some of the blame for the Penguins utter lack of production with the man advantage. Grade: B+

Pascal Dupuis: (12) Dupuis came through with two goals against Carolina and was really flying all night long. Last year he scored 18 goals mostly riding shotgun with Sid. Coming into the year they tried a lot of guys on Sid's right wing put it appears Dupuis has settled back into that role. The Penguins would love to see him score 30, but it isn't going to happen. If he keeps forechecking, killing penalties and scoring the occasional goal he's going to stay where he is. Grade: B

Eric Godard: (4) With Deryk Engelland proving to be a shockingly good enforcer and adequate defenseman everyone seems to be clamoring to get rid of Godsy. I don't see the need. The Pens aren't looking to make any acquisitions and his cap number isn't a hindrance. Godard also acquitted himself quite well taking a fourth line shift in Carolina. He knows his role and is still a very solid guy to have on the roster for those Patrick Division battles. Grade: B-/Incomplete

Tyler Kennedy: (12) For a guy some thought was a question mark to make the team coming into camp, Kennedy has performed well. His speed is his biggest asset and he has utilized it to take the third most shots on the team while playing less than 12 minutes a game. I'm still not sold that Kennedy is going to have a role every night when everyone is healthy, but he has done a good job thus far. Grade: B

Chris Kunitz: (12) As long as he keeps forechecking and taking the body Kunitz is going to keep his spot as Sid's left wing. With two goals and four assists he isn't overwhelming anybody with his production. His willingness to do the dirty work has earned him some time on the first power play unit standing in front of the net, but he's getting more than 18 minutes a night so he's got to start scoring if the Penguins are going to be the dominant team they are looking to be. Grade: C+

Mark Letestu: (12) The 25-year old Letestu won a roster spot in camp and has been in the line-up every night since. On a couple nights he's been the best forward on the ice. Unfortunately his versatility has meant that Bylsma has moved him around in various roles rather than keep him in one spot. I think this has effected his performance the past two weeks. After a fast start he has cooled a bit, but still leads the team with two game-winners. With Staal out for an extended period he may get a chance to solidify a role as a top six forward. Grade: B

Evgeni Malkin: (11) The toughest guy on the team to figure out. Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy in 2009 but hasn't played up to that level on a consistent basis since. With only nine points in 11 games and no goals on the power play he just hasn't produced enough. In fact Malkin's 7:22 of power play minutes/game leads the league by thirty seconds (Crosby is second). With that kind of ice time with the man advantage Malkin just has to score goals. Flashes of brilliance are interspersed with bad turnovers and lackadaisical effort. Not having productive wingers certainly hasn't helped, but Malkin is one of the ten best players in the world. He needs to do more. Grade: C

Mike Rupp: (12) The fact that Rupp has played in all 12 games says volumes. He's not going to score 13 goals like he did last year--I'd be surprised if he hit double digits--but he has been solid on the fourth line and even looked good as part of the second unit on the power play. He's also not afraid to mix it up when necessary. Grade: B

Jordan Staal: (0) Staal was set to comeback tonight against Dallas but broke a bone in his hand in practice on Monday. If nothing else his absence has shown how valuable he is to the team. Now he'll have about six more weeks to work on his conditioning. I'm sure he'll be raring to go when he returns for the second half. He will be a welcome addition. No Grade

Max Talbot: (12) Talbot's production dropped last year as he got a late start recovering from shoulder surgery. This year he's only contributed two goals, but has been very good on the penalty kill. Though undersized he, Cooke and Ashram could make up a formidable third line. Talbot probably has an extended pass because of his Game 7 heroics, but it would be nice if he started to contribute more on the offensive end. Grade: B-

Eric Tangradi: (9) Being on a two-way contract sealed Tangradi's fate when Ashram came back. He didn't look overmatched in the NHL but he's better off in Wilkes-Barre playing 20 minutes a night than playing 10-12 and being an occasional scratch with the big club. It was good that he got the exposure to the NHL game and he'll be back soon enough. Grade C

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Links from the Net

Links to some of the best articles from around the web:

Maurice Lucas was from Pittsburgh, played in the '74 NCAA finals for Marquette, won a NBA championship in '77 with the Blazers. He passed away (NYT) this past week at the too young age of 58. Here is a nice tribute and personal story from Charles Pierce at

If you want more reasons why the Vikings cut Randy Moss on Monday, Michael Silver relates this uncomfortable story that happened in the Minnesota locker room on Friday. Cutting Moss seems to be the right decision for the Vikes, but it does make you wonder how they came to the conclusion that they should bring him back after having dealt with it all before.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan sent a loud but garbled message when he benched Donovan McNabb at the end of the game on Sunday. First he said it was because McNabb didn't have a full grasp of the two minute offense. Then, he said it was actually McNabb's lack of fitness, due to hamstring injuries, that caused him to go to Rex Grossman. Now it appears that the underlying reason is his practice habits, which former teammate Tim Hasselback says is nothing new.

Judy Bautista of the New York Times did a great profile of Steelers LB James Harrison over the weekend. It looks like Harrison may get fined again this week for a hit on Saints QB Drew Brees. The officials did call a personal foul on that play as opposed to the play last week where Harrison wasn't flagged, but was fined $75,000.

Mel Kiper updates the draft status of seven college players including DE Jabaal Sheard of Pitt and RG Stefen Wisniewski of Penn St. (ESPN Insider subscription required)

Puck Daddy takes a look at ten players who would like to have a reset on the start of the NHL season. Number one on the list? Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Fielding Bible Awards came out Monday. There is one award for each position. This is a much better assessment than the Gold Glove Award which is voted on by managers and coaches.

Allesandro Del Piero broke the Juventus career goal scoring record over the weekend. This is a nice look at a loyal athlete who has played his entire career with one club along with what else went on in European soccer this weekend. (NYT)

China creates the world's fastest supercomputer. It's capabilities are stunning.

The newest and best search engine? PC Magazine thinks is the answer.

Twitter is now more valuable than the New York Times--which is also now the smallest company in the S&P 500.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Breaking News!

Jordan Staal left practice after 30 minutes today with an apparent hand injury. TSN's Bob McKenzie is reporting Staal's new injury will keep him out "weeks."

UPDATE: Sounds like Staal out six weeks with broken bone in his hand that requires surgery.

The Vikings just released Randy Moss.

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Quick Thoughts on Steelers-Saints


The Good:
*As opposed to the general perception, the Steelers ran the ball effectively. Mendenhall broke another big run on the same play that he scored in OT against the Falcons in the opener.

The Bad:
*Trouble with blitz pick-up. All three Saints sacks came when the Steelers were in the same formation using the same personnel (video here)--three wides, Heath Miller as TE and Mewelde Moore as a sidecar to Roethlisberger. It's hard to know exactly who was responsible depending on line calls but it appears that Adams gets beat on the first, Moore the second and Pouncey makes a bad choice on the third.

The Saints constantly ran a three man outside overload and the Steeler had trouble adjusting. It will be a great learning experience for Pouncey in the long run.

*Heath Miller's fumble. After not fumbling in his first 58 games, Miller has fumbled 4 times in his last 27. Miller generally is secure with the ball, but the timing of his recent fumbles has been a killer.


The Good:
*The LBs and DBs did an excellent job of tacking receivers and limiting yards after the catch.

*The run defense continues to be outstanding.

The Bad:
*The Steelers pass defense in the second half was terrible and as a result they couldn't get off the field on third down, a problem that plagued them all of last year. Brees, 20-22 for 191 yards in the second half, made some excellent throws but the Steelers seemed to let too many guys run open in the middle of the field.

Special Teams:

The Good:
*Emmanuel Sanders is proving to be the real deal in the return game. He had two excellent kick returns and averaged 32 yards on his three returns. He also returned a punt, the first of his career, for 38 yards.

The Bad:
*Sanders again fumbled a kick return, his second in two games, which the Steelers were fortunate to recover. If he continues to put the ball on the ground Mike Tomlin is going to put him back on the bench.

*Special teams coverage, which has been excellent all year, was less than stellar.


The Good:
*Although it didn't work, I liked the decision to go for it on 4th and 4 from the Saints' 40 in the fourth quarter. Emmanuel Sanders ran the wrong route on the play.

*Jeff Reed's 51-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half. Reed missed badly, but I liked the decision. In a dome that's a kick he should make well more than 50% of the time.

The Bad:
*The play calling at the goal line was very questionable. I would have preferred to see a quarterback sneak on first down rather than running Redman from the fullback position. If Redman is going to be the goal line back, put him in the tailback position and let him pick the hole. I also think they should have taken another shot at the end zone on fourth down.

*Calling three straight pass plays from the New Orleans 33 on 1st and 20 with 1:31 left in the first half used less than twenty seconds, got the Steelers no closer for a field goal attempt and gave N.O. ample time after Reed missed from 51. The should have run the ball at least once.

*Overall the play calling seemed predictable with the Steelers running on first down and then facing second and third and long. I would have preferred more play action on first down when the Saints were less likely to blitz and I would have rolled the pocket on occasion in obvious passing situations to give Ben more time.

*The Steelers need to use the no-huddle more often. Ben has historically been very effective when using it. There was ample opportunity last night.

*The Saints were missing their top three corners. They showed early that they weren't going to let the Steelers beat them deep by having their safeties line up 20 yards from the line of scrimmage and then blitzing. The didn't change that base defense the whole game and the Steelers never adjusted to it.

Big Officiating Calls:
*Pass interference on Hines Ward with 1:31 left in the first half. The Steelers had a first down on the New Orleans 23 after Ike Taylor's interception, but the call moved them back to the 33. Three incompletions used up only 15 seconds and Reed missed the field goal.

*On 2nd and 9 from the Pittsburgh 42 James Harrison was called for roughing the passer with 4:17 left in the game. New Orleans got a first down and went on to score the TD that put the game away.