Friday, October 30, 2009

WPIAL Playoff Picture

It's just past the stroke of midnight here in Western PA, and the WPIAL playoff picture is just about set. There are still a few games tomorrow that could tweak things, but most of the playoff positions are now set. The top 2 teams in each conference get home playoff games. The WPIAL committee will meet to determine the brackets, which will be announced on Monday.


Big East Conference
1. Woodland Hills (5-0)
2. Central Catholic (4-1)
3. Penn Hills (3-2)
4. Plum (2-3)

Plum wins the casket match with Kiski to get into the playoffs. Woodland Hills is going to be a force to be reckoned with in AAAA.

Foothills Conference
1. Gateway (6-0)
2. McKeesport (5-1)
3. Latrobe (3-3)
4. Penn Trafford (3-3)

Penn Trafford wins their casket match with Norwin to move on. Like last year, Gateway beats McKeesport for the title and will likely have one of the top seeds in AAAA.

Great Southern Conference
1. Bethel Park (5-0)
2. Upper St. Clair (3-2)
3. Mt. Lebanon (3-2)
4. Baldwin (2-3)

Canon-Mac needed to beat Peters Township to get in over Baldwin in a tiebreaker, but fell short. The Fighting Highlanders hold on to the last spot and will be playing next week. Bethel Park is the defending AAAA Champions.

Northern Six Conference
1. North Allegheny (5-0)
2. Shaler (4-1)
3. Seneca Valley (3-2)
4. North Hills (2-3)

The Northern Six often get disrespected when it comes to WPIAL seeding because they don't get the press that the East Hills schools (Gateway, McKeesport, Woodland Hills) or Central Catholic get. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. NA could be like Bethel Park last year and come out of nowhere to surprise people.


Big Seven Conference
1. Thomas Jefferson (6-0)
2. Chartiers Valley (5-1)
3. Belle Vernon (3-3)
4. Trinity (3-3)

Disaster averted here as Belle Vernon and Trinity took care of business. TJ will be the #1 seed in AAA as the defending champions and the outright best AAA team in the state.

Greater Allegheny Conference
1. Mars (4-1)
2. Franklin Regional (4-1)
3. Knoch (3-2)
4. Hampton (3-2)

Mars beat Knoch 7-3 tonight to claim the conference title on the head-to-head tiebreaker over FR. Knoch beat Hampton head-to-head and gets the #3 spot. None of these teams can beat TJ.

Keystone Conference
1. Greensburg Salem (6-0)
2. Uniontown (5-1)
3. Derry Area (3-3)
4. Laurel Highlands (3-3)

It happens every year that there is a conference that is swept in the first round. Don't be surprised if it's the Keystone Conference this year. Not saying that they're bad, but there are a lot of other good teams out there too.

Parkway Conference
1. Hopewell (6-0)
2. West Allegheny (5-1)
3. New Castle (4-2)
4. Montour (3-3)

If there's any team in AAA that can beat TJ, it's Hopewell. Hopewell will have the #2 seed in the bracket and have a collision course set with TJ for the title game in Heinz Field.


Allegheny Conference
1. Shady Side Academy (8-1)
2. Freeport (7-1)
3. Burrell (7-2)
4. Kittanning (6-3)

Freeport has a game tomorrow that doesn't matter because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against Burrell. Kittanning won their casket match against Ford City 23-22. SSA has been having some great seasons in conference the last three years but has failed to reach Heinz Field. Is this the year they break through?

Century Conference
1. South Fayette (8-0)
2. Keystone Oaks (8-1)
3. Sto-Rox (7-2)
4. Steel Valley (6-3)

South Fayette quietly put together one of the best AA seasons around this year. I say quietly because Sto-Rox got all the press for their QB, a Penn State recruit. Seton-La Salle, a perennial powerhouse on the Century Conference, finished at 4-5 and will be watching the playoffs from home. KO is a dangerous team that could make some noise in the playoffs. Don't be surprised if all 4 of these teams win their first round games.

Interstate Conference
1. Mt Pleasant (9-0)
2. McGuffey (7-2)
3. Greensburg Central Catholic (7-2)
4. Washington (6-3)

Powerhouse Jeanette failed to reach the playoffs and constant contender GCC will have to start off the playoffs on the road because they lost head-to-head against McGuffey.

Midwestern Conference
1. Center (7-1)
2. Beaver Falls (7-1)
3. Aliquippa (7-1)
4. Beaver Area (5-3)

Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, and Center are all 1-1 against each other. Based on the WPIAL tiebreak procedure, the next tiebreaker is point differential. WPIAL has a different way of calculating PD in that point margins only count up to 10. Any victory/defeat over 10 points is counted as +/-10. By this, Aliquippa has a +51, Beaver Falls +57, and Center +68. Center wins the conference title, and all 3 teams remain threats in the WPIAL AA bracket.


Big Seven Conference
1. Rochester (6-0)
2. Laurel (5-1)
3. Monaca (4-2)
4. South Side Beaver/Shenango/Western Beaver

This conference is still in the same place it was earlier today. All of their games are Saturday afternoon. Either Rochester of Clairton will have the #1 overall seed going into the playoffs.

Black Hills Conference
1. Clairton (7-0)
2. Fort Cherry (5-2)
3. Serra Catholic (5-2)
4. Burgettstown (3-4)

Fort Cherry beat Serra head-to-head and gets the home game that comes with a #2 finish. In a 3-way tie for the last playoff spot, Burgettstown edges it out with a PD margin: Burgettstown +5, Chartiers-Houston -3, Frazier -21. Clairton, the defending WPIAL Class A Champions, will be one of the top seeds with Rochester.

Eastern Conference
1. North Catholic (7-0)
2. Avonworth (5-2)
3. Brentwood (5-2)
4. Springdale (5-2)

North Catholic wins their first conference title in....well, what seems like forever. They'll have a tough road to Heinz Field (the House that NC alum Dan Rooney built). The other three teams are dangerous and could make some noise against lesser competition in the first few rounds. Three-way PD tiebreaker: Avonworth +36, Springdale +30, Brentwood +25 gives Avonworth the #2 spot. Brentwood beat Springdale head-to-head. Springdale might be the best #4 team in Class A.

Tri-County South Conference
1. Monessen (7-0)
2. Beth-Center (5-1)
3. Jefferson-Morgan (5-2)
4. Carmichaels (4-3)

Monessen is the only team here that will make any noise, likely the only team that will get out of the first round depending on the matchups.

What a night. All but 1 playoff spot has been decided. We'll probably post our predictions once the bracket is announced on Monday evening.

Friday Night Lights: WPIAL Breakdown

We've made no secret of the fact that we're yinzers around here. We grew up in the greater Pittsburgh area, and as such have a great love for WPIAL football. Is there a better way to spend your friday nights in the fall? I didn't think so.

With the WPIAL season entering its final weekend, there are some big games on the docket this weekend. Here's a look at how things stand in all 4 classes. All four have 16-team playoffs, meaning that the top 4 teams from each conference advance. For reference, x = clinched playoff bearth, y = clinched Conference title.


Big East Conference
Current Standings:
1. x-Woodland Hills (4-0)
2. x-Central Catholic (3-1)
3. x-Penn Hills (3-1)
4t. Kiski Area (1-3)
4t. Plum (1-3)

Big Games:
Woodland Hills v. Penn Hills - Woodland Hills wins the Conference title with a win. Central Catholic wins the title if Penn Hills wins. Penn Hills has an outside chance with a win and a Central Catholic loss to 0-4 Fox Chapel.
Kiski Area v. Plum - Casket match. The winner goes to the playoffs, the loser goes home.

Foothills Conference
Current Standings:
1t. x-Gateway (5-0)
1t. x-McKeesport (5-0)
3. x-Latrobe (3-2)
4t. Norwin (2-3)
4t. Penn Trafford (2-3)

Big Games:
Gateway v. McKeesport - Winner take all for the Conference title. WPIAL game of the week.
Norwin v. Penn Trafford - Casket match. Winner goes dancing, loser goes golfing.

Great Southern Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-Bethel Park (4-0)
2. x-Mt Lebanon (3-1)
3. x-Upper St Clair (2-2)
4. Baldwin (2-2)
5. Canon-Mac (1-3)

Big Games:
Canon-Mac v. Peters Twp - Canon-Mac beat Baldwin head-to-head and would hold the tiebreaker if they win and Baldwin loses.
Bethel Park v. Baldwin - Bethel already has the Conference wrapped up, but Baldwin needs a win to get into the postseason.

Northern Six Conference
1. y-North Allegheny (4-0)
2. x-Shaler (3-1)
3. x-North Hills (2-2)
4. x-Seneca Valley (2-2)

Everything is wrapped up here, just seeding at stake.


Big Seven Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-Thomas Jefferson (5-0)
2. x-Chartiers Valley (5-1)
3t. West Mifflin (2-3)
3t. Belle Vernon (2-3)
3t. Trinity (2-3)
6. Elizabeth Forward (1-4)
7. Ringgold (1-4)

Big Games:
Ringgold v. Trinity, Elizabeth Forward v. Belle Vernon
This conference is a mess. If TJ beats West Mifflin and Ringgold and Elizabeth Forward win, 5 teams would end up at 2-4 with no relevant tiebreaker in sight.

Greater Allegheny Conference
Current Standings:
1. x-Mars (3-1)
2. x-Franklin Regional (3-1)
3. x-Knoch (3-1)
4. x-Hampton (2-2)

Big Games:
Mars v. Knoch - Mars beat Franklin Regional, and would win the Conference title with a win. FR wins the title with a win and a Knoch victory over Mars. Knoch needs a win and an FR loss to Indiana (unlikely) to win the Conference.

Keystone Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-Greensburg Salem (5-0)
2. x-Uniontown (4-1)
3. x-Derry Area (3-2)
4. x-Laurel Highlands (3-2)

Everything is wrapped up here.

Parkway Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-Hopewell (5-0)
2. x-West Allegheny (5-1)
3. x-New Castle (4-2)
4. x-Montour (3-3)

Everything is wrapped up here as well.


Allegheny Conference
Current Standings:
1. x-Shady Side Academy (7-1)
2. x-Freeport (7-1)
3. Burrell (6-2)
4. Ford City (6-2)
5. Kittanning (5-3)

Big Games:
Ford City v. Kittanning - Winner goes to the playoffs. Ford City also has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Burrell.

Century Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-South Fayette (8-0)
2. x-Keystone Oaks (7-1)
3. x-Sto-Rox (6-2)
4. Steel Valley (5-3)
5t. South Park (4-4)
5t. Seton-La Salle (4-4)
5t. Bishop Canevin (4-4)

Big Games:
Steel Valley v. South Park - Steel Valley clinches a playoff spot with a win. If South Park wins, the door is open for a 4-way tie in 4th place. However, since Seton-La Salle is playing KO and Bishop Canevin is playing South Fayette, this doesn't seem likely.

Interstate Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-Mt. Pleasant (8-0)
2. Greensburg Central Catholic (6-2)
3. McGuffey (6-2)
4. Washington (6-2)
5. Charleroi (5-3)
6. Jeanette (5-3)

Big Games:
Greensburg CC v. Jeanette, McGuffey v. Washington
The winner of McGuffey-Washington goes to the playoffs. The loser could wind up in a 3-way tie at 6-3 if Jeanette beats GCC. Charleroi needs a miracle against Mt Pleasant to get into the mix.

Midwestern Conference
Current Standings:
1t. x-Aliquippa (6-1)
1t. x-Beaver Falls (6-1)
1t. x-Center (6-1)
4. x-Beaver Area (5-2)

Big Games:
Beaver Area v. Center - Center can force a 3-way tie atop the conference with a win. Beaver Falls wins the conference if Center loses.


Big Seven Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-Rochester (6-0)
2. x-Laurel (5-1)
3. x-Monaca (4-2)
4. South Side Beaver (3-3)
5. Shenango (3-3)
6. Western Beaver (2-4)

Big Games:
South Side Beaver v. Western Beaver (Sat) - South Side Beaver beat Shenango and has the inside track to the last playoff spot. Western Beaver can force a 3-way tie with a win and a Shenango loss to Laurel.

Black Hills Conference
Current Standings:
1. x-Clairton (6-0)
2. x-Serra Catholic (5-1)
3. x-Fort Cherry (4-2)
4. Chartiers-Houston (3-3)
5. Frazier (2-4)
6. Burgettstown (2-4)

Big Games:
Clairton v. Serra Catholic - Conference title at stake. These are two of the best teams in Single-A. Don't be shocked to see them winning a lot in the playoffs.
Chartiers-Houston v. Fort Cherry - A loss could send C-H into a 3-way tie with Frazier and Burgettstown for the last playoff spot.

Eastern Conference
Current Standings:
1. x-North Catholic (6-0)
2. x-Avonworth (5-1)
3. x-Brentwood (4-2)
4. Springdale (4-2)
5. Riverview (3-3)

Big Games:
North Catholic v. Avonworth - winner-take-all for the conference title at J.C. Stone Field.
Springdale v. Riverview - Casket match for the last playoff spot.

Tri-County South Conference
Current Standings:
1. y-Monessen (6-0)
2. x-Beth-Center (5-1)
3. x-Jefferson-Morgan (4-2)
4. Carmichaels (3-3)
5. California (3-3)

Big Games:
California v. Monessen, Carmichaels v. West Greene
Carmichaels has the head-to-head tiebreaker over California, and will make the playoffs if they take care of business at 0-6 West Greene tonight.

In conclusion, here's what is at stake tonight:
- 7 Conference Titles
- 15 Playoff Spots

9 Conference Titles and 49 playoff spots have already been secured. As we've seen, the Big Seven Conference (AAAA) and Interstate Conference (AA) are the most exciting situations. There are 5 games tonight where the winner takes the conference title. It looks to be one of the first nights of the season where there isn't rain in the forecast, so we'll probably see some great football tonight under the lights in Western Pennsylvania.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The End of October Analysis: 2008 vs 2009

We were looking for some ideas about what to do during the bye week. Thanks to a reader suggestion from our buddy Mark, we have this week's mid-week analytic post.

The suggestion was to compare the current edition of the black and gold to how the 2008 team stood at this point in the season.

Due to a few mitigating factors in the NFL schedule, I have chosen to compare the 2009 Steelers as they stand now (after week 7) to the 2008 Steelers after week 8. Last year, the Steelers had a bye week in week 6, so it will be easier to compare the first 7 games of each season. Also, as it happens, week 8 last year fell on the last Sunday in October, so this can also be seen as an "end of October" comparrison.

There has been a lot of commentary out there about how this team differs from last year's team (particularly in the 4th quarter defense and Special teams categories). Let's take a look and see how the 2009 team stacks up against the Super Bowl XLIII Champs.

For starters, both teams started the season with a 5-2 record. The 2009 team had to deal with the loss of Troy Polamalu. The 2008 team had no such injury to deal with on the defensive side of the ball. Both of our losses in 2009 were close games on the road. None of them compare to the utter shitshow we had in Philadelphia last year where we got utterly dominated. Our second loss of 2008 came to the New York Giants, where the Giants scored 12 points in the 4th quarter to win 21-14. That was also the game where long snapper Greg Warren went down with an injury and James Harrison was forced into snapping duty.

After 7 games, the 2008 Steelers had scored 155 points and given up 110. Their losses were by a combined 16 points. They had 1 overtime win. In 2009, the Steelers have scored 167 points and given up 129. Their losses were by a combined 6 points. We have had 1 OT win this season as well. As you can see, we have scored more points this year, but also given up more. As we move forward, this is a likely theme that will emerge: a better offense, and a slightly worse defense.

Since the offense has been the bright spot of the team this season, that is where we'll start. The Steelers have found the end zone in all 7 games this season, and Ben has thrown for over 300 yards in 3 games, equalling his total for all of last season. Additionally, he has thrown for over 275 in five games, something he did only 4 times last season. Ben has 2062 yards in 7 games this season, which is more yards than he threw for in the first 11 games last season when he threw for 3301 yards. Ben is on pace to shatter his career high in passing yards (3513 in 2006) as he already has more yards than he did through 9 weeks in 2006.

Compared to last year, the offense has 642 more passing yards (which includes sack yardage) and a similar amount of rushing yards. The one area that deviates from the trend we have seen is in touchdowns. The Steelers have 18 touchdowns this season (12 passing and 6 rushing), which is nearer to their 17 (11 passing, 6 rushing) from 2008 than one would expect with the yardage being put up through the air. One potential explanation for that is in the turnover department, where the Steelers have committed 3 more turnovers this season (13) than they did a year ago at this point.

On the other side of the ball, the loss of Troy Polamalu is evident in the statistics. While the front 7 have continued to put up great numbers against the run, the pass defense has suffered.

The pass defense has given up 350 more yards in 7 games than it did last year, along with 3 more touchdowns (9 in 2009, 6 in 2008). The run defense, on the other hand, has been relatively comparable. The yardage against is similar, and have held opponents to only 2 rushing TDs (a minimal improvement from 3 last year). Even though the defense has been maligned for the supposed lack of turnovers they have created, they are at the same place they were last season with 10 takeaways.

And now for the striking difference. Defensive and Special Teams touchdowns. Last season at this point, the Steelers had one defensive touchdown - LaMarr Woodley's fumble return against Baltimore (on a Renegade drive, might I add). They also had one defensive touchdown against - a pick-6 by Rasheen Mathis on the first drive in Jacksonville.

This season, the numbers are decidedly different. Our defense has put up 2 touchdowns - both in the Minnesota game - while we have allowed 5 touchdowns on returns. Two of those came on pick-6's (Cincinnati and Detroit), two on kickoff returns (Cleveland and Minnesota), and one on the terrible call in the San Diego game when Jacob Hester took the ball from Stefan Logan when his forward progress was clearly stopped.

Is Polamalu's injury the sole factor in the difference in defensive stats between this year and last year? It certainly has played a role, but I wouldn't say it's the only factor. Last year's defense was a thing of beauty that might come around once in a decade. That defense is immortalized with the other great defenses in NFL history because they brought home the hardware. That's not to say that the 2009 defense isn't going to be good. However, in 2008 teams were attacking the Steelers based on what they thought was possible based off the 2007 model. In 2007, the Steelers gave up plays down the field, were vulnerable to crossing routes, and didn't generate a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback. With the switch from Clark Haggans to LaMarr Woodley, the QB pressure shot up, creating one of the most dominant OLB tandems in the league. Teams have adapted to this, and are using more short passes to backs and tight ends, along with quick-outs to WRs.

The Steelers will give up these plays, and that's fine. What does it mean? The ball is coming out faster, so there are less opportunities for sacks. However, when QBs have held the ball and looked downfield, Harrison and Woodley have been putting the heat on. Through 7 games, Harrison already has 8 sacks, and is on pace to break his team-record 16.5 sacks that he set last season. He does this while getting held every play.

Last season, we were in a slightly better place than we are this year. We were 5-2, but both of our losses had come to NFC teams. We were leading our division, ahead of a 4-3 Baltimore team and vomit-inducingly bad Cleveland and Cincinnati clubs. This season, we are right in the thick of the race against a 5-2 Cincy team and 3-3 Ravens club. We lost at Cincy, but have a game against them at home in a few weeks. We still are in control of our own destiny and if we beat Cincy, we'll be back in control of the division race.

In conclusion, as we have seen on the field and now have the statistical evidence to back up, this team is better on offense and slightly worse on defense than last year's team. However, it's important to remember that last year's team was one of the best defenses in NFL history, which means that it is entirely possible for this team to be a Top 5 Defense (we are 8th right now). With the emergence of Rashard Mendenhall, the offense is clicking on all cylinders and with an offense like that, we're going to be in every game.

Hope you all enjoyed this week's Mid-Week Analytic Post! If you have any suggestions for what you'd like to see from us over the bye week, let us know!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two New Weekly Awards

We are proud to announce a new addition to our weekly posting schedule.

In addition to our normal weekly NFL rundowns, we will be handing out two awards to anyone we see/deem fit.

The first award goes to a person/player/team/entity for doing something totally badass that just needs to be recognized. Basically, this is the Badass of the Week Award, but since there is already a website dedicated to that, we had to come up with our own name. We bounced around a few names for this award. If we were a general Pittsburgh blog we would have called it the Donnie Iris Award. If this was a Penguins Blog, we would have called it the Ulf Samuelson Award. If this was a Pirates Blog we would have killed ourselves by now. But, since we're a) a Steeler blog and b) came into our football reckoning in the 90s, there is only one appropriate name for this award:

The Greg Lloyd "I Wasn't Hired For My Disposition" Award

The second award falls into the category between the "Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game" and being called out by our Minister of Ire. Basically, this is a Douchebag of the Week Award. However, to make it more yinzer appropriate, we're titling it:

The Bob Smizik Award for Sheer Incompetence

From here on out, we'll be awarding these as part of our Weekly NFL Recaps.

Since these are new this week, we've given them their own special post. So without further ado, here are your inaugural winners:

The Greg Lloyd Award

This past week, the Navy Midshipmen rung up a 13-10 victory over Wake Forest.

On the surface, this doesn't sound impressive. Here is why it is award-worthy.
In the game, Navy had 64 rushing attempts for 338 yards. That alone would be award-worthy without the stat that comes next.

Navy did not attempt a pass the entire game.

How freaking awesome is that? No pass attempts. If they had tried any and not completed them, the awesomeness of this would be decreased. But they ran it every play. And they won.

The Bob Smizik Award

As much sense as it would make to give this award to its namesake, someone actually one-upped him this week. The award goes to Pete Prisco of for this article he wrote about the Steelers-Vikings game. Prisco is notable at for getting routinely creamed by Clark Judge in their "Weekly Showdown" discussions of NFL Topics. He also backed the Cardinals in the Super Bowl. He is in love with the passing game and has a raging boner over all things Manning, Brees, and Brady. Prisco hailed the Jay Cutler trade to Chicago as a great move that would instantaneously make Chicago a contender.

However, the main reason why we're awarding this to Prisco is for his inability to appreciate good football and good food. Prisco hates defense, which caused him to pen this statement, basically a double-slap in the face to Pittsburghers:

Most of this game was a defensive struggle, which appeals to me about as much as eating a sandwich with French fries and coleslaw piled on top, which they actually sell as a signature meal in this city.

If Pete doesn't enjoy our cuisine, then he can get the hell out of our city. On top of that, it's important to remember that Offense wins games, but Defense wins Championships. This is why Prisco will continue to be a mid-season homer for big offensive teams that will inevitably fail in the playoffs. Remember, the final score of Super Bowl XLII wasn't 38-35. It was 17-14. Offense wins games, Defense wins Championships.

In all honesty, if you don't enjoy a defensive struggle, then fine, so be it. You're probably the person who enjoys the Home Run Derby more than a pitcher's duel. You probably enjoy the NHL Skills Competition more than triple overtime. But to take a shot at a Pittsburgh institution like Primanti's? Anathema.

Week 7 Recap

The Steelers are entering their bye week at 5-2. It's the end of October, and some teams have begun to separate themselves (New Orleans, Indianapolis) while some teams are starting to fall apart (Baltimore, both New York teams).

  1. Saints safety Darren Sharper. Mid-season candidate for defensive player of the year.
  2. The Steelers defense stepping up once again to seal the deal.
  3. Whatever got in the water in Buffalo. All of a sudden they're back in the playoff hunt at 3-4. Maybe it was getting Paul Posluszny back.
  4. Arizona's defensive scheme against the Giants. Pressure Pressure Pressure.
  5. Teams coming off of bye weeks. Hopefully this bodes well for the Steelers against Denver.

  1. The touchdown call at the end of the first half of the Saints-Dolphins game. Poor officiating gave the Saints another chance to put points on the board.
  2. Jake Delhomme. If the Panthers keep this up, is Sam Bradford in their future?
  3. Not if the Rams have anything to say about it. They're almost guaranteed to be drafting before the Panthers.
  4. Games in England. Just don't do it.
  5. The offense at the bottom of the league. The fours teams with less than 2 wins coming into the weekend combined for 23 points. None had more than 7.
Futility Watch

The Curse of Cope

Had a bye, so they're still 0-8 since stomping on the towel.

Off the Schnide

More specifically, head coach Dick Jauron. Buffalo was sitting at 1-4 and looking on the verge of a Washington Redskins-esque epic fail. However, with the return of Paul Posluszny, Buffalo has won two straight games, allowing Dick to keep his job and the Bills to stay on this side of Niagara...for now.

AFC Playoff Race
Outside looking in: Houston (4-3), Jacksonville (3-3), Baltimore (3-3), San Diego (3-3)

Pittsburgh Bloggers Fantasy Football League

Like many games around the NFL this week, the top teams had some matchups with bottom teams. Thanks to an inspired effort by Ochostinko, the Pensblog (joke city) outduelled Blitzburgh Blog, leaving us in first place all alone.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Linebacker WOOO: Steelers Win


The bridge-jumpers will want to complain about the offense, or how Hines only had 1 catch. But in the words of Hines Ward himself, "Steelers football is about winning." And unlike college football, you don't need style points. A win is a win, and we kept pace with the Bengals in the division race.

On the positive side, the Defense needed a game like this. Particularly against someone like Brett Favre. It makes it all the sweeter that Minnesota came in undefeated. There was a lot of purple in the crowd today, which also meant a lot of unhappy people after the game. We had a few guys sitting behind us who were loud and annoying, but they were pretty knowledgeable about their team. It was pretty sweet watching them hang their heads at the end.

Game Recap

Minnesota wins the toss and elects to receive, hoping to get on the board first in the predicted shootout.

Someone forgot to tell all the media outlets in the run-up to this game that both teams had pretty damn good defenses. The Steelers defense comes out with a fire under them and forces a 3-and-out.

After Mendenhall goes around the right end for 14 yards, the Vikings defense tightens up and forces a punt. Our boy Patrick Bailey makes a great open-field tackle at the 18, almost forcing a fumble. What a special teams player.

Farrior gets things rolling for the defense, sacking Favre on first down. The Vikings can't do anything and have to punt again, giving the Steelers great field position near the 50.

Sadly, the Steelers can't do anything with it, and have to punt again, playing the field position game.

Looking to make the Steelers pay for not taking advantage of their field position, Minnesota is able to pick up one first down. But the defense answers back. Kiesel and Polamalu team up to stop AP in the backfield, then Harrison comes up with a big sack on 2nd down.
The Vikings run a draw on 3rd down, then their punter shanks one, giving us the ball inside the 40.

The Steelers look like they're poised to go 3 and out again, but Mike Wallace makes a catch on a come-back route past the sticks to move the chains. Minnesota challenges and fails worse than Keenen & Kel. Mike Wallace reminds us that he doesn't just catch balls and report news stories, as he takes a reverse from Mendenhall, getting a great block from Ben along the way. Out of the power-I, the Steelers throw to David Johnson in the flat to get inside the 10. On 3rd down, the Steelers look to have a touchdown on a pass to Holmes, but Heath gets flagged for offensive pass interference on the other side of the field. As is to be expected in situations like this, the Vikings bring the heat and Ben gets sacked. Reed knocks it through to get us on the board.


Second Quarter

AP gets things rolling dashing off left guard for 15 yards. The defense steps it up again and is able to contain AP, forcing another third and long where Favre can't connect with Harvin. Punt.

The Steelers are able to work themselves into a 3rd and 2, but rather than going for something short to move the chains, Ben goes downfield for Hines, who gets cracked in the ribs and can't hang on to the pass. Punt.

At this point in the game, you knew Minnesota's offense was going to start putting something together. LeBeau had been throwing the kitchen sink at them to start, and you knew Favre would burn them at some point. This time it came on a 3rd down when Willie Gay blitzed off the corner and Favre was able to hit Harvin wide open down the sidelines. Harvin gets all the way to the Steelers 44 before getting pushed out by Polamalu. Favre picked us apart through the air, and the defense wasn't able to get the Vikes to 3rd down again until a 3rd and 1 at the 12. AP got the call and plowed down to the 3. Farrior and Hoke were able to stuff AP on first down, then Favre tries to go play-action to his fullback, but pressure from Hoke and Eason forces a bad throw. On 3rd and goal, AP goes over the left side...
...and is able to plow through Farrior and Polamalu to the end zone.


The offense got the ball back with 5 minutes left in the half, and respond by going 3-and-out when Ben can't hit Moore on 3rd down.

The defense is able to force a 3rd and 7, but Favre finds his tight end to convert the first down as the clock hits two minutes.

Two Minute Warning

Two incompletions, coupled with a false start penalty, push the Vikings back to a 3rd and 15. The Vikings run another draw play on 3rd and long, allowing the Steelers to call a time out to get the ball back.

The Steelers start inside their own 10, and Ben finds Holmes in the flat who makes a great stiff-arm to break a tackle. After an incompletion, Ben goes to Heath for 9 yards. On 3rd and 1, the Steelers spread it out, and run a draw play to Mewelde Moore who is able to bounce it off the left end and move the chains. The Steelers use their 2nd timeout to set things up with just under a minute to play. After an incompletion, Ben zips one over the middle to a wide open Mike Wallace, who is able to sit down in coverage at the Vikings 40. Ben rushes up and spikes the ball to stop the clock. The Vikings were sitting back with two safeties in cover-2 the whole drive, and Ben capitalizes. He rips one to Mike Wallace on a deep post right in the center of the field. Wallace turns on the jets as the safeties run into each other and is able to front-flip into the end zone.


Favre takes a knee and ends the half.


Youth football. St. Teresa v. St. Cyril. Good times.

Gotta love the halftime youth games. They pull out all kinds of great stuff. Triple reverses, halfback passes, quite entertaining.

I plug the blog to some people sitting around me during halftime.

Third Quarter

The Steelers get the ball to start things off. Mendenhall gets things rolling with another big run to the right side. Wallace gets 6 on a reverse and 15 on the end thanks to a facemask. Raise Some MendenHELL gets two more totes for 9 yards, then Ben is able to scramble around the left edge for the first down. The Steelers get some more yardage for a late hit out of bounds penalty to take them all the way down to the 8. With first and goal from inside the 10, the Steelers don't even attempt a pass into the end zone, and have to settle for a field goal.


Harvin makes a good return out to the 35, and the Vikings get things rolling. Harvin is able to move the chains on a 3rd and 7 at midfield to move the Vikings into Steelers territory. Favre dumps one down on 3rd and 10 and is able to get 9 yards. Childress opts to go for it on 4th and 1, and with the Steelers keying on AP, Favre goes play-action and finds Sidney Rice down the middle to get all the way down to the 1 before Polamalu brings him down.

With the ball first and goal at the 1, everyone in the stadium knows where its going. Keyaron Fox and Farrior pile up Peterson on first down. With the best back in the NFL, one would assume the Vikings would go back to him again. However, Favre attempts two passes, both of which are incomplete, and the Vikings settle for a field goal.


Huge goal-line stand.

The Steelers come back looking to get things going, but Ben can't hit Holmes on 3rd and 2, and it's punt city again.

The defense forces another 3rd and long where Favre tries to go up top for Harvin down the middle. However, Ryan Clark delivers a hit that will be on the next Renegade video and Harvin has to be helped off the field. Punt.

Raise Some gets 17 and 5 over the right side as the quarter expires.

Fourth Quarter

On 3rd and 5, Ben rips one to Holmes on a slant who beats the corner and is able to turn it upfield, then cut back to the far sideline and take it all the way down to the 9. Mendenhall gets the call and slides through a hole up the middle, then tries to go up and over a pile of blockers.
The ball comes out on his way down, and the Vikings fall on it.

Favre comes back and leads the Vikings down the field, pulling some bush-league crap running up to the line to snap the ball before the defense was ready. The Vikings were able to convert two third downs to Sidney Rice. The second came after a series of penalties backed the Vikings into a 3rd and 18. Favre flung one out to Rice on the sidelines, and he was originally ruled out, but the Vikings challenged and the call was overturned. Things were looking sour as Peterson got to the outside and dashed all the way down to the 21. Favre hit Peterson on a dump-down to move down to the 10. The Vikings seemed to have taken the league, but the flag-happy crew of Ron Winters takes the TD off the board on a tripping call. If this was hockey, that would have been known as an "even-up" call for the TD they took away from the Steelers.

With first and goal from the 20, Favre went back to the dump-downs, working the short passing game for 5 and 7 yards to get back down to the 8. On 3rd down, Favre dropped back and the Diesel dominated All Pro guard Steve Hutchinson on the rush...
The Diesel gets a paw in there and knocks the ball free.

Teddy Roosevelt takes the opportunity to enact his first piece of legislation of the season, bringing the Big Stick policy into full effect.
The Big Stick scoops it up, makes a move to dodge Favre, then rumbles downfield picking up some blockers all the way to paydirt.
What a play by the defense.
Woodley 77 yards on the fumble return.

First fumble returned for a touchdown since Woodley did it last year against Baltimore.


On the ensuing kickoff, Reed hits one high and short, in the hope that the coverage can get there, but the blocking is better and Harvin blows by everyone down the sidelines, taking it all the way back to the house.


With 6 minutes left in the game, the Steelers needed a clock-consuming drive with some points at the end from the offense. Mewelde Moore came in with fresh legs and sure hands after the Mendenhall fumble. The Steelers were able to pick up a first down on a defensive delay of game penalty to move them out across the 40. Moore got two carries over the right end which went for 6 and -2, setting up a big 3rd down. The Vikings brought pressure, and Ben, trying to scramble out of it, got the ball knocked out of his hand. Luckily, it got knocked out of bounds and the Vikings weren't able to recover. Punt.

The Vikings fans in the stands were speaking of another Brett Favre comeback with 3:21 to go in the game. The Steelers fans were musing that Favre hadn't thrown an interception yet.

After a first down on a short pass to the full back, Favre tries to air it out over Ike, but both Ike and Rice overrun the ball and Rice can't make the catch leaning back. AP gets 6 yards on a run to take it down to the two minute warning.

Two Minute Warning

Faced with a 3rd and 4, Favre dumps it off to Peterson out of the backfield who blows through an attempted Willie Gay tackle and streaks down the sidelines for 29 yards, all the way to the Steelers 26. Chester Taylor comes in for AP and the Vikings run the same dump-off play for 7 more yards. With a little over a minute to play, Favre looks for Taylor again out of the backfield but Keyaron Fox steps in front of the pass and takes off...
Fox picks up a block and tears down the sidelines for the 5th longest interception return in Steelers history.

Picture of the game right there.


The Vikings come back out with a minute to play and two timeouts, prepared to let Favre do some gunslinging. He is able to hook up with Rice for 11 and 16, then find Peterson out of the backfield for 17 more to get down inside the 20. With only 5 seconds left on the clock, the Vikings could have opted to take a knee and leave. However, Favre drops back to throw, takes a step up and gets absolutely flattened by James Harrison.


I am better than you.

Players of the Game:
Offensive Game Ball: Mike Wallace
Defensive Game Ball: The linebackers, all five of them (Harrison, Farrior, Timmons, Woodley, Fox)

Honorable Mentions:
Max Starks
Chris Kemoeatu
Justin Hartwig
Trai Essex
Willie Colon
Rashard Mendenhall
Troy Polamalu
Brett Keisel

Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game
Kickoff Returns for Touchdowns
This was the second week in a row that the Steelers special teams allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. Not sure what it is, but Bob L. had better get things figured out quick. They're looking a lot more like the Special Teams of 2007 than the Special Teams of 2008.

Final Thoughts
  • As I said at the outset, the defense needed a game like this. That it happened against Brett Favre makes it all the sweeter.
  • Keyaron Fox is the real deal. It should be him and Timmons in there when Farrior retires.
  • Can't say enough about the job the offensive line did today. Jared Allen was a non-factor.
  • Max Starks should go to the Pro Bowl based on what he did against Jared Allen today.
  • The Vikings had the ball for 19:50 in the second half and scored 3 offensive points.
  • Wasn't Ben's best game, but we got the job done.
  • Didn't realize how much Minnesota controlled Time of Possession until I wrote the recap.
  • LaMarr Woodley gets more consistent pressure than any rusher, but the fact that he is coming into the QB's field of vision and not from the blind side makes it more likely that the QB will see him and throw before getting sacked.
  • Harrison had 2 more sacks today.
  • The Steelers ran 7 offensive plays in the 4th quarter. The defense scored 14 points.
  • This looked a lot more like the Steelers of last season.
  • Gotta question Minnesota's play-calling at the goal line. 3 runs and 3 passes on 6 plays inside the 3 when you have Adrian Peterson? Particularly 2 passes in a row from the 1-foot line in a 6-point game.
  • should be disgraced they don't have a picture of Mike Wallace front-flipping into the end zone.
  • Renegade video got played 3 times today, including before K-Fox's TD. Dating back to last season, the Steelers have scored 5 defensive touchdowns on Renegade drives.
  • Great way to head into the bye week. Not going to complain about being 5-2.
  • This was the first game in NFL history with 3 TDs of 70+ yards in the 4th quarter.
  • Some dude at the game asked me who this Keyaron Fox guy was. Now he knows.
  • Both teams had a TD taken away because of penalties.
  • Favre's only touchdown pass was to Keyaron Fox.

Gameday 7: Minnesota Vikings

Heinz Field

First things first. Don't forget that this game is on FOX, not on CBS. Would hate for anyone to miss part of the game because they didn't realize it was on FOX. Yes, this means you'll have to deal with the stupid robot.

We've spent the whole week hearing about the Brett Favre vs. Big Ben matchup that is highly anticipated. For all intents and purposes, this will probably be an aerial show.

However, this game is going to be won in the trenches. The Vikings defensive front is one of the best in the league. The Williams duo in the middle are a pair of run stuffers. Running up the middle isn't happening. Jared Allen is one of the best pass rushers in the league. The O-line has their work cut out for them tomorrow. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota has a very good left side of their offensive line. However, their right side has some weaknesses that can be exploited. We're looking at you LaMarr Woodley.

If the Steelers are going to win this game, they are going to need to establish some semblance of a running game to keep Jared Allen from just teeing off after Ben. They will also need to get pressure on Favre and force him to make mistakes. Favre is known for doing this, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him toss up a few picks.

The game will be decided through the air, but it will be won in the trenches. If the Vikings get rolling on the ground with AP, the Steelers will be in trouble. In order to win, the Steelers have to make the Vikings offense one-dimensional.

What you did know about Minnesota: Adrian Peterson is the best runningback in the NFL. He tore up the Ravens defense last week for 130 yards.

What you didn't know about Minnesota: VIKING KITTENS

Where We'll Be:

John will be raising barns out in Lancaster.

Ian will be at the temple of doom.

I (Ian) will post a few updates on Twitter, but it won't be anything big-time.

Bring out the towels. Favre won't know what hit him.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Play Breakdown: Ward's TD

In-game, this may have seemed like a broken play that went for a touchdown. In many ways, it probably was. By all accounts, Ben was throwing to Santonio. Hines cut in front of him, caught the ball, then out-ran the defenders to the end zone. But let's look a little deeper at what made this play work.

Update: Thanks to my cousin Josh for pointing this out. According to this article in the Post-Gazette, Holmes actually ran the wrong route (or cut his route short) on the play. Either way, the play still produced a touchdown, and it actually worked out that Holmes was where he was because he shielded Hines from a DB that was coming from behind (as you'll see in a minute).

The play starts with the Steelers in a single-back formation with Mendenhall deep. Heath is lined up off the line to Ben's right, and Hines is standing just inside the numbers at the top of the screen. Wallace and Holmes are stacked at the bottom. For much of the game, the Browns were using their nickel package featuring 5 defensive backs. Obviously, it still didn't help them slow down our passing game. On this play, they had 3 down linemen, 3 linebackers, and 5 DBs. Of the 11 Browns, 8 of them start this play in the box.

The corner that was on top of Holmes walks forward towards the line, signaling blitz. Since Heath is staying in on the other side as a blocker, it is Mendenhall's job to pick up the blitzing corner. One of Cleveland's linebackers is running a "spy" (that is, watching the backfield for a run, then blitzing once he realizes its a pass play). The other is responsible for dropping into coverage.

Off the snap, Ben goes play-action to Mendenhall, which freezes not only the blitzing corner, but also the two linebackers in the middle of the field. This gives Mendenhall the opportunity to plant himself in blitz-pickup, and the receivers a chance to get behind the linebackers.
On this play, Hines is running a deep crossing route, where he comes back across the middle of the field. Given that the corner is playing him to the outside, chances are he'll be wide open after his cut. Wallace is running a deep post to the inside of Holmes. This draws off the safety coverage over the top (as you'll see in a minute). Holmes, on the outside, is running a curl route.

Mendenhall seals his block beautifully on the blitzing corner, giving Ben all kinds of time to throw. For some inexplicable reason, the outside linebacker at the top of the screen peels off his blitz and runs to a zone where no one is. To make up for this, the spying linebacker comes on a blitz.
The other inside linebacker drops into a zone in the middle of the field. The Browns are now in a zone coverage with two safeties deep, two corners playing the outer edges of the field, and a linebacker in the middle. Hines' deep crossing route brings him across the field in front of the safeties and behind the linebackers/corners.

Since all 3 receivers are running deep routes, this causes the safeties to have to make decisions. The safety from the right side of the field takes Wallace, who is running the deep post. A DB from the near side takes Holmes, who is running the curl. The safety on the left side of the field remains over the top, in the event that someone gets free. Since Holmes ran deeper than the outside corner, the corner is out of position (too close to the sideline since Holmes is curling towards the middle of the field. The nature of Holmes' route will shield off the safety from the ball, giving Ben an alleyway to throw the ball.
Ben sticks the ball right over the linebacker and right to Holmes. However, since the play took so long to develop, Hines has come the whole way across the field by the time the ball gets there.
Hines leaps in front of Tone and makes the catch. The corner that was playing by the numbers is now out of position, as his momentum is taking him away from the direction where Hines is running.

Hines blows past him, and into the open field, where there is another safety waiting. The corner that was moving up to cover Holmes (circled) is now also in trouble, because his momentum is carrying him forward into Santonio, and Hines is able to run right around him. The safety that was on Wallace is too far out of position to come across the field to make a play, leaving it up to the left side safety to make the tackle.

Since the safety thought the ball was going to Holmes, he had begun to run forward.
When Hines caught the ball and turned upfield, the safety had to make a sharp cut and turn towards the sidelines to try and cut off Hines. This sharp cut slowed him down and gave Hines the split second he needed to blow past the safety to the end zone.

You can watch the full play at the 1:04 mark here:

While you're watching, the Mike Wallace reverse is at the 2:32 mark. Look at the effort he puts in to get from the 8 down to the 2. 60 minute man. If we had more time, we'd make an unlicensed shirt. But we're in grad school.

Hope you enjoyed this week's mid-week analytic post.

Big game this weekend against the Vikings. Be ready.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Week 6 Rundown

To some, this weekend may have seemed like utter bedlam. To others, it just reaffirmed every reason why the NFL is great.

The Bills staved off moving to Canada by beating the Jets. Oakland beat Philadelphia. St. Louis took Jacksonville to OT.

Two teams that started 3-0, Baltimore and the Jets, have lost their last 3.
  1. Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward leading the league in passing and receiving.
  2. Houston beating Cincinnati.
  3. Denver's defense.
  4. Drew Brees shredding the Giants secondary.
  5. Tom Brady in the snow. Hell of a performance in those conditions.
  1. Everything about Tennessee
  2. Detroit without Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson
  3. San Diego's defense
  4. Josh Johnson. Is he really that much worse that Byron Leftwich would have been? No. Put in Freeman
  5. The Eagles getting outscored by the Phillies, 11-9, and the Raiders for that matter

Futility Watch

The Curse of Cope

0-8 since stomping on the Towel

Off the Schnide

The Chiefs get on the board thanks to 4 field goals from Mr. Irrelevant Ryan Succop and a safety.

Pittsburgh Bloggers Fantasy Football League

With a big win over Blitzburgh Blog, look who's sitting atop the league: