Monday, August 31, 2009

Dirty Sanchez: New York Jets Season Preview

2008 Record: 9-7

The Jets are the latest example of what happens when you take on a high-risk signing in free agency. In late November, no one would have argued with you that this was the team to beat in the AFC East. But then Brett Favre turned into Walther Mathau and the Jets went 1-4 after turkey day, missing the playoffs by 2 games. This losing streak consisted of losses to Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Miami, and a gift victory against Buffalo in a game they never should have won. As a result, Eric Mangini got the boot, and Rex Ryan was brought in from Baltimore. If the demeanor between the two wasn't different enough, Ryan has actually encouraged his players to fight during practice to build their intensity level. We wouldn't expect anything else from a Baltimore guy (or a Ryan for that matter).

The Jets do boast some tools that Ryan should be able to use, based on his experience in Baltimore, to turn this into a winning team eventually. With Favre gone, the mantle falls to rookie QB Mark Sanchez to lead the offense. He will be aided by a solid running game with Thomas Jones and the burner Leon Washington. The most exciting back might be Shonne Greene (rookie from Iowa) who just dominated the Big 10 last season. The offensive line is full of former first-round studs including tackle D'Brickshaw Ferguson, tackle Damien Woody, guard Alan Faneca, and center Nick Mangold.

The Jets did lose #1 receiver Laverneous Coles to Cincinnati in free agency, placing the bulk of the receiving load on Jerricho Cotchery. Without much help in the passing game, Cotchery will likely see a lot of double-teams this season. Dustin Keller is a legitimate talent at tight end, and after a rookie year where he posted 535 yards and 3 TDs, he should be able to grow as a weapon for Sanchez.

The Jets offensive success will be wholy reliant on their ability to run the ball and maintain clock control. This is not a team that is going to put up a lot of points, and their passing game is a long way from scaring anyone. That being said, this offense has a lot in common with last year's Baltimore Ravens. However, they have a harder schedule than the Ravens played, and not nearly as much talent on defense. In the end, it's going to be a low-scoring season for the Jets offense.

Speaking of defense, there is some talent there, starting with newly acquired linebacker Bart Scott. In 3-4 alignments, defensive ends don't usually lead teams in sacks. However, Shaun Ellis (8.0 sacks) was the exception to that rule. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace was second with 7, and the Jets got no production out of pass-rusher extraordinaire Vernon Gholston who they spent a first-round pick on. Pro Bowler Kris Jenkins is a beast on the interior line at nose tackle, and he presents a challenge for any team trying to block him.

Former Pitt star Darelle Revis had a Pro Bowl year at cornerback last year and is quickly blossoming into one of the young stars at the position. Safety Kerry Rhodes is solid, and the Jets brought in Jim Leonhard to play the other safety spot. On the whole, New York's defense is pretty much the same as last year, with Scott and Leonhard taking their places in the starting lineups. For all the preseason accolades the Jets defense is getting, let's not forget that this unit was 29th in the league in passing defense, 16th in total defense and 18th in scoring defense. Their only Top 10 categories were run defense (7th) and takeaways (5th).

On the whole, this Jets team will be reliant on their defense to keep them in games, and with the schedule they have this year, it doesn't seem likely that they will improve upon last season's win mark. This is a rebuilding year, particularly on offense, for the Jets. They would do well to go out and get themselves some receivers in the offseason and to develop Shonne Greene. There are some pieces in place here, but this team is at least a year away.

Ian's Prediction: 6-10

I really just don't see these guys being all that good. Sanchez will learn as he goes and get better as the season goes on, so they will win a few games. Don't forget they have Buffalo in their division. The Jets also get Oakland and Cincy, which are teams of similar ilk. It wouldn't be a complete surprise to see this team start 0-5 with Houston, New England, Tennessee, New Orleans, and Miami at the front end of the schedule.

John's Prediction:

Updates on the Steelers

In the midst of our team-by-team season previews, we have obviously talked a lot about other teams in the league. But obviously, we're a Steelers blog, so we've got to give you some Steelers talk every now and then as well.

The biggest news today comes to us via Jim Wexell on Twitter. Darnell Stapelton told reporters that he expects to go on IR before the season begins.

Update: Post-Gazette

This means two things: One, Trai Essex will be your starting right guard. Essex has played well there in the preseason. It's good to see Essex get his shot in the starting lineup after his long wait amongst the backups. Secondly, this means that another roster spot will be "open" (we'll get to this shortly).

The second big item of the day was the Diesel signing a 5-year contract extension. We love the Diesel and the energy he brings to the team, but we have to wonder a bit about the 5-year deal. With Keisel and Aaron Smith anchoring down the DE positions, where is first round pick Ziggy Hood going to fit in? Surely the Steelers aren't going to wait 5 years to get Ziggy into the starting lineup. That being said, Keisel turns 31 next month and Aaron Smith is 33, so drafting Ziggy was a great way to add depth to the line.

Next up in the news is the newly redesigned, which now features a message board. This is still in the works, so it doesn't always load right, but you can sign up for an account (fan accounts are free) which gives you access to the message board.

Finally, the Steelers must make their first round of cuts (down to a 75-man roster) by tomorrow afternoon. The second round of cuts (from 75 down to 53, which will be very difficult given the depth of this team) will come after the Carolina game.

In lieu of this, here's my (Ian's) projection for the 53-man roster. I'll probably update it one more time right after the Carolina game before the final cuts are made.

Offense (25)
QB (3) - Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon
RB (5) - Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Carey Davis, Isaac Redman
WR (5) - Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Limas Sweed, Mike Wallace, Shaun McDonald
TE (3) - Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Johnson
T (4) - Max Starks, Willie Colon, Jason Capizzi, Jeremy Parquet
G (3) - Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, Kraig Urbik
C (2) - Justin Hartwig, Doug Legursky

Defense (24)
DE (4) - Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Nick Eason
NT (2) - Casey Hampton, Chris Hoke
OLB (5) - James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Arnold Harrison, Andre Frazier, Patrick Bailey
ILB (4) - James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Keyaron Fox, Donovan Woods
CB (6) - Ike Taylor, William Gay, Deshea Townsend, Keenan Lewis, Anthony Madison, Joe Burnett
S (3) - Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Tyrone Carter

Specialists (4)
K- Jeff Reed
P- Superman
LS- Greg Warren
KR- Stefan Logan

Practice Squad: Frank Summers (RB), Ramon Foster (OG), Ra'Shon Harris (DE), A.Q. Shipley (C), Ryan Mundy (S)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

O Canada: Buffalo Bills Season Preview

2008 Record: 7-9

Dick Jauron is on the hot seat. Taking a risk like bringing in TO could pay divedends. Or it could get him fired. We're betting on the latter. We're also betting on the Bills moving to Toronto within the next 5 years. They already have an agreement to play a few regular season and preseason games there. And Toronto is a much bigger market than Buffalo.

Trent Edwards is a decent quarterback, but Buffalo will have two rookies, Andy Levitre (G-Oregon St) and Eric Wood (C-Louisville), starting on the interior of the O-line. Remember what happened 2 years ago to the Steelers with the Sean Mahan experiment? Add to that the fact that Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first 4 weeks of the season and Fred Jackson has been battling hand injuries in camp...all the pressure is going right for Edwards.

That being said, he has the weapons in the passing game to make plays. TO is productive, albeit a locker room destroyer. Lee Evans is a solid deep threat that can stretch the field, but he doesn't find the end zone often for the type of yards he puts up. Evans was one of 22 receivers to break 1000 yards last season, yet amongst that group he had the fewest receptions (63) and tied for the fewest touchdowns (3).

Buffalo had some injury problems last season, including to quarterback Trent Edwards. Edwards was at the helm for their stellar 5-1 start, but finished the season with a 7-7 record as the Bills offense tanked down the stretch with a 2-8 mark. The Bills have installed a no-huddle offense that they plan to use to "keep defenses on their toes." I'm not sure if the coaching staff came up with this brilliant plan while watching Oklahoma last year, but this isn't college football. It might work for the first few drives of the game, but once defense have a chance to react and gameplan for it, the effects will likely be a wash. For a team that averaged barely over 30 minutes per game in time of possession last season, it's odd to think that they want to try to move their offense up and down the field faster. Although, Buffalo was 21st in the league in 1st downs last season, so maybe the expression should be "on and off the field faster." We saw a lot of them "moving on and off the field faster" against the Steelers last night.

Buffalo's offense was not good by any stretch last season. They were 22nd in Passing offense, 14th in Rushing offense, and 25th in Total offense. In addition to not moving the ball, they also didn't score, finishing 23rd in scoring offense. The one thing they did do well was to give the ball to the other team, finishing the season with 30 turnovers, the 9th highest mark in the league. Putting all of these stats together, you can see why Dick Jauron was desperate for some offensive production, but we're of the opinion they would have done better to augment James Hardy's growth in the offense, rather than shut him out by bringing in TO. In a season shortened by a torn ACL, Hardy (6'5" 220 in his second year out of Indiana) had 9 catches for 87 yards and 2 scores, good for the 2nd most receiving TDs on the team.

Buffalo's run defense improved dramatically last season with the acquisition of DT Marcus Stroud from Jacksonville. The Bills drafted Aaron Maybin (DE-Penn State) to improve their pass rush, which was 4th-worst in the league last year with only 24 sacks. Aaron Schobel, who had over 6 sacks in each of his first 7 seasons in the league, is coming off an injury-shortened year where he only recorded 1 sack. Buffalo's linebacking corps is solid, with leading tackler and all around stud Paul Posluszny in the middle. After his injury-shortened rookie year, Poz showed why he should have been a first round draft pick, leading the team in tackles and putting himself on the track to a future Pro Bowl appearance. ROLB Kawika Mitchell who led the team in sacks last year with 4, and LOLB Keith Ellison, both of whom were in the top 4 on the team in tackles, return to their positions.

Buffalo has a decent secondary, and they finished 13th in the league in pass defense last season. Last year's first round pick Leodis McKelvin is battling for a starting spot with Ashton Youboty. Terrence McGee, who led the team with 3 INTs and was 3rd on the team in tackles, returns to his #1 corner position. Last years starting safeties, Ko Simpson and Donte Whitner (who combined for 0 INTs), also return. The Bills secondary only gave up over 300 yards passing 3 times last season (Miami 306, Kansas City 303, Denver 351). However, their run defense was bludgeoned for over 100 yards 9 times, including in 7 of the last 8 games where the Bills posted a 2-6 record.

Ian's Prediction: 4-12

I just don't see this happening. All of Buffalo's early season victories last year came against teams that won 5 or less games (Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Jacksonville). Their only "good" victories were against a stumbling San Diego team and Denver in the midst of their epic December collapse. Which team will show up in 2009? The team that beat San Diego or the team that lost to Cleveland? The no-huddle is going to get smoked out of the water the first time they try to audible on the road in a noisy stadium. This team is headed for disaster and Dick Jauron may be unemployed before the Bills bye week in Week 9. Let's not forget, the city of Buffalo is also doing all they can in the hopes that this team doesn't jump ship and move across the border to Canada.

John's Prediction:

Why the Steelers Preseason Record Matters

Every year coming into the preseason we get preached to that "the preseason doesn't matter" and "winning in the preseason doesn't mean anything." In some cases, for instance the Detroit Lions who went 4-0 last year in the preseason, this might be true. But the Pittsburgh Steelers are a bit of a different animal. In fact, over the last 10 years, preseason records are a direct indicator of how they will finish the season.

Pre Reg Div Result
2008 3-1 12-4 Champs SB XLIII Champs
2007 4-1 10-6 Champs Lost Wild Card
2006 0-4 8-8
missed playoffs
2005 3-1 11-5
SB XL Champs
2004 2-2 15-1 Champs Lost AFC Championship
2003 1-3 6-10
missed playoffs
2002 2-2 10-5-1 Champs Lost Divisional
2001 3-1 13-3 Champs Lost AFC Championship
2000 3-2 9-7
missed playoffs
1999 1-3 6-10
missed playoffs

As you can see, every preseason in which the Steelers had at least a .500 record (won 2 games) they went on to have a winning record in the regular season. The 3 years where we had losing records in the preseason (1999, 2003, 2006) we went on to not have winning records (either 6-10 or 8-8) in the regular season.

Only in 2000 did we have a winning preseason record and fail to make the playoffs. Since the NFL went to the 8-division format in 2002, only once have the Steelers won 2 or more preseason games and not won the AFC North. That was in 2005. And they won the Super Bowl that year.

Obviously, from year-to-year, the team why the prevailing trend? Our best explanation is that in the preseason, the bulk of the playing time is taken up by reserves, generally second and 3rd stringers. While this might not mean much, as they're playing against other backups, the fact that one team's reserves can have more success would indicate that their reserves are "better." Since no NFL team makes it through the season without injuries to their starting units, having capable, talented reserves that can step in and play at a similar level means you will be able to continue the success you were having in the regular season. In addition, since many teams now run "rotations" at certain positions, particularly D-line, having talented reserves also means that the production does not decrease when a starter is taken out of the game for a rest. In conclusion, Steelers teams that have been deep have had more success in the preseason (and regular season), and Steelers teams with depth issues have struggled both in the preseason, and in the regular season.

With the Steelers crushing defeat of the Bills on Saturday night, they are now 2-1 in the preseason with only one game to go. We're not getting ahead of ourselves here, but based on history, this is a very good sign.

Saturday Night Special: Steelers Win


The Steelers came out in this game with the "defend every blade of grass" attitude that Tomlin has been preaching all preseason. Obviously, for the starters, it's difficult to get psyched up for a preseason game where you know you're only going to play a few drives. But the third preseason game is different. you know you're going to get a half of football in against their best guys, and you want to go toe-to-toe with them and knock them out. And that's exactly what the Steelers did tonight. James Farrior had a Pro Bowl worthy night, and it was only the preseason.

The game started off with a great omen, as I saw a dude wearing a Greg Goldberg Mighty Ducks t-shirt jersey walking across the Clemente Bridge.

North Hills High School band got some field time before the game. Solid performance.

The offense got the nod for pre-game introductions. There was a much better vibe in the crowd for this game than the last game. Additionally, there were a few more season-ticket holders there, rather than just random people we haven't seen before. Always nice to see some friendly faces.


The Steelers won the toss, and Mike Wallace got to turn on the jets for a nice return out to the 30.

The Steelers were determined to get the running game going tonight, and Mendenhall got the first two touches. Moore converted the 3rd and short with a catch on a dump-down, then Ben found Hines in the seam to get into Buffalo territory. Mendenhall ripped off a 12-yard run on 2nd down and the offense seemed poised to put points on the board. However, Mendenhall got a bad grip on a handoff from Ben, and never had control of the ball when he ran into the backside of Chris Kemoeatu. The ball came out and Buffalo recovered.

Coming into the game, we all knew about Buffalo's no-huddle offense. HOF nominee LeBeau counters by sending out the nickel package to start the game. Buffalo responds by going 3-and-out.

The coaches show their faith in Rashard by going right back to him, but he can't catch a break on first or second down, and despite a great one-handed diving catch by Heath on 3rd down, the Steelers have to punt. Superman hits a solid punt and with penalty yardage added on, the Bills are stuck inside their 20.

The Steelers come out with their base defense, and Buffalo goes to the ground attack. Marshawn Lynch finds a seam and rockets into the open field on 2nd down before Farrior catches him from behind. Scary moment there where Lynch had a lot of open field in front of him, but Farrior (whose name you just might see again) makes the play. After Buffalo got 6 on a quick pass on first down, it looked like their offense might start moving. The Steelers would have none of that. Troy stuffs Lynch in the hole on 2nd down then Edwards air-mails a pass to the sidelines on 3rd down and it's punt city again for Buffalo.

Rising sensation Stefan Logan flashes some skills on the return, darting up to the 30 for a 17-yard return.

After a bad snap on first down and a Mendenhall charge on 2nd, Moore keeps things rolling with another reception over the middle to move across midfield. Mike Wallace flashes speed and agility on an end-around, but it gets nullified by offsetting penalties. Save that one for the season. Limas Sweed bails us out on another 3rd and long, making a fantastic leaping catch in front of Paul Posluszny. The Steelers tread water as the first quarter runs out.

Second Quarter

After a dominating first quarter where the Steelers held the ball for 11 1/2 minutes, we were hungry for some points. We started the second quarter with a 3rd and 10 from the 34, on the very outer reaches of field goal range.

Ben responds by going to the mainstay Hines Ward for the first down. Posluszny is all over the field making tackles on first and second down, then first-round pick Aaron Maybin (another former Nittany Lion) comes up with his first NFL sack. With Reed on the bench with an ankle injury, Piotr Czech comes out and knocks it home.


Buffalo comes back out looking to answer back. Edwards rushes a pass with Harrison bearing down on him and the ball hits Farrior right in the hands. With no one in front of him, Potsie scoots into the end zone for the score.


If anyone's counting, that's Defense 7, Offense 3, Bills 0.

Buffalo's offense hurries-up their way off the field, and Logan makes another good effort on the punt return. When your offense doesn't move the ball, the No Huddle kills your defense.

With the ball near midfield, Ben takes a shot deep for Mike Wallace. Wallace has McKelvin beat to the inside, but Ben throws it to the outside and it falls incomplete. If Ben throws that inside Wallace is gone. After a false start on Essex, Ben hits Hines and Sweed (another spectacular catch), but we come up just short. Ben waves the punt team off and tries to draw the Bills offsides. It appeared a d-lineman jumped, but Hartwig didn't pull the trigger. Timeout. Superman.

With the help of a Steelers penalty, Buffalo is able to get not only one, but two first downs on their next drive. Edwards is going to be having nightmares about Farrior tonight, as Potsie forced an incompletion and dragged Edwards down for a 3rd down sack after Buffalo had crossed their 40.

Pinned back inside the 15, Mendenhall went to work. He made a great openfield cut to get open for a short pass that he took for 13 and a big first down to get out of the shadow of our end zone. Sweed pulls in another solid catch to keep things moving. On first down near midfield, Ben goes for Sweed on the sidelines. Limas makes a great jumping catch, but gets hit in the air and never gets his second foot down. Since the NFL got rid of the "force-out" rule, it's incomplete. Ben comes back by firing one to Hines down the middle for 20 yards, moving us well into Bills territory.

The next play was all Ben being Ben. There's maybe 2 other quarterbacks in the league that make that play. He shrugs off a tackle, eludes a defender, makes a move to scramble, then lobs a pass over an oncoming defender to a wide open Heath Miller for 18 yards.

Two-minute warning

Hines reels one in on the sidelines to set up 3rd and short, and Mendenhall is able to pick it up with a good push from the O-line. Ben looks for Hines on a quick-in across the middle, but the pass is called incomplete. Hines does a great job trying to pretend he made the catch (and in real-time it looked like he did) but the replays showed the ball came out when he hit the ground and the call on the field was right. Ben hands to Mendenhall on a stretch play and the line makes a hole big enough to drive a big rig through, allowing Mendenhall to merenge into the end zone.


Buffalo gets a meaningless play before the half to round out their 4 1/2 minutes in time of possesion. Don't know if they showed the stat on TV or not (probably not since it's KDKA) but Buffalo had a grand total of 3 first downs, 50 yards, and 8:14 in time of possession in the first half.


Patrick Bailey presented with the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, which is annually given to the Steelers Rookie of the Year from the prior season. Patrick had a great year last year and we're really pulling for him to make the team. He was 3rd on the team in Special Teams tackles last season and he's an all-around great guy.

Some jokers try to kick field goals. Wimps only tried from the 5 and 10 yard lines. None from the 15? What kind of joke is this?

Third Quarter

After their terrible first half, Buffalo's first-team offense comes back to get smacked in the mouth some more by the Steelers defense. No surprise, it's another 3-and-out.

Homestead Charlie comes in to lead the 2nd team offense. Justin Vincent sees some extended work on this drive, but looks a lot shakier than he did in the first game. He was moving side-to-side and not hitting the hole hard. Charlie spreads the ball around to 4 different receivers over the drive (Brandon Williams, Dezmond Sherrod, Martin Nance, and Shaun McDonald), moving the Steelers into field goal range. With the ball in the red zone, Arians goes back to the motif offense, which loses yardage and results in a field goal try. Piotr misses from 40, and the offense comes away empty.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, who we lovingly nicknamed Erin last season when he played for the Bungles because of his incredibly Irish name, came in at quarterback. By virtue of a 17-yard pass, a longer play than the Bills had at all in the first half, Erin moved the Bills across the 50 for the first time in the game. Keyaron Fox made the receiver pay for that one, dishing out a bone-crushing hit that the guy next to me described as "that hurt him again when he watched the replay."

Erin gets them to 3rd and 1, but the Bills can't convert against the Steelers D, then commit a false start when they try to line up to go for it on 4th down.

Isaac Redman came into the game at running back and got a lion's share of the work, including a check-down pass after a hold on Jeremy Parquet that he turned upfield, cut back across the middle, and almost took back to the sticks for 19 yards.

Fourth Quarter

The Steelers continued to dominate in ball control, holding it for almost 11 minutes in the third quarter, further keeping Buffalo's offense on the bench.

A false start penalty on Capizzi sets the Steelers back and Batch goes deep down the middle for Williams, but he tries to make a diving catch (when he could have caught it in stride) and can't hang on to the ball. Batch threw some really nice passes out there tonight. Good looking accuracy from our #2. Superman.

The Bills go 3-and-out again, this defensive stand highlighted by Arnold Harrison and Donovan Woods splitting a sack.

Logan rips off a great return, getting across midfield. Mike Reilly comes in to take the reigns, which at this point pretty much means handing the ball off. Redman picks up a first down to move closer to field goal range, but can't pick up a 4th and 1 at the 27, giving the ball back to the Bills.

With 8 minutes to go and the Steelers running in 3rd stringers, Buffalo put together their only legitimate drive of the game. Erin uses the no-huddle to move the team up the field, capped off by a scramble to get the Bills inside the 20 for the first time all game with 4 1/2 to go. Joe Burnett almost jumps a route on first down, and Keenan Lewis makes a good open-field tackle on 3rd down to hold the Bills to a field goal. But Joe Burnett comes out of nowhere and blocks the kick, preserving the shutout for the defense.

Reilly makes a good pass to David Johnson on the sideline after the two-minute warning to pick up a first down and seal the deal.

Players of the Game:

Offensive Game Ball: Rashard Mendenhall
Defensive Game Ball: James Farrior

Honorable Mentions:
Ben Roethlisberger
Hines Ward
Limas Sweed
Joe Burnett
Stefan Logan
Willie Colon
Keyaron Fox

Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game:

Pre-snap Penalties
Honestly, there wasn't a whole lot not to like about this game, so we have to agree with Coach here. The Steelers had 6 penalties on the night, 3 of which were pre-snap. Those can be easily avoided.

Final Thoughts
  • Dominating performance by the defense. Buffalo was 0-8 on third downs, and only had 135 net yards.
  • Time of possession: PIT 41:15, BUF 18:45
  • Stefan Logan might take someone's roster spot.
  • Keyaron Fox is playing great. He'll be an excellent addition to the ILB rotation. It's going to be hard to get him on the field, but he's an asset when he's there.
  • Sweed catches anything that isn't thrown right at his numbers.
  • Posluszny is a beast. Maybin has some skills and will grow into a solid player. Good to see the PSU guys having success in the NFL.
  • Farrior makes the Pro Bowl again.
  • The Steelers have never had a losing season in the last 10 years when they won at least 2 preseason games. All 3 non-winning seasons were after preseasons where they were 1-3 or 0-4. More details on this tomorrow.
  • We are going to cut guys that could be starters on other NFL rosters.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Preseason Gameday 3: Buffalo Bills

Heinz Field

Better off listening to the radio. has an all-new, redesigned look.
They are updating their multimedia section, so photos will be hard to come by until they get that up.

Worthwhile information from Jim Wexell on twitter:
For out-of-towners, tonight's game is listed here:
1 p.m. Sunday replay on NFLNetwork

What we're looking for tonight:

1. No injuries

It's the preseason, so this should be obvious.
2. Approaching cut dates

The first roster cut comes on September 1, so this will be the last game where we will see some players. The first roster cut is only from 80 to 75, so some of the names you've heard often locked into battles won't be cut just yet. The last cut date, where the roster is trimmed from 75 to 53, comes after the Panthers game.

3. More time for the first team

The 3rd preseason game is the time when first team offenses and defenses usually play close to a half, as a "tune-up" for the regular season. The Steelers will likely show a little more than their vanilla defense tonight, and the offense should actually have a chance to get a rythym going.

4. Buffalo's no-huddle offense

The Bills have installed a no-huddle offense that they will work out of for the whole game, and it will be interesting to see how the Steelers combat this and how our defensive players hold up. Reports are that T.O. is likely out, which will give Trent Edwards some time to work on chemistry with his other receivers (Lee Evans, Roscoe Parrish, James Hardy).
5. Ben's ankle/heel

Ben's once again brought Steeler nation to a halt a few weeks ago when he went down with an injury to his Achilles. Tonight is his chance to show he's back at full strength and ready to lead us to another championship.

Where we'll be

Ian will be at the game, and will be posting some periodic updates on Twitter. John just moved away to go to grad school, so he's still unpacking.

Time to get pumped!!


Ground Game: Tennessee Titans Season Preview

2008 Record: 13-3

Tennessee, coming off their third 13-3 season in franchise history, is looking to take that next step. Tennessee is the model that "rebuilding" franchises should look to for success. After going 5-11 and 4-12 in 2004 and 2005, Tennessee has steadily improved, going 8-8, 10-6, and last year's 13-3. The Titans won their first 10 games of the regular season and carried the #1 seed into the playoffs.

To be honest, Baltimore did us a huge favor by beating Tennessee last year. If Chris Johnson didn't get hurt in the first half of that game, one has to wonder if the result would have been the same. In his rookie year, Johnson showed he not only has the speed, but he also has the elusiveness, to be a star. Johnson ran for 1228 yards, averaging almost 5 yards per carry (good for the 4th best YPC in the league behind Derrick Ward, DeAngelo Williams and Brandon Jacobs). Johnson shared carries with LenDale White, who some may say is approaching "bust" status, but most sensible people knew he was a short-yardage back, not an every-down back. White's numbers reflect that, averaging a whole yard per carry less than Johnson, but putting up 15 TDs. Tennessee has reportedly been discontent with LenDale White's attitude and weight issues for the past few years, and Javon Ringer from Michigan State has looked very good in the preseason. Ringer may push White for the #2 spot, but ultimately, White's size and strength will give him the edge. Ringer may develop into a solid 3rd down back for this team, if they are willing to take the speedy Johnson off the field.

At quarterback, Tennessee has found their answer...for now. Kerry Collins is the starter, and will be for the foreseeable future, and given that Tennessee has a very good offensive line, it's not likely that he'll be sacked much. However, just ask Tom Brady or Carson Palmer, it only takes one hit. In the preseason, Vince Young has looked like a shell of his former self, being indecisive with the ball, slow to release, and mentally unprepared for the games. When he was drafted, VY seemed like an ideal fit for this Titans offense, but now he just can't get out of his own way. Tennessee is in trouble if Collins goes down.

Collins isn't the greatest quarterback in the world (in spite of what some Penn State fans might think), but he is capable of getting the job done. Justin Gage is a solid receiver, but Tennessee lacks a true #1 target. They brought in Nate Washington in the offseason so he could show LenDale White what a Super Bowl ring looks like. The Titans also spent their first round pick on Kenny Britt (WR-Rutgers) who provides a sizeable target for Collins. Tennessee uses their tight ends incredibly well, both in blocking and as receivers. Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler won't put up huge numbers, but they are the keys to the offense.

On Defense, the biggest factor will be the loss of Albert Haynesworth at defensive tackle. However, as the Titans showed in their beat-down of the Steelers last season, they have plenty of depth along the interior D-line. On the outside, Jevon Kearse had his first fully healthy season since 2005, but only recorded 3 1/2 sacks. Kearse has failed to break the 3.5 plateau for the last 3 seasons (though he only started 2 and 8 games in 06 and 07). On the other side, Kyle Vanden Bosch had a disappointing 4.5 sack season after putting up over 12 in 2 of the prior 3 seasons. Backup DEs Jacob Ford and Dave Ball had more productive season than the starters last year, amassing 7 and 4.5 sacks respectively.

Tennessee brings back one of the best 4-3 linebacking units in the league with Keith Bulluck, Stephen Tulloch, and David Thornton. All three put up over 75 tackles last season and were in the top 5 in the team in tackles. In the secondary, All-Pro corner Cortland Finnegan is the anchor after a stellar year last season. However, as corners such as Antonio Cromartie in San Diego have discovered, following up an "elite" season is quite difficult. Nick Harper, most famous for being tackled by Ben Roethlisberger in the 2005 AFC Divisional Game, holds down the other side. Harper, in the mold of most corners who have played for the Colts in the past, is fast and hard-hitting and helps out in the run game, but is liable to get burned. Former Steeler Chris Hope mans the strong safety spot, and his Pro-Bowl selection last season was not a mistake. Michael Griffin has fulfilled the Titans expectations of him when they drafted him from Texas, and is a very capable safety beside Hope.

The Titans also have one of the best kickers in the league in Rob Bironas. You wouldn't think this would make a huge difference, but without much of a passing game, Tennessee kicked a lot of field goals last season. Bironas was perfect from inside of 40 yards, however he attempted more 40-49 yarders (19) than any other kicker in the league.

On the whole, Tennessee should be a solid team once again this season. Their run defense, which was #6 in the league may suffer a little with the loss of Haynesworth, but they will still be just fine. Their pass defense was 9th in the league and Haynesworth was their leading sacker last season, so they may also see a dropoff there. However, with 2 Pro Bowlers in the secondary and a solid linebacking corps, it's not likely that Tennessee's defense will see much loss in production. The offense is solid as long as they can run the ball, and they will be able to do that have one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Ian's Prediction: 12-4

Honestly, I can't decide between Tennessee and Indy for this division. It's definitely a toss up. Tennessee is strong in places where Indy is weak (defense, running game) and Indy is strong where Tennessee is weak (passing game). The way to beat Tennessee is to make them throw the ball, but the only way to make that happen is to make them play from behind, and good luck getting up 2 scores on that defense. With the AFC East and NFC West on their schedule, I would be shocked if Tennessee lost more than 5 games this season. They do have to travel to New England, but they get Arizona at home and should be able to have another very good year behind their great offensive line and the legs of Chris Johnson.

John's Prediction:

Friday, August 28, 2009

It's the weekend

Hey there folks. We know we haven't posted for a few days. I (Ian) started my final year of grad school classes on Monday (WOO!) and John is starting his first year of grad school next week, so he's been busy packing and getting prepared to move.

To make it up to you, here's something we found. Endless enjoyment ahead.

Have a good weekend.

Gameday post tomorrow for the Steelers-Bills game.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not Dead Yet: Indianapolis Colts Season Preview

2008 Record: 12-4

With Peyton Manning entering his 12th year in the league, you have to wonder if the window is starting to close, just a little, on the Colts successful run. The Colts did not re-sign Marvin Harrison this off-season, which moves Anthony Gonzalez into the starting role at #2 wide receiver. The #3 receiver spot is up for grabs between Pierre Garcon, Roy Hall, and rookie Austin Collie. If you recall from our draft previews, we were very high on Collie, particularly his pass-catching abilities. He may be the next Brandon Stokley in this offense. For now, it looks to be between Hall and Garcon while Collie learns the offense.

Reggie Wayne is one of the top 5 receivers in the league, and his 1145-yard season last year proved that. Harrison started 15 games last season, and his 60 catches will need to be distributed somewhere. Just how important is a 3rd receiver to the Colts offense? Anthony Gonzalez put up almost identical numbers to Harrison (the #2 receiver) last year. With two guys competing for the position who have 5 catches for 32 yards between them in their NFL careers, the Colts passing game may struggle. Dallas Clark is still a weapon at tight end, finishing second on the team in all major receiving categories last season.

The Colts spent their first round draft pick on RB Donald Brown from UConn, a sign that they are not happy with what Joseph Addai has been producing lately (namely, a lack of short-yardage conversions). Brown is a big, bruising back, but it remains to be seen if he has the ability to be a factor in the Colts passing game like Dominic Rhodes was. Brown should provide a good compliment in running style to Addai this season.

On the whole, the Colts offense looks like a team that's nearing the end of it's window. They have some great players in Manning, Wayne, Jeff Saturday, and others. However, they don't have a lot in terms of capable backups should any of those players go down to injury. That being said, we're not betting against this team to end their run of 7 consecutive playoff appearances. But they are far from the team that won the Super Bowl three years ago.

On the other side of the ball, the Colts defense is still made up of speedy, but under-sized players. In an attempt to improve their 24th-ranked run defense, the Colts drafted DTs Fili Moala (USC) and Terrence Taylor (Michigan). The Colts interior D-line has been weak for years, and is constantly exposed against run-heavy teams like Jacksonville, who put up 341 in two games against Indy last year. The Colts boast a scary set of defensive ends in Dwight "spin-move" Freeney and Robert Mathis. Leading tackler Freddie Keiaho returns to a linebacking unit that also features Clint Session and Gary Brackett. All 3 linebackers are, like the rest of the defense, undersized and fast. They run quick to the ball and gang-tackle well, but can also get dominated by physical backs.

The Colts were 6th in the league in pass defense, and gave up the fewest passing touchdowns in the league last season (6). The Colts return all 4 starters from last season, with one of the best safety pairs in the league in Antoine Bethea and Bob Sanders. However, in his 5 years in the league, Bob Sanders has never played a full 16-game season. Bethea was 2nd on the team in tackles last season and flies all over the field. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are capable corners, and the Colts should have a good pass defense again this season.

Ian's Prediction: 12-4

The window is starting to close on the Colts, but it would be stupid to bet against them. Manning rarely gets sacked, so the probability of him getting injured is relatively low. Once they get their 3rd WR situation figured out, their offense will start clicking again. Personally, I love Austin Collie's potential, and I think he'll be a great fit in this offense if he can pick it up quickly. The Colts have a pretty easy schedule this year, and they get New England at home, so they won't have to deal with Manning's worst enemy: snow. The only game they're likely to see the fluffy white stuff is in Buffalo in Week 17, but the Colts will probably have a playoff spot wrapped up by then and the game shouldn't matter. The Colts will challenge Tennessee again for the division crown, and their December 6th matchup in Indy might be the deciding game (though Indy does have to go to Jackonville two weeks later, and we've documented their struggles against the Jags). All in all, the Colts are aging, but they're not done yet.

John's Prediction:

Vote For Pittsburgh

Hey Steelers nation, Yahoo! is currently running a fantasy football league made up of mayors of different cities around the country. As you may have guessed, Head Yinzer Luke Ravenstahl is in the league.

How does this concern you? Well, in addition to the winning city getting money towards a local sports-related non-profit, an additional $15,000 can be won by one city for winning the fan vote.

Green Bay is currently winning the fan vote with 33%. Pittsburgh is at 7%. It takes two clicks of the mouse.
Make it happen.
Luke's Team:
QB- Donovan McNabb (Phi)
RB- Chris Johnson (Ten)
RB- Steve Slaton (Hou)
WR- Marques Colston (NO)
WR- Dwayne Bowe (KC)
WR- Hines Ward (Pit)
TE- Greg Olsen (Chi)
K- David Akers (Phi)
DEF- NY Giants
BN- Marshawn Lynch (RB-Buf)
BN- Kevin Walter (WR-Hou)
BN- Donnie Avery (WR-StL)
BN- Kyle Orton (QB-Den)
BN- Fred Jackson (RB-Buf)
BN- Carolina (DEF)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On the Moove: Houston Texans Season Preview

2008 Record: 8-8

The Texans followed up their first 8-win season in franchise history with another 8-8 season. This team has been doing a good job of putting pieces together over the past few years and has been showing some improvement. Many have this season pegged as their "breakthrough" year where they make a run at the playoffs. Head Coach Gary Kubiak needs to hope the Texans put together a winning season, as his job may be on the line if they don't.

The Texans have one of the top two receivers in the league in Andre Johnson. As far as we're concerned, Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are 1a and 1b in the receiver ranks. Matt Schaub was an excellent pickup in free agency a few years ago and has shown that, when healthy, he has the tools to lead the offense. Schaub has missed 10 games in the last 2 seasons due to injury, and needs to prove he can stay healthy for a whole season for the Texans to be contenders. Rex Grossman and Dan Orlovsky were brought in to backup Schaub this season, and will likely see time on the field.

Steve Slaton, WVU product, had a great rookie season last year, putting up almost 1300 yards and 9 TDs. Slaton should continue to have solid production this year as a Willie Parker-type back, and with Ahman Green gone, will be the feature back in the Texans offense. Kevin Walter is a capable #2 receiver who had a good year with 60 catches, 899 yds, and 8 TDs and Owen Daniels is a solid pass-catching tight end who put up 70 catches, 862 yds, and 2 TDs last year. Johnson, as we've already stated, is a beast. He had 115 catches for 1575 yards and 8 TDs in an All-Pro season.

One of the biggest reasons for the Texans success last season was that their 5 offensive linemen started all 16 games together. The same group of 5 is back this season, and will continue to build on the chemistry they have developed. The Texans had the 13th best rushing offense last year, coupled with the #4 passing offense and #3 total offense, one would have thought they would have managed better than a 17th-ranked scoring offense. However, the Texans were 30th in the league in turnovers, with 32 on the season, including 20 interceptions (only 10 of which were thrown by Schaub in his 11 games). The Texans will need to cut down on turnovers and find the end zone more frequently this season to get over the 8-8 hump.

On defense, Houston still has some room for improvement. Former #1 overall pick Mario Williams is a stud at DE, but the Texans finished last season ranked 23rd in run defense, 17th in pass defense, 22nd in total defense, and 27th in total defense. DeMeco Ryans has grown into a solid middle linebacker, but the Texans need more out of former first round pick Amobi Okoye and Travis Johnson at the DT spot.

The Texans brought in DE Antonio Smith from Arizona to book-end Williams, and he should provide some production. First round pick Brian Cushing from USC figures to step into the linebacker rotation from day 1, and will be a great addition to the unit. In the secondary, Dunta Robinson is in a battle with Fred Bennett for the starting corner position, and Nick Ferguson and Eugene Wilson return to the secondary. As bad as their pass defense ranking was, they gave up over 300 yards only once, and that was to Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Houston's 2008 season was marred by an 0-4 start, and they were a 3-minute meltdown against Indy (or their Week 16 crapfest against Oakland) away from breaking .500. The Texans finished the season on a 5-1 run, and look to carry that momentum into 2009. The Texans have a favorable schedule this year, with the NFC West and AFC East, and the pieces seem to be in place for them to break the 9-win plateau this season.

Ian's Prediction: 9-7

This team is up-and-coming, but they're still not quite playoff caliber. The defense is a huge gap, and in a division with a pass-happy team (the Colts) and a run-happy team (the Titans), Houston has the propensity to get exposed. In two games last year, they gave up 258 rush yards to Tennessee, and 555 pass yards to the Colts. The Texans should be able to rack up at least 5 wins before their bye. After the bye week, they have 3 in a row against division opponents before finishing with Seattle, St. Louis, Miami, and New England. The Texans were 5-4 in games decided by 1 possession last season, and they have the offense to improve that mark.

John's Prediction:

Monday, August 24, 2009

The MJD Show: Jacksonville Jaguars Season Preview

2008 Record: 5-11

After a 2007 season where they looked incredibly solid top-to-bottom, the wheels fell off in 2008. The Jaguars lost multiple offensive linemen to injury, and not only did their running game suffer, but Garrard wasn't nearly the same quarterback he was a year before. The Jags went from a team that challenged New England in the second round, to picking in the Top 10. The Jaguars did address their O-line issues in the draft, by taking standout tackle from Virginia Eugene Monroe. However, Monroe held out for the first two weeks of camp and just recently has seen his first action.

In order for the Jaguars to have success, they need to get back to what worked for them in 2007. Namely, running the ball. Fred Taylor is gone, meaning that the show now belongs to Maurice Jones-Drew. Without another back capable of sharing the workload, one has to wonder if MJD is capable of being the feature back for the entire season. We believe he is, but we also know that 300 carries will wear you down faster than you expect. MJD is a good back, and great catching passes out of the backfield, but one of the reasons he has been able to stay fresh late in the season was the presence of Fred Taylor to spell him. Rashad Jennings, rookie RB from Liberty, was a 7th round pick but is an intriguging prospect as a short-yardage power-running back.

The Jags did bring in Tra Thomas at OT from Philadelphia, but Thomas has had injury problems in the past. On the whole, the line will probably be medicore this year. They will be better than last season, but still not back to their 07 form. The passing game is reliant on David Garrard's ability to make accurate throws and control the game. Garrard's abilities mesh well with Jacksonville's receiving corps. The Jags brought in some cast-off burners in the offseason in the hopes of using the passing game to stretch the field. Tory Holt from St. Louis and Troy Williamson from Minnesota both have that ability, but Holt is aging with injury issues and Williamson has never been incredibly productive. Behind them is a trio of rookie receivers that have a chance to break through. Jarrett Dillard, who led the nation in TD receptions last year and was the career leader in everything at Rice, along with Tiquan Underwood (Rutgers) and Mike Thomas (Arizona), have the potential to grow into the Jags next generation of targets.

On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville traded up last season to take Derrick Harvey (DE-Florida). Harvey started 9 games and produced 3.5 sacks, but only 19 tackles. The Jags also spent their 2008 second round pick on Quentin Groves (DE-Auburn) who added 2.5 sacks last season. These two figure to battle for the 2nd DE spot on the roster, as Reggie Heyward, who led the team in sacks last season with 4.5, figures to start on the other side. John Henderson is still a force inside, when he wants to be, but he is known for being lazy and his production has suffered since Marcus Stroud left for Buffalo in Free Agency.

Quick, name a Jaguars linebacker off the top of your head. Can't do it? That's okay, neither could we. Mike Peterson, the best of the unit, is gone, leaving a rather unremarkable linebacking corps. In the secondary, Rasheen Mathis and Reggie Nelson are solid players, along with corner Brian Williams (not the NBC Nightly News anchor). Williams led the team in tackles last year, and came up with 2 interceptions. On the other side, Mathis had 4 picks last season, including a pick-6 against the Steelers. The Jaguars secondary was gashed for over 3500 yards last season, and finished 24th in the league. They were 17th in the league in total defense and 21st in scoring defense. One of the strengths of the Jacksonville team of '07 was their defense, which completely fell apart last season. Since most of the same pieces are in place, it's safe to expect similar results this year.

For right now, the Jags offense looks like Father-son day at the office. They have a lot of people at the beginning or end of their careers, and not many at their peak. For now, it seems that the window has closed on Jacksonville and the rebuilding process has begun. However, given the discipline problems he had with the team last season, Jack Del Rio is on his last leg as a coach, and it wouldn't be surprising to see someone else wearing the headset next season.

Ian's Prediction: 6-10

Jacksonville has a lot of things not going for them. First, their schedule. In case you forgot, they still play in the AFC South, which means they get Tennessee, Indy, and Houston twice. They play the AFC East, which means trips to New England and New York late in the season when snow might be falling. They will rack up a few wins against the lowly NFC West, which is one reason why I think they'll be slightly better than last season. As long as MJD stays healthy, they will have a solid running game and have a chance to stay in games if they can control the clock. Six of their 11 losses last season were by less than 1 possession. However, 5 of those came before the Detroit game, after which they limped to the finish with a 1-6 record. The Jags went into their Week 7 bye at 3-3 and finished the season on a 2-8 skid, with their only wins coming over Detroit and Green Bay. The Jags do have a 3-game homestand in December this year, with Houston, Miami, and Indy. If the Jags can succeed through that stretch, they may push .500, but I'm really not seeing it. The Jags were 2-6 at home last season, so having a homestand at the end of the year isn't exactly a recipie for success.

John's Prediction:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Defeated in the Primary: Steelers Lose


Last season, as we mentioned in our recent season preview for the Redskins, the Steelers went into Washington on the eve of the general election and thoroughly handled coach Jim Zorn's squad. Saturday night was a different story, however, as the 'Skins were able to defeat the Steelers in a sloppy game from both sides. Fortunately for Mike Tomlin's crew, just like the primary election doesn't mean much compared to November's vote, the pre-season is mostly insignificant when talking about meaningful games.

That doesn't change the fact that the Steelers need to improve in all aspects of their game. In fact, Pittsburgh's special teams may have been the best area for them in this second game of the pre-season - when was the last time the Steelers could boast that fact? The men from the Steel City faced an uphill battle, especially on offense, right from the start. Not only was Big Ben held out of the game following his achilles/heel injury suffered Thursday in practice, but regular starters Willie Parker and Justin Hartwig were both facing their first live snaps in actual game action, and Doug Legursky started at left guard.

Both "first-team" offenses had shaky first drives which extended longer than they should have - Washington had three consecutive incomplete passes before a fake punt landed them 15 yards, a first down, and eventually resulted in a field goal; the Steelers were also facing a "3-and-out" until they were aided by an unnecessary roughness penaly. Dick Lebeau's first-string defense finished off their night by forcing a couple quick punts, while Charlie Batch and "Fast" Willie led the starting offense to the game's first TD (capped off by Parker's 3 yard score) before heading to the sidelines for the remainder of the night.

While Batch may have led a solid scoring drive, he was mediocre at best for most of his time under center. His play, coupled with the performance of Dennis Dixon, whose stats are extremely misleading, should revamp the race for the #2 QB spot, which Batch had taken a strong hold of early in camp. The best players from the first units were Willie Parker (by default) and Lawerence Timmons, who had 3.5 tackles and deflected a pass in limited playing time. Once again, the new L.T. was all over the field, and showed why he should be a candidate for a pro-bowl selection for years to come.

I'm not going to lie to you - as I've already said, this game was really sloppy, and got really boring extremely fast. Some key reserves and other potential practice squad players made good impressions, but the overall team performances were a let down. With less than 3 weeks until the season opener, I expected a little more refinement from both teams. Dennis Dixon showed why he was considered a potential 1st round pick his senior year (before his knee injury), flashing his athleticism and ability to escape the pocket; meanwhile, Rashard Mendenhall, who averaged 5.2 yards on 5 carries, began to show why the Steelers took him in the first round last season. He had a much better burst toward the hole than he showed against the Cardinals last week, but he still didn't resemble the form he had last pre-season. He is getting to that point, and it seems to mostly be a mental hurdle at this point.

We're really excited about the group of receivers the Steelers have this year, as the depth will give Bruce Arians one of the deepest units in the NFL. Limas Sweed dropped another easy one, but made an exceptional catch to make up for it (get used to it folks - it's what he did all through college). Shaun McDonald led Steelers' receivers with 3 receptions - he's not fast, tall, or flashy, but he does everything right and hardly makes mistakes. Detroit made a mistake letting him go. Finally, Mike Wallace is F-A-S-T. He only caught a couple balls, but his speed is clearly evident. There were a couple replays that showed Wallace had blown past the defender and was open. He's definitely going to be exciting to watch. The only guy possibly faster than Wallace is Stefan Logan. He probably has about a 10% chance to make the team, but averaging nearly 40 yards on 4 kick returns will certainly help. He's shifty, quick, and sees the hole very well. If he has one more game like in Washington, the Steelers may have to carry one less RB or CB to accomodate him.

If the Steelers have good depth on offense, they have great depth on D. Additionally, a good handful of the backups could probably start on most teams. 2009 first round pick Ziggy Hood had 2 sacks, giving him 3 so far this pre-season. LB Keyaron Fox and CB/S Roy Lewis each had 4 tackles each to pace the defense. A few others stood out on defense for the wrong reasons. CB Joe Burnett, a fifth round pick this year, was beaten a couple times, including looking really bad on a jump ball in the endzone against a taller receiver. Also, this may be the end of the road for Bruce Davis as a Steeler. How a player so productive in college could do so little in the NFL is beyond me. He simply looked lazy, unmotivated, and unconditioned Saturday night. Finally, if you're looking for a surprise (yet unlikely) cut come the time to trim down the roster, look no further than Travis Kirschke. The veteran end looked unbelievably slow and unable to keep up with the rest of the defense most of the night against second and third string players.

The Steelers stand to see some major improvement, some of which will happen naturally once various players return from injury and see more snaps. The defense wasn't at its best, and still looked better than half the teams in the NFL when those teams bring their "A" game. The return units were a major plus, and the coverage teams were just as good. Overall, the Steelers will be in good shape, barring any significant injury, come September 10th against Tennessee.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Off to Bristol!

I landed a ticket to the NASCAR race in Bristol this weekend, so John's going to be flying solo here on the blog. He'll be doing the game recap, which I'm sure will be awesome.

As I'm sure you heard if you watched any type of news today, Ben got his ankle rolled up on in practice. He'll be fine, but will probably be held out of the game this week to be safe. My best guess would be that Batch would play a quarter, Dixon will play 2, and we'll get to see Mike Reilly for the 4th quarter.

The Steelers finished up training camp today, and from here on out will be all business at their South Side training facility getting into mid-season game prep mode.

The Steelers don't have to make roster cuts until September 1, so we have this week's game and the Buffalo game to get a good look at these guys deep on the depth chart and assess their ability to make the team.

See you all next week!


Greased Lightning: San Diego Chargers Season Preview

2008 Record: 8-8

After a run to the AFC Championship Game in 2007, San Diego had incredibly high expectations entering last season. However, San Diego got off to a slow start, and every time it seemed like they were about to turn the corner and make a run, they fell flat. The run finally came when the calendar flipped to December and the Chargers were sitting at 4-8. Not only did they need to win out (which they did), they also needed Denver to lose out (which they did) to make the playoffs. Lucky for San Diego, 3 of their last 4 were against division opponents, and the other was Tampa Bay. Of their 8 wins last year, only 1 came against a team with a winning record (New England). However, most people will probably forget that and remember them for beating Indy in the playoffs...again.

Some attributed San Diego's underachievement to their loss of linebacker Shawne "Roid Rage" Merriman to a knee injury in the preseason. San Diego did have the league's 11th best run defense, but they were hindered by the terrible, terrible pass defense that finished 31st in the league. The Chargers gave up almost 4000 yards in the air last year, and 3 of their top 5 tacklers were from their secondary. Despite having the #11 run defense, the Chargers did give up over 100 yards 9 times last season. The loss of Igor Olshansky to Dallas via Free Agency won't help their front 7, and they may be even worse on this front this year.

Corners Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer vastly underperformed, with Cromartie taking a big step back from his breakthrough rookie year with only 2 picks. They were 24th in the league in sacks, and 17th in takeaways. Considering these bad numbers, it's incredibly lucky that they had Kansas City and Oakland twice on their schedule. Linebacker Shaun Phillips, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last season, will be a formidable counterpart to Merriman. The Chargers also beefed up their linebacking unit with the addition of Larry English, their first round draft pick from Northern Illinois.

The Chargers biggest moves in the offseason were to re-sign running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Sproles is a quick, elusive back who drove up his market price when he single-handedly carried the Chargers to a victory over the Colts in the first round of the playoffs. Tomlinson has had injury issues over the last few years and seems to have lost a step. There isn't a whole lot of difference between Sproles and Tomlinson's running styles and the Chargers lack a "change of pace" or in this case, a power back.

San Diego did boast the #2 scoring offense in the league last year, keyed mostly by the passing attack led by Phillip Rivers. Rivers racked up a league-leading 34 touchdown passes last season, though some of that may be attributed to the fact that their defense was so bad that their offense was continually playing catch-up. Antonio Gates is one of, if not the best tight end in the league. If you want to argue that Witten is better, that's totally fine, but Gates is definitely in the top 2. Gates is always a legitimate threat anywhere on the field and has great hands and route-running ability. Gates led the team in TD receptions with 8 last season. Vincent Jackson is the real threat in the receiving corps, and put up a team-leading 1098 yards and 7 TDs. On the other side, Chris Chambers is still trying to remind people that he's relevant.

San Diego also utilizes their running backs in their passing game. Last season, about a third of their completions went to running backs. LT, Sproles, Mike Tolbert, and Jacob Hester accounted for about 100 receptions. For all the success they had throwing, their rushing offense suffered, finishing 20th in the league. LT has been a workhorse back for years, and came close to 300 carries again last season. One has to wonder how much more LT has in his tank, if they keep forcing him to carry the ball 300 times a season. At 29, he's not getting any younger and his injuries have begun piling up.

Ian's Prediction: 8-8

After being really high on San Diego last season, I just don't see it this year. They've lost a few people in free agency, and the defense still has a lot of holes. They didn't do much to improve their team in the offseason. Just because everyone says they are a shoo-in to win the division, don't take that at face value. Don't forget their 4-8 start last year. If Kansas City (who they beat by a total of 2 points) wins either of those games, San Diego is golfing instead of playing in the playoffs. Rivers is good, but he got out-passed by JaMarcus Russell, Jake Delhomme, Matt Ryan, Trent Edwards and Chad Pennington in games last year. The Chargers get all of their division games out of the way before December this year, and close out with Dallas, Tennessee, and Washington 3 of the last 4 weeks. San Diego will face 7 of the top 8 defenses in the league from last year in PIT, BAL, PHI, NYG, WAS, DAL, and TEN. Their schedule is not set up for success, but they still should be able to beat the teams they should beat, which likely means another mediocre season for the Chargers.

John's Prediction:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2009 NCAA Football Preview: ACC


Atlantic Division

Boston College: A new coach. A new quarterback. A front seven gutted by graduation and injuries. The outlook certainly looks bleak on Chestnut Hill. Former head coach Jeff Jagodzinski was fired after interviewing for a NFL job, despite leading B.C. to ACC Atlantic titles in his two seasons with the team. Enter Frank Spaziani, who was defensive coordinator for Jagodzinski. While the Eagles have boasted strong defenses the past couple of seasons, Spaziani is an unknown when it comes to leading an entire team.

Later in the off-season, incumbent QB Dominique Davis transferred after being suspended earlier this summer for academic reasons. The loss leaves the Eagles with a pair of redshirt freshmen and a JC transfer to battle it out in the fall for the starting job. Whoever lands the starting job should not have to shoulder all the burden of the offense, however, thanks to an O-line returning four starters, a young running back duo full of potential, and a couple of senior wide outs.

B.C. also has questions on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles lost both starters on the interior of the line to the NFL (B.J. Raji - 1st round; Ron Brace - 2nd round), but also might suffer unexpected losses at linebacker. Reigning ACC Defensive POY Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with a form of cancer found in the bones and tissue, and his career is most likely over. Mike McLaughlin would help stabilize the defense, but he is still recovering from an achilles injury that forced him to miss all of spring practice. The one bright spot on defense is the secondary, where the Eagles return three starters from a unit that tied for the national lead in interceptions last year (26).

Spaziani definitely has his work cut out for him with a young and inexperienced backfield and a defense now void of its stars. However, Boston College has exceeded expectations the past two seasons, capturing two division titles. If an adequate passer emerges to lead the offense, and McLaughlin can get back on the field sooner rather than later, the Eagles have a chance for an 8 win season and a bowl appearance.

Clemson: Much like Boston College, the Tigers also must find a new starting QB. Unlike the Eagles, however, a new signal caller might actually be a good thing. Departing quarterback Cullen Harper was just as bad in 2008 as he was good two years ago. His replacement will be an underclassman, which is obviously a concern, but whoever gets the starting nod (either Kyle Parker or Willy Korn) can't be any worse than Harper was a season ago. Aiding the new QB will be C.J. Spiller, one of the most explosive running backs in the nation. For the first time in his career, Spiller will be the primary back following the departure of James Davis. After receiving the majority of the criticism for the offense's struggles last year, the Tigers' offensive line, comprised of a good mix of under- and upperclassmen, should be one of the most dominant in the ACC. If head coach Dabo Swinney can find some more targets to go along with Jacoby Ford for his new signal caller, there's no reason the offense shouldn't be able to carry its fair share of the load in 2009.

Adding more optimism for the upcoming season is the fact that the defense should, once again, be among one of the better units in the country. As long as the offense limits their mistakes, the defense, which returns 8 starters, should be able to keep the Tigers in most games. The secondary boasts three senior starters (led by CB Chris Chancellor) and is the strength of the defense, while the front-seven has as much potential as any team in the ACC, headlined by DE Da'Quan Bowers (the No. 2 overall high school prospect in 2008) and LB Brandon Maye (87 tackles as a freshman). Despite the talent on defense, depth will be a huge concern until the backups get some experience. Any injury could potentially be devastating. Clemson must replace both their kicker and punter, but the return teams are electric with Spiller taking the majority of the returns.

The Tigers have more than enough talent to challenge for the Atlantic Division title, but key question marks still remain, including the QB situation, as well as how Swinney will handle being a head coach for an entire season (he replaced Tommy Bowden midway through 2008). Clemson's most important game may be Sept. 10 @Georgia Tech, the second game of the year. The matchup will be an early indicator of how good this team can potentially be. If the Tigers can mange the upset, they could be off to a great year. However, if they falter, it could lead to another downward spiral due to the tough opposition that immediately follows (B.C., TCU, @Maryland, W.F., and @Miami (Fl)). Overall, Clemson has a realistic chance at 8-9 victories, and possibly 10 wins and a January 1st bowl bid if they find consistent quarterback play early in September.

Florida State: FSU will most likely begin another season as a Top-25 squad, but most people feel these Seminoles will not disappoint like the teams of the past few years. Christian Ponder enters his second year as a starter and is firmly entrenched as "the man" at QB - a position of uncertainty in recent seasons. Florida State's return to national glory will continue only with a sustained focus on the running game, and the Seminoles have a couple of good options to focus on in JC transfer Tavares Pressley (who missed last year with a torn ACL) and sophomore Jermaine Thomas, who has drawn comparisons to Warrick Dunn. A seeming trend in the ACC is a lack of legitimate wide receivers, and FSU is not immune to this fact. Additionally, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's group of wide outs is so devoid of proven talent that the depth chart currently boasts more production off the field (in the form of injuries, suspensions, and issues with the law) than on it. Fortunately, an ever-improving running game, as well as arguably the best O-line in the conference (and one of the country's best), which includes a couple potential All-ACC performers, is a great building block for the offense to start on until the passing game starts to click.

Opposing passing attacks may struggle in conference play this year, as FSU, like Clemson, has a trio of senior starters in the secondary, although only one returning starter. CB Patrick Robinson has the potential to be one of the nation's best corners, and looks to fulfill that potential after a superb spring. The ability to put pressure on the quarterback is an area of major concern for the defense, as DE Everette Brown chose to skip his senior season to enter the draft. Head Coach Bobby Bowden hopes a couple of newcomers to the starting lineup can replace Brown's 13.5 sacks. Freshman DT Jacobbi McDaniel is the No. 15 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, and he is a very active pass rusher from the interior of the line. Coaches also hope an increased role for JC transfer Markus White will lead to a return to his 2007 form, when he had 24.5 sacks for Butler (Kan.) Community College. The linebacking corps will be the strength of the defense, as the unit combines a good mix of potential, youth, and experience. FSU would be mistaken to overlook the loss of consistent kicker Graham Gano. The return teams might also suffer after personnel losses.

The Seminoles and Bobby Bowden are definately heading in the right direction, despite the controversy involving NCAA violations. FSU finally appears to have a stable QB situation, a legitimate rushing attack, and a great line to support both. The defense may struggle early on, but, as always, Florida State's D will be quick, athletic, and, most likely, very good by mid-season. Unfortunately, the schedule is brutal. Despite having the talent of a Top-25 team, if not better, the potential remains for FSU to only win 2 games - seriously, the slate is that difficult. Contests with Jacksonville State and Maryland are the only "gimmes" on the schedule. More likely, however, Bobby Bowden will lead his team to a 9-win season, an Atlantic Division title, and an ACC Championship Game berth.

Maryland: Writing an accurate preview for the Terps may be like trying to guess the number of beans in a jar - you have a good chance of being wrong. Maryland exceeded all expectations in 2008, going 8-5 and earning a bowl victory. However, they also struggled against the weakest teams on their schedule. Despite losing some key contributors, the Terrapins seemingly have enough pieces in place on both sides of the ball to make a run at duplicating last year's success. Then again, last year's team greatly overachieved, and it will take a similar, if not greater, effort in 2009.

The offense will be fueled by the running back duo of Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett, who could potentially form the best rushing attack in the conference. Their success, however, may largely depend on the performance of a vastly inexperienced line, as well as an inconsistent passing game led by QB Chris Turner. Although a senior, Turner has struggled throughout his career, and 2009 will be no easy task either, especially with the loss of top wide-out Darrius Heyward-Bey. The fact remains, however, that Maryland has plenty of talent at the skill positions to stay afloat offensively in most games.

Head Coach Ralph Friedgen will have to earn his paycheck when dealing with a defense that returns only 4 starters. The major area of concern is linebacker, where the Terps lose four experienced performers. Additionally, while the defense boasts six senior starters, including all four members of the secondary, there are no true stars on this side of the ball, and no underclassmen appear ready to make that leap to stardom. On a brighter note, the Terrapins should boast one of the best special teams units in the country thanks to solid coverage, record setting kick returner Torrey Smith, and one of the nation's best punters.

Friedgen proved once again last season why he is so highly regarded as a head coach, but he may need to do his best job ever to duplicate last season's results. Unfortunately, the ACC looks to be one of the best conferences in the country, and Maryland happens to project as one of the bottom feeders. There is no predicting how Maryland will repsond to their tough opponents (and there are many of them) after last season's surprises, but hoping for anything more than a 6-win campaign is illogical.

North Carolina State: It is all about potential and injuries for N.C. State in 2009. Coach Tom O'Brien has this program headed in the right direction in a hurry, and the only things that may derail this team are the factors mentioned above. The offense is headed by dual-threat QB Russell Wilson, who is on the verge of stardom as a sophomore after posting 17 touchdowns to only 1 INT as a freshman. Wilson's value to the Wolfpack is unmeasurable, as evidenced by the team's collapse in last year's bowl game against Rutgers. Although the talent around him is nothing to get excited about, save for TE George Bryan (who looks primed for a 40-reception, 400-yard season), Wilson has the skills to carry the offense every week. Spring injuries and a lack of experience and depth at guard could derail the chance for any semblance of a running game.

The defense returns 7 starters, but whether those players can stay on the field remains to be seen. DE Willie Young is another in the consistent line of talented N.C. State defensive ends; however, he has been inconsistent during his three seasons in Raleigh. Young will attempt to "put it all together" as he anchors a line that features four senior starters. Nate Irving leads the linebacking corps with consistent, productive play when healthy; unfortunately, he was in a car accident earlier in the summer and suffered a broken leg and collapsed lung. If Irving is 100% by time the season starts, the front-7 will be formidable. Any blow to the first two waves of defenders will greatly hinder a secondary incorporating two new starters (including Clem Johnson, a talented safety who was injured twice last year) and already viewed as the weakness of the D after the Wolfpack were last in the conference in total and scoring defense in 2008. Special teams should be solid across the board.

If everybody stays healthy, N.C. State should challenge F.S.U. and Clemson for the Atlantic Division crown. If the O-line can't consistently keep Wilson upright, and he goes down with any type of significant injury, however, fans can kiss the 2009 season goodbye. The defense will have its moments, but also suffer its fair share of struggles - the ratio of which will be determined by the play of Young and Irving. The schedule is such that O'Brien's squad can start the season 7-0 before venturing into the meat of the slate. A 10-win season is doable, but 8 victories is more likely.

Wake Forest

Returning Starters: 13 (9 Offense, 4 Defense)

Star Players: QB Riley Skinner (entering 4th year as starter), NT Boo Robinson (47 tackles, 5 sacks)

Key Performers for Success: RB Kevin Harris (136 rushing yards in EagleBank Bowl), LB Matt Woodlief (replaces 2009 NFL Top 5 pick Aaron Curry), CB Kenny Okoro (massive potential, replacing INT leader Alphonso Smith)

Strengths: Experienced Quarterback and Offensive Line (returns all 5 starters, including 4 seniors), Interior Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Wide Receiver (only 26 receptions by leading returning wide out), Back 7 on Defense (6 new starters), Kicking/Punting

Outlook: Jim Grobe is a very good coach, but an elite defense covered up a very mediocre offense last year. While Riley Skinner looks to get better production from his unit in 2009, it won't be enough to cover up the gaping holes on defense. The Demon Deacons may match last season's pre-bowl game record of 7-5, but that and another minor bowl bid looks to be their ceiling.

Coastal Division


Returning Starters: 10 (5 Offense, 5 Defense)

Star Players: QB Thaddeus Lewis (entering 4th year as starter; ACC active leader in passing yards, TD passes, and total offense), DT Vince Oghobaase (career 29 TFL, 11.5 sacks)

Key Performers for Success: RB Re'quan Boyette (leading rusher in 2006 and 2007; missed last year), WR Sheldon Bell (replaces favorite target Eron Riley)

Strengths: Experience (starting 18 upper-classmen), Quarterback, Coaching

Weaknesses: Wide Receiver (must replace top 2 targets), Offensive Line (only 2 returning starters), Defense (last in ACC in pass efficiency defense, 11th in run defense)

Outlook: Coach David Cutcliffe led the Blue Devils to as many wins last year (4) as the previous four seasons combined. His presence has already helped on the recruiting trail, and he should have Duke in pursuit of an annual bowl bid in the near future. Any expectations beyond that, however, would be unrealistic due to the university's strict academic standards, and the fact that Duke is a basketball and lacrosse school. In the best of years, Duke may be able to challenge for a division title, but that won't happen this year, as the team must replace a couple key contributors on each side of the ball. A second consecutive 4 win campaign would be a success.

Georgia Tech

Returning Starters: 16 (9 Offense, 7 Defense)

Star Players: RB Jonathan Dwyer (1,395 yards, 12 TD's; ACC POY), SS Morgan Burnett (team-leading 93 tackles; NCAA-leading 7 INT's)

Key Performers for Success: OT's Austin Barrick and Nick Claytor (new starting offensive tackles), LB/S Cooper Taylor (69 tackles as a true freshman in 2008)

Strengths: Running Game (Dwyer, Roddy Jones, Lucas Cox, transfer Anthony Allen, and QB Josh Nesbitt), Secondary (4 returning starters + Taylor)

Weaknesses: Passing Game (only 74 completions in 2008), Wide Receiver, Defensive Line (must replace 3 starters), Kicker/Punter (12 for 19 FG's, 38.9 yards per punt)

Outlook: I may not be as high on the Yellow Jackets as most others, but there is no disputing that coach Paul Johnson's offense is effective. However, if Nesbitt continues to show a lack of improvement in the passing game, teams will quickly start to put 9 guys up front to stop the run. If the defensive line can hold their own, G.T. will be very solid on defense most weekends, but the lack of a proven pass rusher is a major concern. The schedule sets up very favorably for the Jackets, with a trip to FSU and the annual meeting with Georgia as the primary obstacles to a perfect season.

Miami (Fl)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)

Star Players: RB Graig Cooper (all-around threat), LB Sean Spence (freshman All-American last year)

Key Performers for Success: QB Jacory Harris (new starter), T Allen Bailey (third different position), FS Randy Phillips (returns from season-long injury)

Strengths: Depth, Athleticism, and Potential at Running Back and Wide Receiver, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Offensive Line (only 1 proven performer), Tight End, Run Defense (last in the ACC), Creating Turnovers (only 4 INT's in 2008)

Outlook: Randy Shannon hasn't turned around the program as quickly as most would like, but he is on the right track. The Hurricanes are probably still two or three years away from returning to national prominence in a suddenly deep ACC. Breaking in a new QB behind a shaky O-line doesn't help either. The defense has the talent and athleticism to dominate, but the unit couldn't put it all together last season. The first month of the season is absolutely brutal, with Miami facing FSU, G.T., V.T., and OU. If the Hurricanes can escape with a split, they should be on their way to a 9 or 10 win season, but more likely, they'll have to settle for a 7 or 8 win year.

North Carolina

Returning Starters: 13 (4 Offense, 9 Defense)

Star Players: QB T.J. Yates (1,168 yards, 11 TD's, 4 INT's in 6 games last year), LB Quan Sturdivant (NCAA-leading 87 solo tackles), CB Kendric Burney (second-team ACC)

Key Performers for Success: WR Dwight Jones (former 5-star prospect; likely starter), K Casey Barth (10 for 15 FG's; became starter mid-way through the season)

Strengths: Quaterback, Wide Receiver Talent and Potential, Offensive Line (led by LT Kyle Jolly), Front-7 on Defense (returns 6 starters and has great depth)

Weaknesses: Wide Receiver Experience (only 11 receptions by leading returning wide out), Pass Rush (22 sacks in 2008, 11th in ACC)

Outlook: Butch Davis has the Tar Heels on the fast track to annual success thanks in large part to his recruiting efforts. The offense may struggle at times this season, but it has the look of a high-powered attack in the coming years. The defense is loaded at every position and should be able to bail out the offense a majority of the time. Special teams will be more important to UNC than perhaps any other team in the ACC. North Carolina plays its three toughest games (@G.T., FSU, @V.T.) in a five week stretch that will probably define their season. The health of Yates and the ability to pressure the QB will determine if the Tar Heels can win 10 or 11 contests. More likely, however, they will go 9-3, play on January 1st, and take another step forward.


Returning Starters: 11 (5 Offense, 6 Defense)

Star Players: OT Will Barker, CB Ras-I Dowling

Key Performers for Success: QB Vic Hall (started season finale at QB last year after starting at corner), CB Chris Cook (returns after missing 2008; must replace Hall's production)

Strengths: Offensive Line (returns 4 starters), Corner Back

Weaknesses: Inconsistent and Unproven Passing Game, Wide Receiver (must replace top 4 options), Linebacker (must replace 3 solid contributors), Kicker

Outlook: Any success for the Cavaliers has to start with a revamped offense. However, having a converted corner at QB with nobody to throw to in a stacked conference doesn't bode well for coach Al Groh's squad. Additionally, the defense won't be as "strong" as last year after being gutted in the middle. All signs point to another long season, but Groh always seems to work his magic at the most unexpected times. Even with Groh at the helm, Virginia has the talent to only win 5 games, while 3 or 4 victories is more probable.

Virginia Tech

Returning Starters: 15 (8 Offense, 7 Defense)

Star Players: QB Tyrod Taylor (738 rushing yards), DE Jason Worilds (second in ACC with 18.5 TFL)

Key Performers for Success: RB Ryan Williams (No. 47 prospect in 2008; must replace injured Darren Evans), LB Barquell Rivers (started 2008 bowl game; new starting middle linebacker)

Strengths: Running Game (Williams and Taylor), Secondary (led by Stephan Virgil)

Weaknesses: Inconsistent and Unproven Passing Game, Lack of a Pass Rush Outside of Worilds

Outlook: Frank Beamer's Hokies have lost their luster in recent years, as they have slowly dropped off the list of elite programs in football. Despite some concerns regarding the passing attack, this program should shine again this season behind one of the best running games in the country (despite losing star Darren Evans to a torn ACL) and yet another terrific defense. V.T. has to survive a first month that includes games with Alabama, Nebraska, and Miami (Fl), as well as a road-laden stretch run with trips to ECU, Maryland, and Virginia. Coach Beamer should get this team to double-digit wins yet again, but a slip-up in a tough conference will cost them a National Title berth.

John's Predictions:

Atlantic Division Champion: Florida State

Coastal Division Champion: North Carolina

ACC Champion: Florida State

Bowl Bids: 9

BCS Berths: Florida State

Ian's Predictions:

Atlantic Division Champion: NC State

Coastal Division Champion: Georgia Tech

ACC Champion: Georgia Tech

Bowl Bids: 8

BCS Berths: Georgia Tech