Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bracketology Podcast

With the college basketball season entering its final month, bracketologists are in full swing, daily updating their rankings with their "Last 4 in" and "Last 4 out" of the NCAA Tournament. In reality, it's rare that you'll find someone that correctly predicts all the teams (now 68) that the Selection Committee picks for the Tournament.

In preparation for the final month of the season, I teamed up with John, one of the original founders of this blog, for a podcast to give the rundown on the current state of the Bracket.

The podcast is about 1 hour and 20 minutes long, and we go quite in-depth into almost all the teams currently in the hunt for the tournament. Hope you enjoy!

Once we get closer to Tournament time, if we can find a site out there that runs a Bracketology pool ( did one last year), we'll put one together and see who is the best at predicting the field of 68.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vote for me!

For the last 3 years, Sean over at Sean's Ramblings does a "Best Pittsburgh Sports Blog" tournament every spring. The format is pretty simple: 32 blogs, seeded 1-8 in four different brackets, and people get to vote for their favorite blog. The Pensblog was the champion of the inaugural tournament and Bucs Dugout took the crown last year.

For the first time since this blog was hatched in 2008, The Steelers n'at has received a bid in the Best Pittsburgh Sports Blog tournament. >Bracket<

I'm honored to have just made the tournament this year, but to make things even better, the blog was awarded a #5 seed. The blog drew a tough first round matchup against one of the cornerstones of Penguins blogging, Puck Huffers in the "Jerome Lane" division.

Since you're reading this, I'm going to assume that you at least like my blog a little bit.

So, if I can implore you (and if you're my facebook friend or follow me on Twitter, you'll be seeing a lot of asking over the next few days)....

While you're there, here's a quick list of other blogs we are endorsing in the other first round matchups:

Three Rivers Burgh Blog over Bob Smizik's ego-fest
One For The Other Thumb vs Blitzburgh Blog? Tough call...we're friends with both of them. You pick.
Obviously, vote for us (The Steelers n'at) over Puck Huffers.
WHYGAVS over Igloo Dreams

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Case Against the 18-Game Schedule

With the 2010 NFL season laid to rest, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the Owners have moved into negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Well, at least in theory that's what they should be doing. But in reality, it's been more of an ego-fest from the owners and all things point to them locking out the players come March 3.

The main sticking point in the negotiations is in the revenue-sharing department. The owners want more money. The players want money put towards their healthcare after they retire.

One of the things that Roger Goodell is pushing for is an 18-game season. He and the rest of the owners are seeing dollar signs when they think about this idea.

However, from a fan's perspective, it's a terrible idea.

Let's start with the basics. Goodell's rationale for 18 games is that "the fans want it." Which is untrue. His logic rests on the fact that season ticket holders don't like that 2 of their 10 games are "meaningless" games.

But Goodell misses the mark here. He obviously either didn't talk to any season ticket holders or didn't actually listen to their complaints. The complaint rests in the fact that the NFL charges season ticket holders the same amount for a Preseason game as they do for a Regular Season game. So what does that mean? That means every Steelers season ticket holder has to fork out somewhere around $90 per game for two preseason games.

Does this suck? Absolutely, but it doesn't mean that season ticket holders around the league want an 18 game regular season. What it does mean is that they'd like to see the costs of tickets for preseason games go down. But asking the NFL to lower ticket prices would be like asking Enron for a legitimate financial statement.

But let's look at things from a fan's perspective for a minute. What exactly would an 18-game schedule mean?

Obviously, it would mean two more games -- but against who?

The current 16-game schedule is built around the following principles:
- 6 games against Divisional opponents (3 home, 3 away)
- 4 games against all teams from one other division in conference (2 home, 2 away)
- 2 games against teams finishing in the same position in the other two in-conference divisions (1 home, 1 away)
- 4 games against all teams from one division from other conference (2 home, 2 away)

Now, this formula doesn't leave a whole lot of room for additional games. Obviously, you can't add additional divisional games without adding teams to each division. But we'll get back to that later.

This leaves basically two options for scheduling purposes.

Option 1: Add 2 conference games

To be honest, this is the easiest option. Adding 2 conference games would essentially mean adding games against two teams from the divisions they only face one opponent from. Currently, teams play the teams in those divisions that finished in the same place they did. For example, the Steelers won their division, so they will play the 1st place teams from two divisions, in 2011 the East (New England) and West (Kansas City).

If the NFL goes to an 18-game schedule the easiest adjustment will be to have the teams that finish in the top half of a division play the other teams that finish in the top half of their divisions. In the case of the 2011 Steelers, this would be New England, NY Jets, Kansas City, San Diego.

Option 2: Add 2 non-conference games

This is a little more difficult because there wouldn't be an easy way to create a formula for randomizing these other two teams. Adding 2 non-conference games to an 18-game season wouldn't make logistical sense either because then 1/3 of the season would be made up of non-conference games. As the schedule stands right now, only 1/4 of the season is non-conference games.

Now, let's go back to something I touched on earlier. One of the best ways for the 18-game schedule to make formulaic sense is for there to be more teams in the league. We know that there are cities out there (I'm looking at you Los Angeles) that want an NFL team. But here's the problem: there are also cities out there that can barely support an NFL team. Look at how many blackouts there have been in places like Jacksonville, Tampa, Charlotte (Carolina), Phoenix (Arizona), and Cleveland. But it really wouldn't surprise me if Goodell was trying to put the cart before the horse and get an 18-game schedule on the books then use that as part of the rationale for expanding the league to 33 or 34 cities.

There are a variety of ideas being tossed around in the blogosphere for how to resolve this issue. One is to stick with the 16-game schedule but to add an additional bye week. I like that idea, as it would give the television stations another week of football advertisement revenues but wouldn't disrupt the flow of the season. In fact, giving players an extra bye week to get healthy in the middle of the season might mean less injuries late in the season.

The second idea would be to add a 17th game. Now, this 17th game would have to come with some stipulations. Obviously it wouldn't be fair to give half of the NFL teams an extra home game, so the 17th games would all be at neutral locations and would be against a "rival" team from the opposing conference. For instance, there could be an annual Steelers-Eagles game played at Beaver Stadium. That would be pretty sweet. This would be adding another non-conference game to the schedule, but it would make more logistical sense than trying to add another conference game. Plus, then teams wouldn't lose home games so that games could be played in London or wherever.

In conclusion, there are a lot of better alternatives to an 18-game schedule and I'm rooting against it. But in reality, I would rather there be 18 games than no football next fall.

I trust the Rooney's. I don't trust Goodell.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No Cigar: Steelers Lose Super Bowl XLV


It was a heck of a year for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the preseason, many picked them to finish 3rd in the AFC North. Despite not getting a single vote for Coach of the Year, Mike Tomlin is an early candidate for Coach of the Decade. He took a 9-7 team on the verge of collapsing with the trading away of Santonio Holmes and suspension of Ben Roethlisberger, and made them champions. This team exceeded our wildest expectation by going 12-4, winning the AFC North, then reaching Super Bowl XLV.

It was a great season from this team. We're just happy to have been along for the ride. We can't stress enough how proud we are to be Steelers fans today, even if the result wasn't quite what we had hoped for.

The Super Bowl has reached the point of "spectacle" where the lead-up to the game is so over-blown, you're sitting there pounding Iron City's at 5pm and you realize there's still an hour and a half until gametime.

Bill O'Reilly interviewed Barack Obama. It was okay. It would have been better if Obama had given him Sweet Chin Music, hit him over the back with a chair, then given the D-X sign. It wouldn't be that much of a changeover for the news networks to go from calling him "The Comeback Kid" to "The Heartbreak Kid."

Christina Aguilera sang a nails-on-the-chalkboard version of the National Anthem. Autotune does wonders for people, apparently. No clue how she fared on all the Anthem prop bets.

When we finally got around to coin toss time, I was quick to remind everyone I was with that the NFC had won 13 consecutive coin tosses and the Steelers were 1-6 in Super Bowl coin tosses. Well, the trends didn't change. Green Bay won the toss and deferred.

 First Quarter

Green Bay's special teams struggled this season, and the Steelers exploited it on the opening kick, with AB bringing it back across the 35.

Coming into this game, we all knew if the Steelers could get a lead early, we'd be able to put the Packers on their heels. But in typical Steelers fashion, we stumbled out of the gate and had to punt. Green Bay gave us a window of opportunity when they muffed the punt, but we missed an opportunity to fall on the loose ball.

To be honest, that last sentence was a microcosm of the whole game. We had a window of opportunity, but couldn't capitalize on it.

Rodgers comes out gunslinging and finds a mismatch with Donald Driver on Anthony Madison to convert a 3rd down and get Green Bay near midfield. The Steelers dodge a big bullet when Rodgers overthrows Nelson by a hair on 3rd down.

The Steelers come out with a mission to establish the run and Raise Some tears off two great runs to put us in 2nd and 1. A false start sets things back and Ben overthrows Heath down the seam on 3rd down.

Rodgers gets things rolling with the combo of passes to Nelson and runs with Starks. You have to hand it to the Packers. They got Rodgers comfortable with short 3-step drops to get him into the game. On 3rd and 1 at the 29, rather than going for the first down, Rodgers goes over the top and hits Nelson over Willie Gay. Gay had pretty good coverage, Rodgers just made a better throw.


On the first play from scrimmage, Ben looks deep for Wallace but his arm gets hit as he's throwing and the ball floats in the air. Nick Collins easily picks it off then dashes through the Steelers and dives into the end zone.

Son of a bitch.


I'll be honest. I wasn't worried after the Packers scored their first touchdown. But if you weren't at least a little worried after the pick-6, you need your Yinzer card checked. The Steelers come back out pounding the rock, but a holding call on Kemoeatu sets things back. The drive looks ready to stall out, but Vicklisberger takes off and scrambles for 18 and the first down.

Second Quarter

Ben keeps things rolling with a pass to Manny Sanders but the drive stalls out when Arians calls a play with all 3 and 4-yard routes on 3rd and 7. Suisham gets us on the board.


The defense answers the call of needing to lock things down. Farrior brings Driver down short of the sticks on 3rd down, forcing a 3-and-out.

Ben digs the offense out of a 1st and 20 hole with a big pass to Wallace. EL Yeah comes up big-time with a 3rd down catch to get us near midfield and give the offense a spark. But two plays later, Ben has a slant route to Wallace jumped by an underneath corner, his second pick of the game.

The Packers did what all great teams do: convert turnovers into points. In four plays, Rodgers drove them down the field and into the end zone, the touchdown coming on a 21-yard rocket to Jennings on a post route.


Ben comes back with a fire under his ass. He slings one to Randle El down the left side and he makes a great grab and moves us across midfield as the clock hits two minutes. Off the break, Ben goes play-action and takes a shot for Wallace over the top, but the two can't hook up. Ben and Hines find their rhythm, converting a 3rd down when Ben threads the needle. Hines moves the sticks again, getting us down inside the 10. Ben rolls the no huddle offense and finds Hines open in the corner of the end zone for the score.


Green Bay runs it out to go into the half with a two-score lead.


The Black Eyed Peas than The Who were last year? In some weird Tron-infused halftime show, the guests were better than the lead act. It would have been better to just see Slash tear it up on his guitar for 20 minutes.

Next year's halftime show should just be Jimmy Page.

Third Quarter

The defense comes out of the half playing inspired football, holding the Packers to a 3-and-out, putting the ball back in our hands.

The offense came out determined not to shy away from the running game, even though the Packers were down two DBs. But the Packers run defense wasn't stellar either. Mendenhall breaks one down the sideline then bowls over a cameraman. Redman comes in and rips off two good runs to move us inside the 10. Raise Some comes back in and does the rest, plowing through defenders to get us back in the game.


We blast Renegade at my Super Bowl party during the commercial break. The Steelers defense wasn't about to let up. Not only do they force another 3-and-out, but Harrison sacked Rodgers on 3rd down to cap things off.

You had to believe the Steelers were back in it. The offense was rolling and the defense was locking it down. The Steelers start out in great field goal position, and move across midfield when Moore converts a 3rd down. Ben goes to Hines again across the middle to get us into field goal range. Ben gets sacked on 3rd down, seemingly knocking us out of field goal range. Tomlin opts to go for the 52-yard field goal rather than pinning the Packers deep. Suisham misses it badly to the left.

After a pass to Nelson to move the Packers into Steelers territory, the defense locks it down again and forces a punt. Big-time stand there to keep us within 4.

The Steelers work it to 3rd and 2, but Ben badly overthrows Wallace and we're forced to punt. Not the kind of drive you want when we're down by 4. Leaving the Packers that much breathing space is like playing with fire.

Luckily, the defense was in absolute lockdown mode in the 3rd quarter and forced another 3-and-out, coming after Willie Gay broke up a pass for some receiver on 3rd down. Green Bay challenged it for some reason, but to no avail. Masthay booms a 57 yard punt, but a penalty on the Packers allows us to get a rekick and his second effort isn't nearly as good, giving us the ball on the Packers 41.

Raise Some picked up 8 on first down as the quarter expired.

Fourth Quarter

Down by 4 with just over a quarter to play and the ball in Packers territory. The defense was a brick wall. The offense was 33 yards from paydirt and you had the feeling that if we got a lead here we wouldn't give it up.

However, the offense just couldn't respond. Mendenhall has the ball knocked out on a sandwich hit and Green Bay recovers.

The momentum doesn't completely slip away until Rodgers converts a 3rd down with a pass to James Jones. The Packers receivers start to show signs of nerves, dropping a few balls that Rodgers puts right on the money. But on 3rd down when it counts, Rodgers is able to hit Jordy Nelson for a 38-yard gain to take it all the way down to the 2. Woodley keeps his sack streak alive, but Troy gets beat on the next play on an inside-out move by Greg Jennings and the Packers go up by 2 scores.


With 12 minutes left, the Steelers needed two scores, and needed points fast. Ben and Wallace find a groove and hook up 3 times to march us down to the Packers 40. Arians kept going to the Wide Receiver screens, and despite the Packers being down 2 DBs. As a result, Wallace was averaging somewhere around a measly 7 yards per catch. Ben finds Hines doing his thing in the middle of the field to get us to the 25 and suddenly there's hope. On the next play, Ben pumps the short route and the corner bites, allowing Ben to lob one to Wallace who beats the safety to the goal line.

Down by 11, we have to go for 2. Arians goes to the well and busts out the triple option with Ben faking a handoff then pitching the ball to El Yeah who darts to the end zone.


Things looked good for the Steelers after a first down sack, but Rodgers found Jennings down the seam in the middle of the defense for a huge gain on 3rd down. The Packers keep attacking and drive it down inside the Steelers 10, taking 5 1/2 minutes off the clock and getting 3 more points when the defense holds.


Two minutes left. Down by 6. Ball in Ben's hands. After the 3 turnovers, you really couldn't have asked for much more than this. Ben looked ready to roll after a big pass to Heath down the seam then a pass to Hines for 5. But after two incompletions, we were staring at 4th and 5. Everything hinging on this one play, Ben looks for Mike Wallace and throws it a touch high...the defender gets there at the same time as the flag...ball falls to the turf. Game over.

After looking at the replays, it was a good no-call on Pass Interference. Defender got there after the ball.

Barely. But it was after.

Rodgers kneels it out, and the Packers are Super Bowl Champions

2010 Season over.

It was a hell of a ride. Great season Steelers.

Final Thoughts
  • As I said earlier this week, obviously we came up short of our goal, but that's no reason not to be proud of what this team accomplished this year.
  • Thanks to everyone who read the blog, commented, left facebook messages, and talked to me on Twitter this year. It's been a pleasure to share the season with all of you. 
  • Hopefully the NFL gets their labor shit together so we can have football next year.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Initial Reaction

The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Honestly, I'm cool with that. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that the Steelers would win the division and make the playoffs, I would have taken it hands down. I might have been skeptical, given everything we went through in the offseason, but I would have taken it.

To make it all the way to the Super Bowl was a testament to this team. It's a great day to be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Yes, we lost the game. But in the bigger picture, there were fans in 30 other cities in America tonight that were jealous of us. We got to play on the biggest stage in football, and we proved that we deserved to be there.

Three turnovers and 21 points off those turnovers is hard for any team on any day to overcome. The three turnovers were the difference in the game. We had our chances, but just didn't capitalize. At the end of the day, Green Bay did what they needed to do to win the game. They were a hell of a team.

Does this loss hurt? Absolutely. But it's not the end of the world.

The Green Bay Packers were a great team with a great fanbase. Congratulations to them, it was well earned. They deserved to win it. No hard feelings towards Green Bay, they out-played us in many aspects of the game.

If you had told me when we were down 14-0 that Ben would have the ball in his hands with 2 minutes to play and a touchdown would win the game, I would have taken that. So we didn't convert this time. That's okay. We'll go back to the drawing board and make another run at it next year.

At the end of the day, the Steelers still have more Lombardi Trophies than any other team in the league, and that is something to be proud of. We're still Sixburgh. No one can take that away from us. We had a hell of a season. As Steelers fans, we've been blessed to see them hoist the Lombardi twice in the last decade. This loss just serves as a reminder to how hard it actually is to win the Lombardi, that you can't take anything for granted in this league.

I'm still proud to be a Steelers fan, and you should be too. Tonight, this team showed that even in the face of turning the ball over 3 times (and allowing 21 points off those turnovers) that they still had the drive to stay in the game and do everything they could to win. They came up short. Sometimes that happens in life. It's not ideal, but that doesn't diminish the accomplishments of this team. We won the AFC North. We got to see two home playoff games. We were AFC Champions. In one game, on one day, we came up just short against a great opponent. I firmly believe these two teams could play ten times and each one would win five. That's just how it goes. Green Bay won tonight, and they deserved to win.

In conclusion, I'd like to thank everyone who has been with us for the ride this year, it's certainly been great. From my twitter followers to facebook friends and everyone in between. Thanks for all the tweets, e-mails, comments, and everything else. It's been a great year, and it's been awesome to share it with all of you.

Whatever happens over the next few months with the NFL labor situation, keep your faith in the Rooney's and the Steelers franchise. They know what they're doing.

Thanks for a great season everyone!


Gameday: Super Bowl XLV

It has come to this. The pinnacle of the mountain is in sight. We have hurdled our biggest rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, and a team that many said were "destined" to reach the Super Bowl. And now, only one foe stands in our way.

The Green Bay Packers are a great team. Don't sell them short. They have a great tradition, a great fan base, a great quarterback and a great defensive coordinator.

6:30pm EST
The JerryDome

What To Watch For

1. Rashard Mendenhall

If there is one area where there is a clear advantage for one team over the other, it is in the Steelers running game. Mendenhall ran for 1273 yards in the regular season, averaging close to 80 yards per game. Mendenhall had his best game since November against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown. The Jets had the #3 run defense in the league this year. The Packers run defense ranked 18th in the league. But an even better sign for the Steelers is that the Packers were 28th in Yards Per Rush, allowing 4.7 yards per carry. If Mendenhall is able to put the game on his shoulders and keep the chains moving, the Steelers will be able to control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field.

2. Steelers O-line vs Packers Pass Rush

Dom Capers is a hell of a defensive coordinator. He runs a 3-4 defensive scheme much like Dick LeBeau. The Steelers patchwork O-line has gotten them through two of the most vicious defenses in the league. Now, they have to face one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the game in Clay Matthews. Matthews had 13.5 sacks this season and is the kind of guy who can absolutely take a game over. However, Ben Roethlisberger is the kind of quarterback that isn't going to get rattled by a sack or four. Terrell Suggs has dominated the Steelers line twice this year, and the Steelers won both of those games. The Packers generate a lot of pressure from their front three, including nose tackle BJ Raji. Doug Legursky will start for Maurkice Pouncey and will have to deal with Raji. Even if Ben gets sacked 5 or 6 times in this game, that still won't guarantee that the Packers will win. Ben makes big plays at big moments, simple as that.

3. Aaron Rodgers

As Ben said earlier this week, "He could throw the ball through a car wash and it wouldn't get wet." The dude can flat out ball. He's got a cannon for an arm and can throw the ball all over the field. He is the most mobile quarterback the Steelers have faced all year and is great at using his feet to get him out of sticky situations. In his last game against the Steelers, Rodgers ran for a touchdown on a play where the Steelers had lockdown coverage in the secondary. Rodgers is a playmaker pure and simple. The Steelers are going to have to get pressure early and often, making Rodgers uncomfortable in the pocket. The one thing the Steelers have going for them is that the Packers offense isn't built on the "dink-and-dunk" style that the Patriots and Saints utilize. 

4. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison

Given that the Packers offense is more built to go downfield, particularly with 12-to-20 yard routes, like they terrorized the Falcons with, Woodley and Harrison should have the opportunity to get their shots at Rodgers. Additionally, since the Packers line allowed 38 sacks this season, we know there are holes in the protection that can be exploited. The Packers starting tackles are the banged up Chad Clifton and rookie Bryan Bulaga. If the Packers try to use more than quick throws (3-step drops) you've got to believe Woodley and Harrison are going to be all up in Rodgers' business.

5. Walt Anderson

Over the course of an NFL season, things always seem to come full circle. The biggest story of this NFL season was the fines levied by the league for hits to the head. The game that sparked most of the controversy, and drew the biggest fines, was the Steelers-Browns game. Not only was that Ben Roethlisberger's first game back from suspension, but James Harrison also levied two hits that knocked Josh Cribbs and Mohammed Massaquoi out of the game. The referee in that game did not flag either hit by Harrison. That referee was Walt Anderson, who will be dawning the pinstripes for the most important game this season. Will he be more acutely aware of big hits? We shall see.

Behind Enemy Lines

For our final Behind Enemy Lines segment of the season, our buddies Chris and Dave from the Packers Therapy podcast, drop by to give us the 411 on Cheesehead Nation. You can hit them up on Twitter @PackersTherapy

1. The Packers have made a '05 Steelers-esque run through the playoffs, beating the #3, #1, and #2 seed to reach the Super Bowl. What have you been most impressed with from the Packers in their run to the Super Bowl?
I am most impressed by the depth of this team.  There are certainly stars (Rodgers, Matthews, Woodson to name a few), but the reason the Packers have gone on this 5 game "backs against the wall" win streak has been the play of the non-stars.  From the punter, to the nickel backs, to fourth string defensive end, there seems to a player that steps up their game each and every week.  I have not been a fan of our GM, Ted Thompson, because he refuses to use free agency or trades when the team has an obvious need, but I cannot argue with the depth on this roster, particularly given the amount of injuries sustained by the Packers this year. 

2. Aaron Rodgers has had a fantastic season with four of his wide receivers averaging over 10 yards per reception. On your podcast earlier this week, you mentioned that the Packers like to use 15-to-20 yard routes down the field. Do you think they'll move to a shorter passing game to try to eliminate the Steelers pass rush or take their chances with deeper routes and hope Clifton and Bulaga can hold their own against Harrison and Woodley?

The Packer want to go downfield, no doubt about it.  However, there have been a number of games where the Packers initially began the game dinking and dunking down the field until intermediate and deep routes are open.  In particular, the Packers had a lot of success with their short passing game against the Bears in week 3 (15 receptions by a RB or TE) and only lost due to turnovers, an absurd 18 penalties, and a punt return.  So I do expect more catches by Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and James Starks.  However, more likely, the Packers will use a lot of slants and short timing routes to the wide receivers and let them get yards after the catch.  I am sure McCarthy will pay attention to the Steeler's losses to the Saints and Patriots.  The Packers can match that production.  I do not have faith that Bulaga will hold his own against either Harrison or Woodley, so if the Packers lose, I am sure this will be one of the story lines.  If Rodgers gets too much pressure all day, look for a few interceptions later in the game when Rodgers starts to take chances. 

3. Matchups:
3a. What Steeler worries you the most?

On defense, whoever lines up across from Bulaga.  On offense, I would say Mendenhall.  Although most of us from Wisconsin understand that nothing good rarely comes out of the University of Illinois, I am most afraid that the Packer defense can't stop Mendenhall from having a successful day.  One of the toughest games for the Packers this year was the regular season game against Atlanta.  Michael Turner ran for 110 yards and allowed them to stay out of 3rd and long situations, which nullified the Packers pass rush.  If Mendenhall does the same, then the Packers are in trouble.

3b. What matchup do you think favors the Steelers the most?

As mentioned before, the Steelers have a definite edge on their DL versus our OL.  It isn't just the rookie Bulaga, but Daryn Colledge and Scott Wells are average and Chad Clifton is a good pass blocker and poor run blocker.  No doubt the Packers are going to throw and throw quickly.

3c. Which matchup favors the Packers the most?

Likewise, I like the Packers DL against the Steelers OL.  I do not know the Steelers well, but I hear that you are missing a few guys before Pouncey got hurt.  And it's not just Matthews.  B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins are playing lights out right now and can generate a pass rush with only three or four guys.  The key will be to get Roethlisberger on the ground when they have the opportunity to do so. 

4. In the lead-up to this game, a lot of the talk has been centered on Ben Roethlisberger vs Aaron Rodgers. Both teams have outstanding defenses with big-time playmakers in Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Troy Polamalu, and James Harrison. However, in the last game between these teams TE Jermichael Finley had 9 catches for 74 yards and 1 TD and James Jones caught the go-ahead TD for Green Bay (before the Roethlisberger-to-Wallace miracle throw). Are there any "under the radar" players you think will have a big impact on this game?

The great part of the Packer season is that there are a number of "under the radar" players that have been having a meaningful impact on this team.  Some guys like Sam Shields and James Starks are already getting a lot of press, so I won't mention them.  I think two true "under the radar" guys will be RB Brandon Jackson on offense and LB Desmond Bishop on defense.  I believe Jackson will be used extensively on offense to pass protect and catch a lot of balls out of the backfield.  He is excellent at both.  Bishop will need to have a big game to stop Mendenhall and I think he will be blitzing a lot.

5. Any other final thoughts?

Unlike my podcast partner Chris who will be watching the game in total terror, I am picking the Packers to win comfortably.  They are this year's New Orleans Saints.  They are playing with incredible motivation (win it for Woodson and the old guys), they have finally figured out areas where injuries have hurt them (like the run game) and their passing game in a dome is unstoppable.  I believe the Steelers have a great defense, but the Packers can spread you out and Aaron Rodgers will get rid of the ball quickly.  Think of the Atlanta playoff game.  That was not an aberration, but the final result of an offense coming together all year.  Only the Bears, cold and bad field conditions slowed the Packers down, not a factor this week.   So, although I have a lot of respect for the Steelers organization, I think Green Bay will be once again recognized as Titletown USA.

If you haven't listened to it yet, check out Chris and Dave's podcast from earlier this week where they had myself and Cory (Three Rivers Burgh Blog) on to talk about the game. The segment we're in is in this post.

A few things before we close out our last preview of the year.

First, if you haven't seen the Twerrible Towel yet, check it out. Every time someone uses the phrase "Steeler Nation" on Twitter, they twirl the towel. It's pretty awesome.

If you click no other link in this post, spend 2 seconds to click here and vote for the Steelers. Coca-Cola is running a Coke Cheers campaign. For every vote that is logged on that site, they will donate $1 to the Boys and Girls Club of America. Whichever team gets more votes (Pittsburgh or Green Bay), Coke will donate an extra $25,000 to the local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. Do something good, help Pittsburgh win.

Second, these dudes made a 24/7-style video about getting ready for Super Bowl XLV. I recommend it if you have 10 minutes to spare, it's good for some laughs.

Finally, we've all seen how Pittsburgh has reacted to recent championships that have been won by both the Steelers and the Penguins. Oakland gets trashed. The South Side is a mess. I'm not going to say don't go out and celebrate or don't be excited about what happens tomorrow night.

What I am going to say is this: stay safe.

There's going to be a lot of people out and about tomorrow night, and probably a lot of intoxicated drivers. There have been stories in the news about how police will be out in full force. So whether you're roaming the streets of Oakland or just driving home from a party, be safe.

Now that that's over with, GET PUMPED FOR THE GAME.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Super Bowl Jerseys

When you get a fanbase as rabid as Steeler Nation, especially one that has had the kind of success the Steelers have had, you start to develop superstitions.

Everyone has their superstitions. Whether it's drinking the same kind of beer during the game (my buddies have been drinking Molsen during the playoffs as a tribute to Shaun Suisham), wearing the same jersey over the same sweater over the same shirt, or listening to the same music before/during the game....we've all got them.

My personal traditions?

  • My oldest item of clothing will be my Steelers hat, which I got before Ben's rookie year. We had a 6-10 year, I bought the hat, then we went 15-1. We've won 2 Super Bowls with me wearing that hat and I'm not changing the mojo now.
  • For one, I've been wearing a 75th anniversary tshirt for every game since the '07 season when Mike Tomlin took over as head coach.
  • I've been wearing my Woodley throwback all season. But I also got a Mike Wallace jersey for Christmas.
  • For the '08 playoff run, I wore my Woodley jersey (which I got for Christmas that year...Santa must be a Steelers fan) over top of my Hines Ward jersey.
  • For all of these playoffs, I've been wearing all 3 of my jerseys. I'll be wearing all 3 again on Sunday.

So to find out what some others in Steeler Nation will be wearing for the game on Sunday and how they're rockin' their mojo, I took to the Twitterverse.

Feel free to leave your personal traditions/superstitions/what jersey you're wearing in the comments!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Enemy of Our Enemy is Our Friend

Being from Pittsburgh, we don't see much of the Packers on TV except for when they get the occasional prime time game. But since Sunday Night Football this past season was pretty much the "NFC East Matchup of the Week"...we really didn't see much of the Cheeseheads.

So to get some better perspective on what the Steelers can do this Sunday to hoist their Seventh Lombardi, I sent some feelers out to bloggers from the six teams that beat the Packers this year to see what their teams did to have success.

September 27
Bears 20, Packers 17

Key point: The Packers committed 18 penalties in this game. Brian Urlacher forced a fumble on the Packers last drive and the Bears marched down the field and kicked the winning field goal as time expired.

We actually got responses from two different Bears bloggers here, Ismael from the ChicagoNow blog BearsSTH (@BearsSTH on Twitter) and Jonathan from Bears Headquarters (@BearsHQ on Twitter)

1. The Packers defense averaged 12.3 points against in the 10 games they won and 19.5 points against in the 6 games they lost. How did your team have success on offense attacking the Packers defense?
BearsHQ: Running the damn football. Run the ball to the boundry and good things will happen. If you give the Packers time to create turnovers, they will do so. Attacking them makes life easier. If you sit back, they'll get you. Finally, contain Clay Matthews, Jr. and that helps.

BearsSTH: The Bears know the Packers very well. Offensively and defensively the matchups have been a wash and really came down to a play or 2 that made a difference. It will come down to who ever can make the least number of mistakes. In the first game against the Packers, in which the Bears won, it came down to the special teams. Devin Hester returned a punt for a touchdown and Robbie Gould it a game winning field goal. 

2. The Packers averaged 29.1 points per game in their 10 wins and 16.2 points per game in their 6 losses, scoring over 21 points only once. What did your team do defensively to slow down the Packers high-powered offense?
BearsHQ: Hit Aaron Rodgers early and often. Force the Packers receivers to the middle so you can strip the ball. They're prone to fumbles. Don't give up on plays, they'll lose the ball.

BearsSTH: The Bears have been able to pressure Aaron Rodgers consistently enough to make him nervous. Although the Bears didn't register huge sack numbers, the D-line made the Packer's offensive line nervous by causing them to false start and get called for holding penalties.  

3. What was the turning point in your game with the Packers that enabled your team to secure the victory?

BearsSTH: The Bears emphasize a complete game by all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams. The Bears special teams helped seal the victory over the Packers with a Hester return, as this played helped swing the momentum of the game. 

4. If you had to play the Packers again, what would be your recommendation for how to attack them (either on offense or defense)?
BearsHQ: The Bears have played the Packers well. Putting pressure on Rodgers and running the football was a key, plus special teams can help. This is a rivalry game, so strange things always seem to happen.

BearsSTH: Don't give up the run early. The Packers had a solid defense but teams shouldn't shy away from attacking them this way. This make their linebackers and secondary pay attention and set up the play action.  

October 10
Redskins 16, Packers 13 (OT)

Key Point: Mason Crosby hit the upright on a 53-yard field goal attempt as regulation expired. Rodgers threw and interception in overtime and the Redskins drove down for the winning score.

Insight into this game was provided by Redskins Analyst Anthony B from Redskins Hog Heaven (@SkinsHogHeaven on Twitter)

1. The Packers defense averaged 12.3 points against in the 10 games they won and 19.5 points against in the 6 games they lost. How did your team have success on offense attacking the Packers defense?

Lets just say that more games are lost than won. The Packers lost the Redskins game. Injuries were a factor. The Packers lost four players during the game, including LB Clay Matthews in the fourth quarter (hamstring). The Redskins concussed Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter. He did not leave the game. He should have. Nine penalties hurt the Packers' cause. Mason Crosby's missed 53 yard field goal attempt with 0:02 to go was a killer for the Pack. 

Green Bay was ahead 13-3 at the start of the fourth quarter after dominating the Redskins' offense to that point. Donovan McNabb's big play 48 yard scoring strike to Anthony Armstrong followed Brandon Banks' 30 yard punt return by two plays to breath life in Washington. On the critical fourth quarter drive that ended with the field goal to tie, the Redskins attacked the middle of the Packer defense--where Clay Matthews used to be--with a four yard run by Ryan Torain and two key passes to TE Chris Cooley for 30 yards.  

2. The Packers averaged 29.1 points per game in their 10 wins and 16.2 points per game in their 6 losses, scoring over 21 points only once. What did your team do defensively to slow down the Packers high-powered offense?

This was a battle of attrition. The Redskins played the Packers physically in the second half and overtime. Washington knocked four players out of the game and knocked Aaron Rodgers into a concussion. Rodgers missed the next game. A game analysis by Redskins Hog Heaven's Greg Trippiedi found that Rodgers was hit or was pressured into an early decision on 10 of his last 15 passes. 
3. What was the turning point in your game with the Packers that enabled your team to secure the victory?

Green Bay had two possessions in overtime. Both were three-and-outs. The first ended in a Brian Orakpo sack. The second ended with S LaRon Landry's interception return to Green Bay's 24 yard line to set up the winning field goal.

4. If you had to play the Packers again, what would be your recommendation for how to attack them (either on offense or defense)?

The Packers won't look past the Steelers as they might have done with the Redskins, but what we learned about Green Bay should come easy for Pittsburgh. The Packers proved themselves a tough, resilient team. You need to attrit them to win in the fourth quarter. I looked up STEELERS in the dictionary. The definition was slobber-knockers.

Washington would have had a better day on offense if Clinton Portis was healthy and available. I trust that the Steelers will not go away from Rashard Mendenhall during the game. Green Bay will be a tough win in any event. 

October 17
Dolphins 23, Packers 20 (OT)

Key point: The Dolphins sacked Rodgers 5 times. Brandon Marshall had a monster game with 10 catches for 127 yards.

I reached out to the guys from The Phinsider but didn't get a response. They were probably too busy cheering for LeBron. If you want some more inside info, check out their Game Recap.

November 28
Falcons 20, Packers 17

Key point: The Falcons, like the other 3 teams to beat the Packers previously, won the game on a field goal at the end of the game. 

To give us some insight into the Falcons win, we turn to our buddy Scott Carasik, Founder of (@scar988 on Twitter)

1. The Packers defense averaged 12.3 points against in the 10 games they won and 19.5 points against in the 6 games they lost. How did your team have success on offense attacking the Packers defense?

Running the ball. If you can smash it down their throats you will have success.

2. The Packers averaged 29.1 points per game in their 10 wins and 16.2 points per game in their 6 losses, scoring over 21 points only once. What did your team do defensively to slow down the Packers
high-powered offense?

A lot of 3 man rush and sitting back in zones in this game. But in the playoffs tried the same thing and failed.

3. What was the turning point in your game with the Packers that enabled your team to secure the victory?

When Aaron Rodgers fumbled on the goalline early in the game. Atlanta took a lead of 11 points into the half and never looked back.

4. If you had to play the Packers again, what would be your recommendation for how to attack them (either on offense or defense)?

On offense, we would have to run the ball better and play mistake free football.

December 12
Lions 7, Packers 3

Key Point: Aaron Rodgers got hurt in this game and Matt Flynn was ineffective in relief duty. Lions 3rd string QB Drew Stanton threw a touchdown pass in the 4th quarter that was enough for the Lions secure the win.

Lions fans are busy looking forward to the NFL Draft. Check out our buddy Ty's blog, The Lions In Winter and his Packers Game Recap.

December 19
Patriots 31, Packers 27

Key Point: Matt Flynn put up a yeoman's effort throwing for 3 TDs to keep the Packers in it, but the Patriots pulled away in the 4th quarter and didn't look back. Green Bay dominated time of possession, with over 40 minutes of ball control.

Check out the Game Recap from the guys over at the Patriots blog Musket Fire.

So there you have it. The Packers haven't trailed by more than 7 points all season, so it's highly unlikely that the Steelers will break out to a huge lead in the Super Bowl. From how teams have beat the Packers this year, it's taken timely defensive plays that created turnovers and clutch kicking to get it done. Teams have been able to run the ball against Green Bay and you've got to believe that as long as we're in the game, Mendenhall is going to get his share of carries.


Podcast Guest Appearances & Links

Over the last few days, I've had the privilege of being the guest on a few podcasts to talk about the Super Bowl.

The first was on Friday night, where J-Flesh from the "Getting Fresh with Flesh" podcast, based out of the Baltimore-DC area, had myself and one of the dudes from Packers Therapy on to discuss the Super Bowl.

Take a listen to our initial thoughts on the game:

Then, Sunday night, Chris and Dave from Packers Therapy were kind enough to invite myself and Cory from Three Rivers Burgh Blog onto their weekly podcast to talk about the Super Bowl.

Just a forewarning on this one: we recorded it on skype, so I came across sounding a little nasaly and whiny. Or maybe they just edited my voice to sound like that so people might not think I was making legitimate points. Either way, enjoy:

I'm working on a few other things with the Packers Therapy guys, so you'll probably see their names popping up again later in the week.

A few other updates:

Troy Polamalu won Defensive Player of the Year. Yeah, he deserved it. In fact, in my own post from a few months back where I tried to make a case for James Harrison, I said I would probably have voted for Troy over James.

Steelers are on the ground in Dallas. If you're on Twitter, you can follow a bunch of Steelers players.

They've been posting some great stuff so far, including this gem from Ike Taylor:

What a hat/shirt combo on Hines.

Also, some links to pass along.

If you're not checking these blogs daily this week, you need to re-evaluate your life choices:

If you're really strapped for Sports Radio at work and get sick of the guys on 970, check out TribLive Radio. It's a new internet radio station, with Chris Mack at the helm in the morning. If you do nothing else between 9am and noon, check out his show.

Comic Strip about Steeler Nation? Sweet. Fans n'at

One of our long-time readers, The Beat Doctor, from Obscure Music Monthly, is working on a "Fear the Beard" campaign. Check out his blog for full details.

YouTube of the Day: