Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Brooklyn Hillbilly Tells You, For The Last Time, Why The Steelers Are Going Home With #6
Right after Troy Polamalu's taint in the AFC Championship Game, my uncle, an accomplished(at least experienced) sporting handicapper, predicted the Steelers would be favored by 9 points in Super Bowl XXXIII. He wasn't far off. The opening line, as we all know, was 7pts. It briefly dipped to 6.5, but has stabilized again at 7 over the last 11 days. Now, what does this stability tell you? That the people who actually put their money on the line with their football opinions, despite all the media hype of the last two weeks, are fairly confident that the Steelers will win this game. I, friends, am one of them.
I hope we see a lot of you Sunday Matt.
But lets look at whats come about in the last week and a half in the opinionsphere/asshatville world of sports analysts. Evidently, the Cardinals have turned into the 1999 St. Louis Rams and the Steelers have become a team with deep defensive flaws. Two weeks ago, there was a fight over who was the best receiver in football, Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson. Now, Fitz is the G.O.A.T. Where two weeks ago, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed vied for the title of best safety in the league, Adrian Wilson has now emerged as the best since Jack Tatum. Kurt Warner went from being a nice comeback story to having what John Clayton called "an MVP type season" and a Hall of Fame debate swirling around him. The Steelers went from going 12-4 against the hardest schedule in 30 years to being a team that barely scraped by the regular season and only advanced this far due to luck, referees and a defense that will eventually fall apart. And the Cardinals went from being a 9-7 team that finished the season 2-4, won the worst division in football and had the 28th ranked scoring defense to an unstoppable offensive force coupled with the fastest defense seen in the last 10 years. In the words of my country cousins: HOGWASH. Don't believe the hype! Here's why Dan Rooney is flying home with some new hardware:
When the Steelers have the ball
Ladies Love Cool Willie
1---Willie needs to put on his grinding shoes for this game, because Arizona is going to do everything they can to stop him and put the game on Ben's shoulders. Because of that, I hope Bruce Arians hasn't forgotten about Mewelde Moore. Moore is arguably the Steelers most explosive offensive player- IF HE IS USED. I don't know what member of Arians' family Mewelde impregnated, but he has gotten shelved in a hurry after only saving our asses in a number of games this year. Further, in today's NFL, you HAVE to have a back who can catch passes. Willie is not that guy, neither is Gary Russell, but Mewelde does it brilliantly. He needs to be utilized on screens and used as a release valve on blitzes. Now is not the time to hold anything back BA. Regardless, Willie will have a good-great game. He always seems to come up big in big spots and a repeat of his record breaking 75yd TD run in XL is not out of the question.
NO HOOKERS BEN!
2---If the Steelers can survive the first quarter without a Big Ben interception, they will win this game. This has been said ad naseum over the last two weeks, but Ben cant have as bad a game as he did in Super Bowl XL. Actually, I think there are ways for him to do just as badly but have the D pull his ass out of the fire. We will know if they have to by the beginning of the second quarter. If nerves get to Ben again, hes gonna fuck up in the first and its gonna be a long game. If not, I see him being solid for the game. He might still throw a pick, but it will be one of those fluky plays that no one can do much about. Frankly, watching Ben develop over the past 5 years, hes pretty solidly in the cool as a cucumber gunslinger category now. Situations that would have lesser QBs turtling and flinching waiting for hits put Ben into playmaker mode. To be honest, hes unlike any other QB since Elway: the moments he leaves the pocket are full of anticipation(and admittedly a lil bit of terror) for what kind of amazing play he will pull off. Id love to see if someone has done a breakdown of Ben's stats inside vs. outside the pocket, cuz I cant really remember(caution I'm drunk and probably wrong about this) him making any major fuckups when hes on the move.
Bring it Jesus. Harrison will put a hurt on you.
3--- My nemeses, the offensive line, have stepped it up in the last 1/4 of the season and the playoffs. My season long contention has been that units get better the more they play with each other.(that sounded kinda dirty, sorry) The thing I always noticed with the great o-lines of the last decade (colts, pats, etc) has been the amazing continuity. They can handle pretty much anything thrown at them because they are a tight group, they all eat together, go on trips together and end up knowing each other really well. And really, that's a unique thing in sports. Sure, shortstops and second basemen need to get comfortable with each other to turn consistent great double plays, but you have 162 games to do it in. Plus, theres 5 of them. Just think of the last time you were out with 3-4 of your really close friends and you had to bring along a couple new guys that no one really knows. Its sorta awkward, right? You're wondering if you should tell that Puerto Rican joke you heard at work and everyone sorta gets into a dick measuring contest about drinking/women/whatever. Well, imagine your paycheck is riding on knowing what the new guys reaction to that joke will be or knowing if he really can handle another double shot of bourbon. The point is, the Steelers line has been like Swiss cheese the last 3 years because they were starting a different 5 every week for two seasons. It was only this year that there was anything resembling stability on the line. And what do you know, after a few weeks working together in the same spots, they started getting better. Look, Ill guarantee Ben is going to the ground at least 2 times Sunday, because this o-line could know each other like Abbot and Costello but that wont make up for a lack of talent, only mask it for a few hours a week. But I am pretty confident that Ben will get some time to make plays in the pocket and Willie will get enough room to run. And really, that's what I like about this team, they don't need a lot to win, they just need enough.
When the Cards have the ball
1--- Arizona will have no ground game. That is all.
"Men of steel, men of steel..."
2---None of Fitzgerald's TD catches last week were great plays. If you leave a hole in coverage in the middle of the field the size of a McMansion, yes, a great receiver will burn you for a short TD inside the 10. Run a trick play and have the cornerback fall down, yes, that bodes well for success. Get a questionable PI call then throw a lob to your 6'-3" over a 5'-10" corner, YES, that will score you a TD. I think the Cards will get ONE of these things to happen Sunday, two if God really hates me, but those plays just cant be made consistently against the Steeler D.
Ill have the Kurt Warner Lunch Special.
3--- Kurt Warner only threw the ball more than 20 yards 6 times this offseason. 3 of those were on trick plays. These guys cant throw long, especially with a senior citizen as QB. Look for Polamalu and Clark to cheat up and pop Fitz and Boldin on those short to medium routes. That will make them a little wary to go across the middle and will make Kurt Warners conscience start telling him to throw to the outside, right into the arms of the Steeler cornerbacks.(Warner actually almost retired over this a few years ago. He felt bad about putting receivers in the position to get creamed. Pansy.) Fitz made a good day great by running across the middle against the Eagles, I don't think Dick LeBeau or Ryan Clark will let that happen. A short, quick passing game will net some yards and first downs, but it leaves you susceptible to batted balls at the line and picks on jumped routes. Every time you throw against this Steelers D, there is a 7% chance of a pick(scientifically calculated by our crack team of SUS mathematicians, of course), so if Warner throws 50 times, expect a couple picks.
For the last time this year, your ferocious mascot for the ferocious D.
Look, the Cardinals have gotten the bounces the last few weeks and are seemingly the team of destiny. Theres no doubting that. But a good (rare) point was made in an SI article this week, defense doesn't win championships, you can beat it with a better offense. GREAT defenses are what win championships. And that's exactly what they've got in Pittsburgh. Ill be drinking a six-pack to celebrate this six-pack. Steelers win a shiny new trophy, 27-13.
Birds of a feather...