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That’s RACIST

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2011 by Joe

Guess who’s back? Back again. Joey’s back. Tell a friend. Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back?

It’s been awhile since my last post. Mainly because I’ve been really busy but also because I was being a bit lazy and had run out of ideas. Well, you can thank former professional quarterback and the first Black quarterback to get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Warren Moon, for giving me an idea.

Warren has taken it upon himself to become the advisor for the future first round draft pick, former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Why does Newton need Moon as an advisor you ask? I honestly don’t know. But whatever, that’s beside the point. The point is however that Moon has recently said that the reason Newton has gotten so much criticism from the press is because he is, wait for it……..BLACK.

The reason Cam is being labeled selfish, childish, a poor leader, fake, lacks accountability, lacks focus, isn’t because he was kicked out of The University of Florida for stealing,  or being accused of asking for money to play college football (does anyone really think Cam knew nothing about what is father was doing), or the fact he only played one year at a high level and usually ran after his first option was covered, it’s because his skin isn’t white. That’s right people, it’s the return of the good old-fashioned race card.

Here is exactly what Moon said:

“A lot of the criticism he’s receiving is unfortunate and racially based,” Moon, who is Newton’s adviser, told the website. “I thought we were all past this. I don’t see other quarterbacks in the draft being criticized by the media or fans about their smile or called a phony. He’s being held to different standards from white quarterbacks. I thought we were past all this stuff about African-American quarterbacks, but I guess we’re not. Of course there is racism in every walk of society. We’ve made a lot of progress in this country. But racism is still there. I just thought in the sports arena we were beyond it. I think the way Cam is being treated shows we’re not.”

BULLSHIT!!!!!

Sorry for the obscene language, but I couldn’t think of any other way to put it. Moon is so far off base here that it is actually sad. The last I checked, Ryan Mallett is getting very similar criticism and he is as white as white can be. That pretty much completely shuts down Moon’s theory right there.

Scouts are tasked with a very important job. Based upon their recommendation, teams may end up investing Millions and Millions of dollars on these players as well as the future success of their franchises. Part of evaluating a player is to not only look at the players tangible’s on the field but also their intangibles and off the field behavior.

Newton has done a great job so far of spotlighting this troubles off the field. First, he was accused of stealing a computer from a fellow student then charged when said computer was found in his possession (the white devil probably planted it). It was also reported that a big reason why Newton left The University of Florida is because he was facing either suspension or expulsion for being caught cheating on three separate occasions (he was unfairly accused by a white professor).

After that it was off to Blinn College (yeah, I had never heard of it either) where he ended up leading his team to the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship. He apparently didn’t have any issues here but then it gets much more interesting.

Auburn recruited Newton to come play. While leading the Heisman Trophy race and helping guide his team to a future NCAA Championship, an investigation was under way that he offered his services to Mississippi State University for the sum of between $120,000 and $180,000. Now, it turned out that Cam’s father Cecil was the one who was actually behind this and the son had absolutely no idea this was happening. BULLSHIT!!! I have an extremely difficult time believing this story. It just doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

All of this leads to the NFL combine. After Cam won the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship, he was thought to be heading towards a top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. While being interviewed at the combine, he actually told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that he sees himself “not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon”. I do believe that maybe this was blown way out of proportion, but it wasn’t the smartest thing to say when trying to convince teams to take a chance on you and invest millions of dollars.

Now, after all the previous issues on the table and the fact that many believe Cam’s father may be a little to involved, he is still projected to go either number 1 or 2 in the draft. Those racist bastards.

So the question to ask is why Warren Moon felt he needed to come out and say that all the negative reviews that Newton has gotten so far are because of race? It’s pretty simple actually. The sad truth is because it was the easiest thing to do. It was much easier to say that these scouts are racist than to have Newton take accountability for the mistakes he has made.

Don’t believe me? Go back and try to find an a statement or an interview where Newton has ever admitted to stealing the laptop, or cheating at Florida, or being apart of the Pay-to-Play scandal. Unless I missed something, you won’t find any. In fact, Newton has staunchly denied any involvement with the Mississippi State scandal and placed any an all blame on his father while consistently avoiding any questions by reporters on the topic.

If Cam Newton had come out and took responsibility for his actions and the choices he made, wouldn’t that put to rest some of the things that have come into question about his character. He was young and stupid. Yes, he made some mistakes and is willing to own up to them. We love second and third and fourth chances in this country. I would think that the NFL personnel would maybe change their minds about him. Maybe look at him a little differently. Instead, he just looks like a child who would rather point fingers in a different direction and Warren Moon is right there helping to do the same thing.

NFL scouts and GMs and coaches are all desperately trying to avoid drafting the next Pac Man Jones. Jones has been pretty much a complete headache for teams since being drafted. He has had numerous run ins with the law and has been in and out of the legal system as well as being suspended from the football for the entire 2007 and part of the 2008 season. He also had been in trouble while playing football for the University of West Virginia. The red flags were there. In spite of the issues in college, the Tennessee Titans drafted him sixth overall. With all being said and done, it’s most likely safe to say that the Titans would have used that draft pick on someone else. Where there is smoke, there is fire and the Titans got burned.

Jones was a cornerback too. Not a quarterback. Jones didn’t play the most important position on a football field. Jones wasn’t pegged to be a leader of men. Cam Newton does play quarterback and will be expected to lead men on the football field. He has to have a certain level of maturity and self-discipline to be a great quarterback and so far he hasn’t shown that he has those characteristics. The most important position is going to be by far under the most scrutiny and that is the situation that Cam Newton is in now.

In a league where the large majority of players are African-American, I find it patiently absurd that scouts, general managers, and coaches take race into the equation when evaluating a potential draft pick. I mean, Akili Smith and Jamarcus Smith were both taken 3rd and 1st overall respectively. In Moon’s day, race definitely played a role, especially when it came to quarterbacks. That was also some 20 years ago. Not only as society changed, but so has football.

 Maybe that this is what this whole thing is about. Maybe Moon still holds some bitterness over the way he was treated when he was coming up. It’s hard to blame him actually. I would probably still be a little upset if I were him. But just because he was profiled because of his race, doesn’t mean the same thing is now happening with Newton.

I realize that part of this also be that Moon is trying to stand up for his “client” and tying to deflect some of the negative attention that has been surrounding Newton. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it has just created even more negative attentions. Especially when Ryan Mallet’s character have come under question and scouts were saying very similar things about Jimmy Clausen last year.

Maybe I’m naive or ignorant or uninformed, but I think this kind of thing just ends up creating more harm than good. It ends up creating more racial division than needs to be. It moves us as a society backward not forward, in the direction we need to be moving. I think we can do better than this. I think instead of immediately crying racism, maybe take a second and examine if there are any factors in play that may make more sense. Maybe if we do this, we can realize that not everything is based upon prejudice. That maybe a person’s character is judged by his actions, not by the color of his or her skin.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78FATeTMDaA

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Uncertain Future

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by Joe

The NFL’s labor issue was something that I had initially wanted to stay away from. The topic has and will continue to be beaten into the ground. Also, I am in no way informed enough to really break down the issues that plague the owners and the players. However, with a possible lockout of the players being only two days away and the recent court decision that was made that definitely favors the players, I finally balked and decided I wanted to speak my peace.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) officially ends on March 4th. The options with the deadline are either that the owner’s lock the players out, the CBA is extended, the players decertify(not really sure how this would play out), or both sides decide on a resolution to this mess and we can focus on the draft and the coming season. Since there is pretty much only a 0.05% chance that both sides will come to an agreement by Friday, we are looking at either a lockout or extension.

It’s to early for a lockout. I don’t believe the owner’s will take that step this early in the process. So that means extension of the current CBA. So that’s good news right? Wrong. All that really means is the owner’s are delaying the lockout. It’s coming. As sure as Summer will be here before we know it. The simple reason I believe this is because of the ego’s and greed that are involved in this current mess.

Like I said, I would be lying if I sat here and tried to tell you I knew the in’s and out’s of what was going on with the labor issue. As I see it, it comes down to the owner’s think the players are making too much money and want a larger slice of the pie than they currently have. The basic premise of how the business side of the NFL works is that the players and owners share the revenue made by the product they sell. When the current CBA was signed, the players got a larger slice of that pie. Now it is time for retribution.

 The entire reason why unions were formed was because the workers were tired of getting hosed by the owner’s and management. Most industries that have unions (steel workers, auto workers, etc) had at one point in time deplorable working conditions and got paid scraps. Look at the steel worker’s in particular. Back in early to mid 1900’s, these guys worked in mills where the temperature hovered above 100 degrees. They inhaled all kinds of fumes that floated in the air. There was always a chance of not only hearing loss, but being burned and a very serious chance of either losing a limb or dying. The men who walked out of those gates every day after working 12 hour sifts were beaten down and exhausted. And for all their hard work, sacrifice, and risk of life and limb, the money they made was barely enough to cover their living expenses.

Management didn’t care. They were in the business for one reason and one reason only, to make as much money as possible. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by creating a product that everyone needs and wants, selling a ton of it, and producing this product with as little expense as possible. This is all obviously very common sense. The only issue with management’s style was that the workers were getting sick of it. They were tired of working long and hard hours and getting paid as little as possible. Their solution was to band together and demand a better work environment and higher pay. If they didn’t get what they wanted then they would strike.

The history of unions in this country is a long and a bloody one. At times they have gotten out of control but you can’t argue with the fact that they helped paved the way for a better life for the generations of people who have come after them. The NFL players formed a union in 1956. However, the basically had zero power. That is until 1968 when they finally pushed for a new CBA. Since then the NFLPA has grown in size and strength. They have fought for many important steps in what has made the NFL what it is today, like free agency.

Just like any other union, the players have decided to strike on a couple of occasions. However, there hasn’t been a strike or lockout since 1987. This is incredibly impressive considering that every other professional sports league in the US has had a work stoppage that have forced the leagues to miss playing their championships. The fact that the NFL has avoided a strike or lockout is one of the contributing factors in why the league has grown in popularity.

 In 1994, Major League Baseball players decided to strike. It was the eight work stoppage in league history and it did unbelievable harm to the league as a whole. It turned off a lot of fans who were mad that these guys, who were making millions of dollars, when they decided they weren’t making enough money. They took the sport away from the fans and you can argue that the league has never been the same. What was once considered America’s pastime has now been replaced by football.

Which is the reason why I am having trouble figuring out how the owner’s could be stupid enough to ruin a great thing. The general rule is that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and the NFL ain’t broke. It is not only the most successful sports league but it is one of the most successful business’s in America. They increase their market share and revenue every year. Take a look at the television ratings for a Sunday and Monday night game. They are off the charts. With the ever-increasing access that the internet provides and the growing popularity of fantasy football, the NFL has become a giant in the world of sports and entertainment. If the NHL is David, then the NFL is Goliath on steroids (that may have not been the best analogy or metaphor or whatever that is considered).

The owner’s have claimed that they are losing money. I will buy the fact that aren’t making as much money as they want to but I think it’s total BS that they are actually losing money. The players want the owner’s to open up their books and prove this but for many reasons the owner’s aren’t willing to do this, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you are losing money and want to take money away from the players to help stabilize the company and keep it going then prove it. This feels like the owner’s are crying wolf. While I’m sure they aren’t making as much money as they once were, don’t go saying you are losing money. The Green Bay Packers, who are the only publicly held company in sports reported an operating profit of $9.8 million dollars. Now this is actually down from the previous year in which they reported a profit of $20.1 million the previous year. The reason, the Packers say, is because of increasing player costs.

This is where I can sort of see the owner’s point, although I  think they have presented it in a bad way. To you and me, $9.8 millions dollars is a ton of money, but in the grand scheme of business, this isn’t that impressive of a return on an investment and we need to be honest with ourselves, this is a business. Jerry Jones and Pat Bowlen don’t buy teams to win. They buy teams to make money. Winning just helps to bring in more money. I’m sure some of the small market teams are in fact losing money. If the Packers “only” made $9.8 million, then teams like the Jaguars or Panthers are sure to be either barely staying in the black or are dipping into the red.

The owner’s may end up feeling like the best way for them to get their point across is to lock out the players. Yesterday, I thought for sure that this was going to happen. I didn’t think the players would bend too much and give back money and the owner’s weren’t going to stand for that. I mean, the players have a lot more to lose. The owner’s are wealthy and they are going to continue to be wealthy. The players are rich and considering somehow a lot of these guys manage to actually live paycheck to paycheck, missing those bonuses and game checks could be really costly. However, the promising development occurred that may push the owner’s to make a deal. The courts ruled that the owner’s could not collect the television money from the networks in the case of a lockout.

Profootballtalk.com does a great job of breaking down the ruling (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/03/02/in-hindsight-dotys-ruling-was-a-no-brainer/#more-114582) which unless you are a University of Duquesne law student, reading and interpreting the actual language in the ruling can be confusing. Basically, the ruling says that the owner’s left money on the table in order for a “take it or leave it” deal that guaranteed that the owner’s would still get money from the networks in case of the lockout in which they only had to pay about half of it back. The reason this was a no-no, was because the players union expects the owner’s to make the best possible deal for both parties and the owner’s actually accepted less money to get the deal they wanted. This means that the owner’s won’t be getting the money they were hoping for to help pay the bills since they won’t be making any money for playing football.

The crappy thing about all of this, and the difference between the strike in baseball and a possible lockout in football, is that a lockout won’t change anything. When the baseball players decided to strike, baseball was on a bit of a down turn at the time. People were already starting to fade a little and a strike which ended up cancelling the World Series pushed fans over the edge. They were angry and in anger they decided that if the powers that be didn’t care about them, then they could turn away from the powers. We heard about a lot of people who stopped following baseball, even if just for a season. That’s not going to happen with football. Right now football is at its apex of strength. Sure, we are all going to be mad if there isn’t any football come fall. We will huff and puff and throw a tantrum but the second that the kickers foot makes contact with the football at the start of a real game then we all will be back. Some my hold out longer, but eventually we will all be back. The players and owners understand this. For a lot of us, football is like a drug, it’s hard to live without.

Friday is going to come and go and we will be no closer to a resolution. At this point, nothing is really at stake. There is no need for any urgency. We are still over a month away from the draft and several months away from the start of training camp. At this point the only ones who will really suffer are the either the young teams or teams with new coaching staffs. They won’t be able to work together and get ready to prepare for a new season. So not only is there uncertainty for us as fans, but there is high level of uncertainty for the players and coaches.

No matter what, the show will go on. We may miss some games but I’m fully convinced that there will be football next season. There is to much at stake not to get a deal worked out and get the season under way. In this situation, I may have to side more with the players. I understand they are trying to get as much money as they can. Their careers are short and full of danger. With no guaranteed contracts, one bad hit and that could be it. Peyton Manning may be able to play for 20 years, but the Colts will be around much longer. The owner’s need to understand that they have such a good thing going. All they need to do is look at the other major sports leagues to realize how good they have it. I just hope they take that look before we start losing games.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2011 by Joe

Uggggggh. Now that I have had an entire day to process the events of Sunday night, I’m still upset. I had originally planned on writing a review of the game yesterday but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. If you live under a rock and don’t know, the Packers won, the Steelers lost , and Aaron Rodgers was the Super Bowl 45 MVP.

It was a game that was full of up and downs. One minute I would think the Packers were going to run away with it and the next, the Steelers would come storming back to make a game of it.

Ben Roethlisberger helped the Packers jump out to a 21-3 lead late into the 2nd quarter after throwing 2 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. When it looked as if all hope was lost, Ben guided the Steelers down the field and made it a 21-10 game with 39 seconds left after a touchdown pass to Hines Ward. It looked as if the momentum had changed. Not only did the Steelers make it a 11 point game, the Packers also lost Sam Shields, Nick Collins, and most importantly for the Steelers offense, Charles Woodson. Of the three, only Collins would come back in the second half.

Like I said, the momentum was on the Steelers side. Rashard Mendenhall made it a 4 point game five minutes into the third with a 8 yard touchdown run. The Steelers looked dominate. After a defensive stop, the Steelers got the ball back in great field position and moved down to the Packers 33. The Steelers were driving, had all the momentum, and looked as if they were going to take their first lead of the game. Then it all changed. Clay Matthews stripped Mendenhall of the ball. Turnover. Packers ball. Game.

I know it was still a four point game in the third quarter when Mendenhall fumbled the ball, but it didn’t matter. Aaron Rodgers was just to good. He capped off one of the best postseason a quarterback has ever had with a 24/39, 309 yard, 3 touchdown game. He was just tremendous.

My post last week broke down each team position by position. I said that the biggest liability of the Steelers was the secondary. Rodgers exploited the Steelers weakness to perfection. You really couldn’t have asked for a better game from the quarterback. Even though his receivers tried to let him down by dropping some big passes, Rodgers never wavered and made every big throw he needed to. With the Packers leading the Steelers 21-17 and Mendenhall turning the ball over, Rodgers led the Pack down the field and completed a 8 yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. The Steelers wouldn’t recover.

You couldn’t expect the Steelers to recover. You cannot turn the ball over three times against a team of Green Bay’s caliber and expect to win. You just can’t. Not when Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback and has picked apart the defense all game long.

Not only do you have to give Rodgers a ton of credit, but you have to give the Packer’s offensive line a ton of credit to. They kept the pressure off him most of the game, allowing only 3 sacks. Rodgers had time to stand in the pocket and find the open receiver.

It was admirable that the Steelers kept fighting. They just wouldn’t give up. Considering they were down 21-3 at one point in the first half of the game, it was actually pretty impressive that they still had a chance to win the game at the end. Big Ben was solid in the second half. He completed a 25 yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace to close the gap. After converting the two point conversion, the Steelers were actually only down 3 points.

The Packers got a field goal with a little over 2 minutes remaining the game to make it a 31-25 game and the Steelers would get the ball back to win another Super Bowl on a last-minute drive. I was confidant once again. We had seen this movie before. The ball was in Ben’s hands and he was more than capable of driving the Steelers down the field and throwing the game ending touchdown.

The 4th down pass to Wallace fell to the ground incomplete. It was over. The Packers celebrated and hoisted the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time in franchise history. The nightmares from the Steelers Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys came flooding back

We can sit here and talk about how good Aaron Rodgers was. Or how good the Packers offensive line played. Or the great game plan that Mike McCarthy put together. However, for me, it all comes back to 21 points off of 3 turnovers. You just can’t win a game when you play like that.

The Steelers did a lot of good things on that Sunday. The line, especially Doug Legursky, played very well. Mendenhall did make some nice runs. Wallace played great and Hines Ward made another strong case for being considered a Hall of Famer. But Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu were invisible. Mike Tomlin’s decision to try that field goal was just down right dumb. And two interceptions and a fumble, all of which ended up turning into points for the Packers made the difference. On this particular Sunday, the Packers deserved to win the game.

This loss will brew for a while, especially if there is a labor stoppage and we don’t have football to look forward to. It just something we Steelers fans are going to have to live with. It hurts now, and the pain will eventually go away, just not anytime soon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14eFtsB0mYo

Super Bowl 45 (XLV)

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , on February 3, 2011 by Joe

It’s that time of year again. When the two best teams in the NFL square off to determine who is number 1. My hometown and beloved Pittsburgh Steelers go up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Dallas. The Super Bowl is one of the greatest events in sports and I get to watch MY team play in it for the fourth time now. I’ve only had to sit through one loss in my lifetime to the hated Cowboys and have gotten to see two wins. The game against the Arizona Cardinals was one of the most agonizing yet joyful games I’ve watched as a Steelers fan.  

I was pretty young when the Steelers played the Cowboys so I don’t remember the run up to that game very well but I do remember the last two like they happened yesterday and I didn’t feel all that nervous for either of them. However, I do feel really nervous about this one. I really like the Packers. In fact, I actually picked them to win the Super Bowl before the season started. Now I have to watch them play the Steelers. The Packers are a great team and they scare me.

I think that I can maybe quell that fear a little by breaking down each position group against position group. Here is a shot in the dark.

Quarterback

I will start at the most important position in football. Ben Roethlisberger vs Aaron Rodgers. This is a tough one to judge. Both are top five quarterbacks in the league.

Aaron Rodgers has been a fast riser. Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for the first three seasons of his career. Since Brett Favre “retired” then went on to play for the Jets, Rodgers has come off the bench and has never looked back. Aaron Rodgers is 27-20 over the last three seasons and has managed to put up huge numbers including 12,723 yards passing, 87 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 98.4. I think it’s safe to say that you want the guy on your fantasy football team. The Green Bay Packers have a great team and it all starts at the top with Rodgers.

Say what you want about Big Ben the person (trust me when I say that I hate the person but cheer for the jersey), but you can’t deny what the guy does on the football field. He knows how to win games and if you need a scoring drive in the last two minutes, you want the ball in his hands. Ben doesn’t necessarily have the big passing numbers that Rodgers does, but it doesn’t really matter when the game is on the line. As a starter, Roethlisberger is 69-29 in the regular season and 8-2 in the playoffs. He also has those two Super Bowl rings to show for himself. Ben is the toughest quarterback in the NFL to bring down and he has frustrated so many opposing defenses when it looks as if he is going to be sacked and gets out of it and makes a huge completion. While he hasn’t had the most dominating of games in these playoffs, he has come through every time the Steelers desperately needed a big play.

Rodgers is one of the best in the game. He has a big arm, can make every throw a quarterback needs to make and can get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet. The Packers would not have gotten this far without him and he should be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the game. With that said, I have to give the nod to Big Ben here. Only because he has been here before. Roethlisberger had one of his best games as a professional in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals. He has shown the big game and the spotlight doesn’t affect his game and he won’t shrink from the pressure. The countless big wins and two Super Bowl rings give the Steelers the advantage at the top position.

Advantage: Steelers

Running Back

Packers fans breathed a sigh of relief when James Starks, the 6th round pick out of the University of Buffalo, had the game of his career in the wild card game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a much-needed improvement in the running game that relied pretty heavily on fullback John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson who had 3.3 and 3.7 yards per rush respectively. Considering Aaron Rodgers had the second most rushing yards on the team, it’s safe to say that the Green Bay rushing game was pretty bad. In fact, Green Bay was 24th the league with only 100.4 rushing yards per game. The Packers running game suffered tremendously when the starting running back, Ryan Grant, when down for the season in the first game with an injury. They just couldn’t get anything going all year until Starks blew up for over 140 yards rushing in that game against the Eagles. However, since that game, Starks has come back down to earth and once again the Pack have had to rely, like all season, on Rodgers arm.

For the Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall had the best season of his young career. Mendenhall rushed for 1273 yards and 13 touchdowns this season behind a suspect offensive line. The one knock on Rashard is that at times he looks tentative running through the hole. Instead of just seeing the hole and exploding through it (get your mind out of the gutter), he will take a step to the left or right before going up field. This most likely has something to do with his pedestrian, 3.9 yards per attempt. The Steelers have had success running the football this year as they have ranked 11th in the NFL in running yards per game with 120.3. The Steelers running game is not what it once was, but is still effective when it needs to be.

The lack of running game for the Packers is troublesome as it makes their team a bit one-dimensional. They will have to rely heavily on Rodgers making plays which can be an issue against a tough Steelers defense that is hard to run against in the first place. The Packers have proven that they are up to task though. In the NFC Championship game, the Chicago Bears did a great job of shutting down the running game and limiting what Rodgers could do but they still came out victorious. The Steelers showed the strength of their running game in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens with Mendenhall breaking the 100 yard mark in the first half of the game, leading the Steelers to 24-3 halftime lead. The weakness in the running game is the Steelers offensive line. They are a make shift unit at this point and with a tough Green Bay run defense, the Steelers running game may have trouble getting traction. When comparing the two units, you just can’t throw out that Green Bay was 24th in rushing, while the Steelers were 11th.

Advantage: Steelers

Wide Receivers:

Green Bay may have one of the best receiving groups in the NFL. There isn’t really anything not to like. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson are all receivers that can come up big and make plays when needed. They are just so difficult to defend against. If you take one receiver out of the game, Rodgers can pick apart the secondary with another. Driver and Nelson are great possession receivers who can catch the underneath route, get yards after the catch and move the chains. Jennings and Jones are the deep threats that can beat a defense over the top. Just think how much better this already great receiving group would be if they hadn’t loss Jermichael Finley for the season. It’s no surprise that the Packers hung 48 points on the Falcons and Rodgers threw for 3 touchdown passes.

The Steelers have trusted wide receiver Hines Ward, who at 35 is still capable of playing quality football. It’s true that he has lost a step, but he is still a punishing blocker that is great at moving the chains and hanging on to a tough catch, smiling all the while. On the other side of the field is the speedster, Mike Wallace. Wallace had his first 1000 yard season and his 21 yards per catch is near the top of the NFL. Wallace has proven difficult to defend against this season and forces opposing defenses to keep a safety deep which helps open up the underneath routes and running game. At the tight end position, the under the radar Heath Miller is another solid target for Ben. He is sure handed an another weapon at the Steelers disposal that is great in the red zone and it a tough matchup for an opposing defense. Then there are the rookies, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. They have both turned out to be solid draft picks, especially Sanders. Brown came up with that huge catch against the Ravens on 4th down which helped to send the Steelers to the AFC Championship game where Sanders came up with the game icing reception against the Jets.

The Steelers receivers have shown that they can hang with the best of them and should be a threat for years to come. Wallace has done a great job at replacing Santonio Holmes (who was traded to the Jets in the off-season) and it looks as if the Steelers finally have a replacement in place for Ward when he finally decides to retire. They don’t drop many balls and Ben has shown complete trust in them over the course of the season. Outside of Ward and Miller though, they are pretty unexperienced and young and it’s going to be interesting to see if playing in a game of this caliber is going to affect them. The Packers receivers have proven that they are some of the best in football and are a big reason they are playing in the Super Bowl. It is so hard to defend against them as anyone of them can come with a play when needed. Jennings could be a number 1 receiver for any team in the league and the rest of those guys could start at the number 2 spot for any team as well.

Advantage: Packers

Offensive Line

Next to the running back position, this is the one of the biggest question marks for the Green Bay Packers. They were 11th in the league in sacks allowed with 38 and according to Football Outsiders (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol), they were ranked 23rd in run blocking and 21st in pass blocking. Even though they lost Ryan Grant during the first game of the season, a part of the reason they have trouble running the ball is because of their line. If the Packers are going to have success moving the ball, their offensive line is going to have to step up. The line is rather young and inexperienced and for the Packers to succeed, they are going to have to hold off a tough Steelers defense.

The same goes for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose offensive line is just as bad. With the loss of surprising rookie center, Maurkice Pouncey, the offensive line took yet another step backwards. Injury as decimated an already questionable line throughout the season. Not only will Pouncey most likely miss the Super Bowl, so will left tackle Max Starks and Willie Colon. Having to put my trust in Doug Legursky at center makes me nervous. The Steelers offensive line allowed 43 sacks during the regular season, good for 8th in the league. Football Outsiders has them ranked 19th in run blocking and 29th in pass blocking.

Both offensive lines are a concern and both will most likely have the biggest impact on this game. Which offensive line holds up against a tough defense will be a big key to this game and will help to determine who wins Super Bowl 45. In this category, it’s not necessarily about who is better but about which one is worse. There is such a fine line between the two teams, it’s nearly impossible to tell.

Advantage: Push

Defensive Line

 Just like the Steelers, the Packers run a traditional 3-4 defense the majority of the time that includes massive nose tackle, BJ Raji. Raji made the key play in the win over the Bears with his interception returned for a touchdown which proved to be the winning points. The Green Bay defensive line was terrific against the pass this year. As a team they recorded 47 sacks and were ranked 4th by Football Outsiders against the pass. They were great against the pass but struggled with run defense. They were 18th in the league against the run, allowing 114.9 yards per game. Green Bay’s defense should be able to get plenty of pressure on Roethlisberger but will need to shut down the Steelers running game to be successful. The matchup that may work in the Packers favor is Raji against Legursky.

The Steelers had the best defense is the league this year and it all starts with their line. Big Casey Hampton anchors the defensive line and forces two offensive lineman to block him. Brett Keisel’s beard plays the end and he is one of the most underappreciated defensive ends in the game. On the other side is Ziggy Hood. It looked like trouble when Aaron Smith went down early in the season like last year, when the defense struggled, especially closing out games. Ziggy Hood stepped in and has been terrific for the Steelers defense all season and has come up big so far in the postseason. Like the Packers, the defensive line is not expected to get much pressure on the quarterback. They are mostly asked to take up blockers, allowing the linebackers to get into the backfield. The Steelers had the best run defense in football, and like I said earlier, it all starts up front.

Advantage: Steelers (only slightly)

Linebackers

This is where the true strength of both of these defenses lie. The Packers have one of the best linebackers in football in Clay Matthews. Matthews has been an absolute machine this year, recording 13.5 sacks, and was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers offense will need to know where he is on every play. He is a game changer. Losing Nick Barnett certainly hurt the defense, but A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, and Erik Walden have picked up the slack created by Barnett’s absence. These are two of the top defenses in the league and part of that is because the linebackers are able to create so much pressure on the quarterback. Blocking this linebacker core is going to be a challenge for the Steelers.

It seems that every year, we are talking about the Steelers linebackers. Going all the way back to Jack Lambert and Gregg Lloyd, the Steelers linebackers are usually some of the best in the business. This year is no different. LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, and James Harrison are a formidable foursome. The Steelers linebackers have accounted for 29.5 sacks of the Steelers 48 sacks this season. Because of Dick Lebeau’s creative defensive schemes, the opposing offensive has no idea where the rush is coming from. All four of these linebackers are great at confusing the offensive line and getting after the quarterback as well as dropping into coverage.

Both defenses have a great linebacker unit, but it’s hard not to give the Steelers the nod here. The Steelers allowed only 62.8 rushing yards per game and 14.5 points per game. They also had one more sack in the regular season than the Packers did and it’s because of front seven. Both of these defenses are difficult to play against.

Advantage: Steelers

Secondary

The Packers secondary is one of the team’s biggest strengths. They are 1st in opposing passer rating at 67.2 and 5th in the league with 194 passing yards allowed per game. Their previously unknown corners, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have really stepped up this season. Add in Pro Bowl cornerback, Charles Woodson and this team is extremely difficult to throw against. The Packers defensive front is so good at getting pressure on the opposing quarterback that Green Bay can go to a nickel or dime formation and confuse the opposing team.

While the Packers secondary is a strength, outside of Troy Polamalu, the Steelers secondary is a liability. Ryan Clark is a solid free safety but he sometimes goes for the big hit instead of the smart play and gets caught out of position. Bryan McFadden is easy to beat, especially deep and I anticipate Rodgers attacking him and William Gay all game long. Ike Taylor is definitely capable of making big plays but is prone to making stupid mistakes. As mentioned, Polamalu can make up for the weakness in the other members of the secondary. Rodgers is going to have to know where he is on every single play. He had 7 interceptions this season, even though he missed 2 games, and can also come up and play the run. If the Packers can neutralize Troy, then I think Rodgers can have a solid game against the Steelers secondary.

While Green Bay may not have had a great season stopping the run, they were fantastic against the pass. They are capable of making that big play and changing the course of the game. The Steelers are going to have to run to set up the pass and Big Ben is going to have to protect the football and not making any mistakes.

Advantage: Packers

Special Teams

I’m not going to go into much detail other than to say I trust Mason Crosby, especially in-doors, more than Shaun Suisham. Suisham has been actually pretty good since the Steelers signed him after cutting Jeff Reed but I still can’t get watching him kick for the Redskins out of my mind. The Steelers have also be known to blow assignments on punt and kick return coverage as evidenced by almost allowing that punt return touchdown by the Ravens which would have put them right back in the game and could easily have changed the course of that game.

Advantage: Packers

Coaching

Mike McCarthy deserves to a lot of credit for guiding his team to the Super Bowl with all the injuries and setbacks the Packers have had this season. He was a career record of 48-32 in the five seasons he has coached the Packers including a 4-2 park in the playoffs.

Mike Tomlin is making his second Super Bowl appearance for the Steelers and he is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. He has benefited from having a great scouting department and front office but has still proven to be an excellent coach. Since taking over the Steelers after Bill Cowher retired, he has coached the Steelers to a 43-21 regular season record and is an impressive 5-1 in the playoffs.

I have to go with experience here and considering this is Tomlin’s second appearance in the big game and only McCarthy’s first, the edge goes to Tomlin. Add in the better regular season record and the horrible time management that McCarthy has shown over the years, it makes it even easier of  a decision.

Advantage: Steelers

So after breaking down the positions groups against one another, do I feel better about this game? Absolutely not. I think this Steelers team plays right into the hands of the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has the ability to pick apart the Steelers secondary and the Packer secondary has the ability to force Roethlisberger to make mistakes. I don’t think Green Bay will be able to run on the Steelers so that will force them to win the game on Rodgers arms. The Packers wide receivers should be able to get open against the Steelers corner’s and Jennings and Jones are going to have opportunities to beat them deep. One of my biggest concerns is the Steelers offense performing against Green Bay’s defense. Steelers offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians has been very unimaginative in his play calling this season. On top of that, I fear that Green Bay’s pass rush to going to terrorize Big Ben all game long. I fear that this game is going to play out the same way that the Packers-Bears game did. The Steelers defense will be able to keep the Packers offense in check for most of the game but Rodgers will make plays and Green Bay will put points on the board. I’m just not so sure that the Steelers will be able answer enough to win the game.

So who do I think will win? I’m afraid to say and quite honestly I’m not really sure. All I am sure of is that this is going to be a close, hard-fought game. I’m going to steal a cliché from John Madden and say whoever makes more plays is going to win. This game will come down to the defense. Who can force more turnovers and commit less penalties. No matter what, we should be in for an entertaining Super Bowl 45.

Mike McCarthy vs Vince Lombardi

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2011 by Joe

I read an article the other week that nearly made me spit out the Mountain Dew that I was drinking. I couldn’t actually believe the words that I was reading. Jim Souhan, a columnist for the Star Tribune actually wrote that the current Green Bay Packers coach, Mike McCarthy, is a better coach than the immortal Vince Lombardi. You can check out the full article here http://www.startribune.com/sports/vikings/114175784.html but here is the opening statement he made:

“McCarthy will need to win about five Super Bowls before most Packers fans will elevate him to Lombardi’s exalted status. I say he’s already a better coach than Vinny, and any Packers fan who doesn’t agree should get with the century and embrace modern developments. Such as electricity, and the forward pass.”

 Maybe we should embrace giving Mr Souhan an electric shock instead. This is so absurd that I couldn’t let it go. It’s been simmering inside of me for a week. Now, I never saw Lombardi coach but I have seen McCarthy coach and lets just say that he has made a lot of curious calls at times.

Let’s take a couple of minutes and break down some of the arguments that were made that McCarthy is a better coach.

1.) Lombardi dominated the league at a time when teams played a 12 or 14 game regular season, needed only one or two wins in the playoffs to win a Championship and there were only 14-16 teams in the NFL at the time.

In the 10 years that Lombardi coached in the NFL, 2 of those season operated with a 12 game schedule after which the NFL moved to a 14 game schedule. Does the fact that McCarthy has to coach 2 more games each season or that he has to coach one or two more games in the postseason make that big of a difference?

Lombardi finished is coaching career with the Washington Redskins with a record of 96-34-6 and a winning percentage of 73.8%. The more impressive record is that he went 9-1 in the playoffs, winning 5 championships in the process, including 3 straight. He also won 9 straight playoff games, a record that wasn’t broken until this decade by Bill Belichick. In fact only two coaches, Guy Chamberlin and John Madden, have a better regular season winning percentage and no one has a better playoff winning percentage than good old Vince.

On the flip side, Mike McCarthy is 48-32 record with the Packers for a winning percentage of 60%. I’m not necessarily knocking McCarthy either because in today’s NFL, that is a really good record. He also did manage to lead his team to 3 playoff wins this season and a Conference Championship. However, before this season he was 1-2 in the playoffs and had only 1 Division Championship under his big belt.

I find it hard to believe that McCarthy would have any more success if the NFL all of a sudden went to a 14 game season and contracted the league to 16 teams. Especially considering in those 2 extra games he is most likely playing one of 12 horrible teams that populate the NFL ranks every season. Just take into consideration that the Packers get to play the Detroit Lions twice a year.

Also, the suggestion that it was easier to win the NFL Championship back then because you only had to win one or team times in a league with fewer teams is a stretch. That can easily be twisted around and say that it might be just as difficult considering fewer teams made the playoffs back in the day.  In 1963 Lombardi’s Packers went 11-2-1 and didn’t make the playoffs.

2.) The run game dominated the league and the forward pass was a second thought.

Wouldn’t this mean that it was harder to win in Lombardi’s time than today? The opposing defense only really had to focus on one aspect of the game, stopping the run. This means that Lombardi had to coach his team to perfection and design great running plays in order to win the game on the ground.

Souhan notes that when the Packers won the 1961 NFL Championship, they ranked 9th in a 14 team league with 168 yards passing per game. To put that in today’s context, the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked 14th in passing yards per game and are going to this years Super Bowl.

Lombardi won consistently with his run to perfection and antiquated “power sweep”. Every defense the Packers faced knew this play was going to be run over and over again yet none of them could stop it. Imagine if McCarthy kept running the same play action pass on every down. I think it is safe to say that the Packers wouldn’t be winning many games and McCarthy would be out of a job. Of course not before he fired his offensive coordinator.

Yes the NFL is a lot more complicated today and the playbook can sometimes be up to 500 pages thick, but all that means is that it is more difficult to figure out what the offense or defense is doing. Not really so in Lombardi’s time.

Lombardi won the same way many teams win today, by running the ball effectively and by having a great defense. His defense ranked in the top 3 of the league in defensive yards allowed in 7 of his 9 years as coach and his running offense ranked in the top 3 yards per game in 7 of his 9 years as well. Something the author for some reason failed to mention. I guess it didn’t have any bearing on comparing the two coaches.

3.) As Souhan puts it “In Lombardi’s NFL, he could line up his assortment of indentured Hall of Famers and run over the opposition” and that free agency or the salary cap did not exist yet.

This one is probably the most difficult to argue against actually and the only valid point that I believe Souhan makes, although there are some flaws. Before free agency and the salary cap was put into place, teams could put a strangle hold on their best players. There wasn’t hardly any turnover. The star running back didn’t jump ship to Chicago for more money. Like I just said, this was somewhat of a valid point but there are some flaws. Lets explore them.

First off, I can definitely argue that the reason Lombardi had so many Hall of Fame players is because he created them. He was an unbelievable motivator and got the most out of his players. I’m not saying that Bart Starr or Ray Nitschke or Paul Hornung wouldn’t have been great players if they didn’t play for Green Bay, but it’s just silly to think that Vince didn’t make them better players. He coached those players up and put them in a position to become winners.

Second, free agency works the other way too. Because of free agency, McCarthy can also bring in great players to fit his scheme every off-season, something Lombardi didn’t really have an option to do. Souhan writes that “McCarthy has been forced, because of free agency and injuries, to remake his team almost weekly.” Free agency has nothing to do with McCarthy having to remake his team on a weekly basis Jim. That once again is just a ridiculous statement. Mike isn’t losing his starting running back because of free agency in the middle of the season. 

I also love this quote by Souhan; “Lombardi relied on one Hall of Fame quarterback, Bart Starr. McCarthy reinvigorated one Hall of Famer, Brett Favre, and may have created another in Rodgers”. What does that even mean? I don’t even understand this argument from him. He starts one of his arguments that the Packers rarely passed then and that the quarterback was a glorified UPS delivery man. Isn’t he sort of contradicting himself there? I also don’t think McCarthy really “reinvigorated” Favre. He wasn’t there that long before he “retired” then went on to the New York Jets. By that token, Brad Childress got the most of Favre in Minnesota when he had his best year as a pro. I guess that means that Childress is a better coach than McCarthy. In regards to Rodgers, maybe McCarthy had a hand in developing him into the top 5 quarterback that he has become, but I think we may be giving the man too much credit.

4.) Physical Fitness and the Tough Guy

Souhan asserts the reason Lombardi’s Packers had such an advantage was that he made his team work out. He doesn’t really elaborate on this point other than the level of physical fitness is much greater in today’s game. Once again, I’m not really sure I understand his point here. If Lombardi’s team worked out harder than the rest of the teams in the league and got them in better shape, then that just means that Lombardi was better at pushing and motivating his players than other coaches in the league. I’m pretty sure that is what makes a good coach. I also find it hard to believe that the rest of the players in the league were not in that great of shape and didn’t work out. I will agree that the league has changed and athletes today (not just football players) are more physically fit than their predecessors but I’m not sure how this means that McCarthy is a better coach.

The other point here that Lombardi demanded toughness and players were expected to play through injuries that they wouldn’t be expected to play through today. Outside of concussions, most players are still expected to play through injuries today. Also, medicine has come a long way since Lombardi’s day. Players can now tear their ACL’s and come back 6-8 months later. If Nitschke had torn his ACL, it might have ended his career. McCarthy actually has more of an advantage in this category than Lombardi does. I’m sure Lombardi lost players to injury and he was forced to come up with a solution just like every other coach has.

5.) Lombardi’s Lambeau Field was different from today’s Lambeau Field and offered more of a home field advantage.

Lombardi had an advantage because the field wasn’t heated like it is today. Read that last sentence again. Yeah, Vince Lombardi won 5 championships and 73% of his games because it’s cold in Green Bay. He never coached a game on the road either. I bet you didn’t know that. Also, due to global warming, it’s now 80 degrees year round in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Packers no longer have to play the two dome teams in their division at Lambeau Field.

The point of this post wasn’t to sit here and blast Mike McCarthy. I think he is a good coach but I do also think he is a bit overrated. In the five years he has been head coach he as led the Packers to one Division Title. He definitely deserves credit for guiding his team past the division rivals Chicago Bears for the Conference Championship and a shot at a Super Bowl. With that said, McCarthy is considered one of  the poorer time managers in the game. Just take a look at the end of the Conference Championship game. The Packers up 21-14 with a few minutes left in the game and the Packers have the ball. Instead of running three straight plays to run down the clock and force the Bears to use their timeouts, he called three straight passes, all of which were incompletions. This gave the Bears a chance to tie the game, which they almost did until Caleb Hanie threw the game icing interception inside Packers territory. That is bad coaching. That’s just one example of some of those questionable calls I mentioned at the beginning of the post and this was in the biggest game of his coaching career up to that point.

Would Lombardi have made the same mistake in such a crucial moment? From everything I have read or seen about the man, I highly doubt it. He was a great coach who knew the game inside and out. He inherited a team that was terrible when he took over as coach and immediately turned the Packers around. Not only was he a great motivator and leader who demanded excellence from his players and got it, he was an innovator. He perfected the “power sweep” and introduced football to the zone blocking scheme which is still used by every football team today. Vince Lombardi helped to make the game what it is today.

Maybe Souhan had meant this article to be tongue in cheek and I just happened to miss it. I sincerely hope so because saying McCarthy is a better coach than Lombardi is just stupid and shows that the man knows absolutely nothing about football or its history. Maybe we can have this debate again in 10 years once McCarthy has lifted the Lombardi Trophy over his head for the fourth or fifth time but until then, the idea that he is a better coach than Mr. Lombardi is laughable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtY8x9PoTXc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpBKzjkpX0Y&feature=related

The Jay Cutler Legacy

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , on January 25, 2011 by Joe

In Sunday’s NFC Championship game, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears for the right to play in the Super Bowl 45 (I hate the roman numerals and refuse to use them). Over the course of the next two weeks, the matchup between the Steelers and Packers will be analyzed from every conceivable angle. Unfortunately for Jay Cutler, so will his courage and mental/physical toughness.

Obviously one of the more interesting plot lines that developed in this game was the Jay Cutler saga. Cutler left the second quarter a couple of seconds early with the Chicago training staff for the locker room. He came out after the half and played one possession before leaving the game for good. He was seen riding a bike in the second half and then standing at the end of bench, away from the rest of his team while Todd Collins then Caleb Hanie took the snaps. Hmmmmm.

There wasn’t a single play during the course of that first half that you could point to and explain how Cutler was hurt. Yes he was hit a couple of times but nothing that looked really all that bad. There was never that moment when we cringed after a big hit. This is the second half of the biggest game Cutler has ever played in and he is standing on the sidelines. This was most definitely curious. He wasn’t on crutches, he didn’t have ice on any part of his body, and he wasn’t really limping around. He just stood on the sideline and pouted.

Pretty much immediately, Cutler was attacked by members of the media and other football players for being a gutless coward. Maurice Jones-Drew, Darnell Dockett and many other current and former players and media lashed out at the quarterback from the comfort and safety of their couches. Check out some of the things that people said about Cutler:

Former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks: “I have to be crawling and can’t get up to come off the field” and “There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart.” Ouch.

Deion Sanders said “I never question a player’s injury, but I do question a player’s heart.”

Arizona Cardinals lineman Darnell Dockett tweeted “If I’m on the Chicago team Jay Cutler has to wait ’til me and the team shower [and] get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room.”

Mark Schlereth, current ESPN analyst said, “”As a guy [who has had] 20 knee surgeries you’d have to drag me out on stretcher to leave a championship game.”

Maurice Jones-Drew tweeted,”All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one.” On a side note, is there any way to take a tweet out of context?

That was just a very small sampling of the darts thrown Jay Cutler’s way. The guy just got repeatedly crushed. I have to be honest and admit that I jumped on the Cutler hater bandwagon at the time as well. It just didn’t make sense to me. This was the biggest game of the Bears season and there is the starting quarterback sulking on the sidelines with no apparent injury. There is definitely a difference between being hurt and injured and Cutler just didn’t look injured.

Now that I have had two days to digest the events of the NFC Championship game and have found out that Cutler did in fact have a second degree sprain of his MCL, I have grown a little softer on bashing Cutler for not playing out the remainder of the game. The guy hurt the knee on the leg he plants with when dropping back to pass. He was playing behind an offensive line that wasn’t playing very well and he had already been hit several times. The Green Bay pass rush forced Cutler to move around and out of the pocket that entire first half. Does any of that sound very easy on a bum leg? Maybe it was in the best interest of the Bears to replace Cutler. Lovie Smith did end up saying in his press conference that it was his and the training staff’s call to remove Cutler from the game. I mean, other than those two interception, Caleb Hanie actually played really well and almost forced that game into overtime.

Cutler’s toughness has been called into question but should it? Is one game enough to paint a complete picture of player, even if it is a huge game? It definitely is debatable.

During the regular season, the Bears offense had given up 56 sacks and had given up 36 last season. That’s a lot of sacks! Cutler got crushed this year during the regular season and he only ended up missing one game, the first of his career, when the training staff wouldn’t clear him to play after sustaining a nasty concussion. Cutler has been hit more times than Lindsay Lohan during his career and has only missed one game.  Not to mention that he has to live everyday with diabetes. That sounds like a pretty tough quarterback to me.

Not only that, but by all appearances, his teammates are standing behind him as well. Brian Urlacher, one of the toughest players in the league and a great teammate (take that into consideration when judging his comments for yourself) answered all the critics by saying “Jay was hurt. I don’t question his toughness. He doesn’t bitch and complain when he gets hit.” I do think it’s fair to take all that into consideration when deciding on whether to label Cutler a gutless punk or not.

Part of the issue at hand here is that prior to this game, Cutler had already helped to paint a negative picture of himself. He is one of the most hated players in the NFL. He is hated not because he beats women, or drives drunk, but because he isn’t very outgoing. He doesn’t do very well with the media and it always appears that the guy just generally hates life. Very rarely do you see the man smile when out on the football field and his body language at times has been horrible. He has a clear disdain for any member of the media. I have heard Cutler be refered to as arrogant and as a punk and as a whiner. The standard impression of Cutler around the league is that he is an a-hole. In wrestling he would be refered to as “The Heel”. Anyone remember the tantrum he threw when Josh McDaniels took over the Broncos job which ended up leading to the Bears giving up a small fortune in draft picks to get Cutler? He also dates Kristin Cavallari of MTV’s The Hills. Not helping buddy.

Is this impression of Cutler entirely fair? Probably not. It’s tough to judge a person solely on how they interact in the public arena. I’m not sure how much I would like it if someone was pushing a microphone in my face everyday looking for a story or how I would react. Not everyone is comfortable in front of a TV camera with a mic in their face. There have been plenty of times when our perception of people has changed once we found what they were like in their private life (see Tiger Woods, Big Ben). Of course guys like Cutler are getting paid a lot of money so a little kindness and gentleness with the media is expected. So is toughness for that matter.

You do have to ask yourself the question; would Cutler have played the rest of the game if he wasn’t having an awful day? Cutler was 6/14 for 80 yards, no touchdowns, 1 interception, and a quarterback rating of 31.8. That is a really bad first half for a quarterback playing in a conference championship game. That’s a really bad first half in any game. There have been plenty of rumblings about Cutler shrinking like George Coztanza in big moments. I know this isn’t a perfect indicator but his completion percentage drops by at least five points on third downs. That’s when quarterbacks make the difference. You can’t obviously put all the blame on Cutler but keep in mind that this is first time he was played in the postseason since he was in high school.

One argument for Cutler staying in that game was that this was the biggest game of his career and that he may never again get the chance to play in a championship game. The other argument against Cutler is that other players have played through the pain with significant injuries. However, those players got the benefit of “the shot”. A pain killing injection so they don’t have to face too much pain.

Why didn’t Cutler just take the shot and stay in the game? Because of his type 1 diabetes, he can’t. It’s easy to sit there and blast a guy when sitting in the comfort of your own home when the thermostat is turned up to 75 degrees but it’s impossible to know exactly what was going through Cutler’s mind or what he was feeling when he left that game on Sunday with the temperature hovering around freezing. None of us were out on that field on Sunday. None of use were in Cutler’s shoes. We have no idea what was going on with him at that moment. I don’t think one instance, even if it’s in a huge game, should define a person. Especially when that person has shown over the course of his career that he is willing to stand in that pocket, take a beating, and keep getting up over and over again. Give the guy a break.

No matter what you think about Jay Cutler, whether it’s fair or not, is that this game will be with him for a long time. Him not playing the rest of the game will  be directly tied into whatever legacy he creates for himself, much the same as Donovan McNabb and that Super Bowl performance. This game will always hang over this head and his toughness will always be questioned. It just doesn’t seem very fair to me to call him a coward.

Same Old Song and Dance…

Posted in Sports with tags , , , on January 13, 2011 by Joe

I took a second from thinking about how the conversation went when Ben Roethlisberger asked that girl’s father for her hand in marriage to contemplate who runs a couple NFL franchises and if they have control of all their mental faculties. The two franchises that brought about these thoughts are the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders.

Let’s review the recent facts: the Bengals just finished off a 4-12 season where they came in with moderately high expectations since they won the AFC North title and went 10-6 in the prior season but their two loud-mouth receivers and quarterback did not have great years and their defense was even worse….oh and they are bringing back their Head Coach that does not have a contract for the 2011 season. By contrast, the Raiders exceeded sane expectations by going 8-8 after dumping their bust of a #1 overall pick, failing to win more than 5 games for the past 7 seasons, and generally resembling a Jerry Springer family in terms of dysfunctionality….oh and they are firing their head coach. The ordinary prudent person would consider these scenarios and end results to be flip-flopped however owners Al Davis and Mike Brown fall outside the bounds of ordinary. These two teams have caused me not to focus on the egregious conduct in other NFL outposts like Denver, Houston, and Tennessee because the Bengals and Raiders have made so many poor decisions over such a long time that even Lindsay Lohan’s parents would be concerned with their self-destructive behavior.

The sign the Cincinnati Bengals are sending to their fan base is that mediocrity and inconsistency is not only accepted, it is welcomed with open arms. When Marvin Lewis was hired in 2003 he started off by winning 8, 8, and 11 games which was worthy of a state holiday in Ohio after the dumpster fire the Bengals had been in recent years. Following those first three years, the off the field legal issues started for the players and Cincinnati won 8, 7, 4, 10, and 4 games in the next five seasons. There is value to continuity in the NFL where a lot of coaches do not seem to get a long time to turn franchises around once they are selected to take over. Back to Marvin Lewis, only 3 current coaches have more seniority than he does; one will be playing more football this season (Bill Belichick, another made the playoffs…again (Andy Reid), and the other just won a power struggle with the franchise quarterback and does not appear to be going anywhere (Jeff Fisher). Lewis does appear to be able to co-exist with the Brown family who are notoriously cheap to the point where their scouting staff is the smallest in the NFL. Lewis was a defensive guru with Baltimore and Washington yet the defense in Cincinnati was not considered strong until reputed coordinator and certified bad mofo Mike Zimmer was brought in. The defense regressed this season and the team itself was in shambles. Coming off a division title, they had the worst record of all the division champions from 2009, even the Arizona Cardinals who lost four of their best players in the off-season: Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, and Kurt Warner. The other two division winners who stumbled from 2009 to 2010 were the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys who had their coaches fired during the year while finishing with a better record than the Bengals. The AFC North is hyper competitive so a non-playoff year can be excused but going from first to worst in such a short time is tough to stomach, even for the beaten down Bengals fans.

Playing devil’s advocate, possibly the ownership realizes the huge strain placed on Lewis and quarterback Carson Palmer that took place by pairing Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson for this disastrous season. The Bengals had one more win than those two had reality TV shows in 2010 and 4 more Academy Awards than Jack Black will ever have. Statistically speaking, neither T.O. or Chad had an awful season. I have no idea what went on in the locker room and the negative influence the two receivers had on the rest of the team. Palmer may have had his worst season then did a solid job in the last few games without Owens and Johnson when they were both injured. Perhaps keeping both coach and quarterback is ownership’s way of offering an “our bad” to them with a chance for a do-over next season. Palmer could fare better running the huddle with Jermaine Gresham, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, and Jordan Shipley staring back at him instead of the diva twins. Lewis could have better control of the locker room. Those are both possibilities but just possibilities like Alex Smith turning into a quality starter for the 49ers or the Detroit Lions going 16-0 in 2011. I could be totally wrong about this and the Bengals could earn a first round bye in the playoffs in 2011 instead of starting vacation then like this year. If history has told us anything, they will be better and I’ll guess they may even win 7 or 8 games to find themselves right back in the same position next season of staying the mediocre course.

Mediocre was a large improvement for the Oakland Raiders in 2010. Having finally rid themselves of #1 overall pick Jamarcus Russell who Oakland selected in 2007 over Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, et al; the Raiders steadied their franchise to go 8-8. The season featured new quarterback Jason Campbell game managing while the strengths of the team were a reinvigorated ground attack led by Darren McFadden and a stingy pass defense centered around Nnamdi Asomugha and a diverse group of pass rushers. The Raiders ranked second in both passing defense and rushing yards during the 2010 season. The man who was at the helm of this group was Tom Cable who the players actually seemed to like and play hard for after enduring six coaches in the last  12 years. When Cable was cut loose, it sent shock waves through the Oakland locker room. If you ever needed further proof that the Raiders are not your normal NFL franchise, it came in the form of one of their leaders speaking out: a punter. Shane Lechler is among the NFL’s best punters and is considered a locker room presence as one of the most tenured players in Oakland before he totally ripped the team for their decisions. Actually, he may even be more respected within the locker room now. Lechler surely does not speak for all their players yet there is more than a shred of truth when he says that free agents might want to depart because of the change at head coach. Lechler left out the other reasons that they would want to leave such as an owner who is a loose cannon and more distracting than the Laura Vandervoort photos I see on some other guys computer as I type this (sample distraction to see what I mean: http://bit.ly/idUcxm).  Al Davis seems enamored with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and looks sure to promote him to head coach. Jackson may very well be a successful head coach however this was not the time to chop out the legs of your leader, when the team was finally making progress. If Davis wanted to get rid of Cable, he surely had a chance when the bizarre story hit the news in August 2009 where Cable allegedly punched assistant coach Randy Hanson which fractured his jaw or following that when ESPN ran a report that he had physically abused two ex-wives. In an uncharacteristic move, Davis stood by his coach despite a modest record of 9-19 over parts of two seasons. Just when it seems the team is taking some steps forward, Davis interferes and a cloud of uncertainty looms with Cable’s firing.

Raiders fans have to hope it is not “business as usual” this off-season. Once Vince Young was released from the Tennessee Titans for many reasons (immaturity was my favorite), I immediately thought that Davis would give him a ridiculous contract to be their quarterback. The steady Campbell still has one year remaining on his contract however his biggest flaw was that he did not light it up like V-Diddy could. Young has an even interception to touchdown ratio in his NFL career and was touted as a “only stat that matters is wins” guy. And you know what Al Davis says: Just Win Baby. When Young was coming out of college in 2006, many thought the Raiders were very intrigued at the chance to draft him. Young went earlier to the Titans and Oakland selected safety Michael Huff (who has quietly gone from bust to solid contributor). That’s not all the issues with free agency as Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley, Zach Miller, and most notably Nnamdi Asomugha will be free agents in off-season. Hopefully for the Raiders sake, none has talked to Shane Lechler lately. Asomugha hitting the open market will be met with great anticipation. Like “what’s going to happen when Angela finds out her new boyfriend is a closeted homosexual on the Office” level anticipation (maybe that’s just me but that situation has played out so perfectly down to Oscar calling it out instantly, maybe gay-dar does exist). Nnamdi failed to hit the astronomically high performance clauses in his contract thereby making him an unrestricted free agent, he was as good as gone. Turning 30 in the off-season, Asomugha is watching the time tick off his NFL clock and if he wants a ring then the Raiders automatically fall down the list of teams he would sign with. Seymour had the franchise tag slapped on his this season and pending what the NFLPA works out with the league, he could be seeking a team on his own free will if a franchise tag is not available. If Seymour and Asomugha can find their own new homes, they won’t be shopping in the Oakland neighborhood. A massive overhaul of the Raiders roster would be a roll of the dice and how many Oakland fans have seen that movie before and know how it ends?

Mike Brown and Al Davis have consistently set back their franchises and with their coaching decisions following the 2010 season, they appear to have done it again. Fans in Cincinnati and Oakland can always hope the NFLPA is savvy enough to have the 25th Amendment written into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement because their owners would surely be removed from office on grounds of insanity. New leadership in the front office could be the only chance the Bengals and Raiders have for win a Super Bowl in the foreseeable future.

This guest column was written by Brian from the Overtime with Brian and Friends podcast which often features the NFL ramblings of this blog’s host. The show can be followed on Twitter @OTwithB