Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hoos On the Move

Virginia Cavaliers are on the rise. Three starters from the 2005 Virginia offense spent the past weekend in Indianapolis at the NFL Rookie Combine. While the three men participating entered Indy with different expectations, each left pleased with their performances, and knowing they will need to continue to show improvement heading into the April Draft.

Tailback Wali Lundy tested out at tailback on Saturday. His speed was surprising running a 4.43 40-yard dash time. This was a good enough time to catch the eye of several NFL scouts. All of his field agility test scores were also impressive. Lundy was a standout tailback every season he was at Virginia. Despite sharing time most of his career with now Jaguars RB Alvin Perman; Lundy was able to establish himself as a threat in the Virginia attack. Lundy was a touchdown machine during his time at Virginia setting an ACC record of 52 career touchdowns. What will hurt Lundy this most in this years draft is the depth of the RB pool. The 2006 draft will probably see four or more RB’s taken in the first round. With names like Bush, White, and Williams ahead of him it is easy to overlook the talents of a Wali Lundy. The combine was a success for Lundy he was able to show off his skill and more importantly his potential. Look for him to go in the mid rounds of the draft, my prediction is early day two; fourth or fifth round.

Quarterback Marcus Hagans worked out this past weekend, and he is attempting the make the transition from QB to wideout. This is a position switch that has become common in recent years. It may be a good time for Hagans to enter the draft and make the position switch. Super Bowl XL MVP Antwan Randle-El spent his colligate years at Indiana playing QB, and made the position switch to receiver once being picked up by the Steelers, Hines Ward was also a former college QB who has become a standout receiver. NFL teams are looking for players who can add that extra wrinkle into their offense, by being able to run a gadget play successfully. Hagans is fully aware of the potential and the productiveness of a gadget play. Virginia much like the Steelers had run a trick plays almost once every game. During his time at UVA Hagans returned punts, played WR, RB, and started 24 games as a QB. His ability to play multiple positions will not go unnoticed. Marcus Hagans will need to workout again for NFL scouts, if he wants to improve his draft stock. Hagans ran a 4.61 40-yard dash, which was surprisingly slow. His route running ability was impressive it did not hurt that he Jay Cutler throwing him the ball. Hagans will be a second day draft pick.

D’Brickashaw Ferguson went into the NFL Combine as a top prospect, and that status never wavered through the weekend. Ferguson is without a doubt the best offensive tackle in the 2006 draft. He tested strong in the strength test, and ran in the low 5’s for his 40- yard dash time. The best number Ferguson put up at the combine had nothing to do with strength or speed, it was 312. The only knock against him throughout his career was his weight. Playing most of his colligate career under 300 pnds, Ferguson was thought to be an undersized NFL Lineman. At the Senior Bowl he weighed in at 298, but by the time last Friday Ferguson was a solid 312 pnds. He put on the weight, and it does not appear to slow him down, and his frame can definitely support the extra padding also a very important factor. D’Brickashaw Ferguson will be a first round draft picks, probably a top 10. If not for Reggie Bush, there is a good chance Ferguson could have been the first pick. Houston needs a lineman more than they need a QB, or a tailback; however a talent like Bush or Young is too great to pass on.

Young's Miscues

Despite not taking a snap, or jogging to the end of the locker room, Vince Young has still managed to make headlines at the combine in Indianapolis. This time it’s not Young’s athletic ability making headlines, it is his mental capabilities. The buzz surrounding the Texas QB is the score he received on the Wonderlic test.

The Wonderlic test is the NFL’s version of an IQ test that combines SAT, LSTAT, MCAT, and other various standardized test procedures into one. All players looking to enter the NFL take the Wonderlic test, and it is not uncommon to take it more than once. The Wonderlic examines a player’s ability to make decision, recognize patterns, and solve rational problems. Unlike an IQ test a poor score on the Wonderlic does not mean a player is stupid, or incapable of playing. In all honesty it is hard to pin down exactly what it means.

The one factor that is expected from the results of the Wonderlic test is the ability of QB’s to do well on the exam. Quarterback is known as the thinking position, so it is logical that teams look for QB’s with high scores. At last years combine Alex Smith had the best score with a 40. This year it is Matt Leinhart leading the upcoming rookies with a score of 35. Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler scored a 29 on his test. Both of these gentlemen took the Wonderlic before the Combine opened last Wednesday, and will not be retesting.

Vince Young did not fair as well as his QB counterparts in the draft. Reports from Houston say Young scored a 6 on the first Wonderlic test he took before the Combine. While these reports have not been proven accurate at this time they have placed doubts in the minds of GM’s and Coaches around the NFL.

This weekend Vince Young’s agent released a report stating Young retook the Wonderlic and achieved a 16. Vince Young took the Wonderlic a third time this weekend in Indianapolis; those results will not be known for several weeks.

A 16 is far better than the original 6 that was reported, it is still not enough to impress many GM’s. When one scout was asked about Vince Young’s scores were proven accurate would he still be a top five pick his response was simple “Sure…as a wide receiver, though.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Say it aint so Ricky

Ricky Williams is in trouble again. Busted for failing yet another league drug test; the fourth one. This may be the straw to break the camels back, a fourth positive test equals a one year suspension. It is unclear what Ricky has been up to in the last few months, but this is a major ordeal that he needs to face up and figure out in the very near future.

The league released the news Monday morning, informing the world that Ricky Williams failed one of the multitudes of drug test he is subjected to. The instant response was “I knew it!! Ricky couldn’t possibly stay clean for that long.” But not so fast, as more evidence began to trickle in it is becoming more apparent that this case may go deeper than any of us previously thought.

Since returning to the NFL in August due to monetary reasons, Ricky Williams has undergone a transformation that we have not previously seen in sports. We all knew that Ricky had a history of marijuana, and he was a free spirit, who was looking for direction. At the same time, Ricky has lived a tumultuous NFL career, looking for serenity, but routinely failing. For a long time Ricky was able to find that release through drugs. Then came the suspensions, a retirement, arbitration, and the small issue of 8.7 million dollars. Ricky realized that he needed football and was going to have to find a way to make amends with the game he loved to hate. What was his answer, focus on himself through Yoga?

Ricky Williams is using yoga, and the teachings associated with it to transform his life, so he can find happiness. Williams spent time in Northern California studying the arts of holistic medicine. During his time there Williams has changed his entire approach to life. A new diet caused him to lose close to thirty pounds, which had him coming into training camp last fall looking like a shadow of the bruising running back he once was. Williams is a believer is living life as naturally as possible. He no longer eats meat, and lives a vegin lifestyle. The man who once smoked on a regular basis no longer puts anything into his body that is not 100% natural, and I for one believe him.

This is why his failing a drug test comes as such a shock. Williams is currently living on a yoga farm in India, where he has been for the past several months since the end of the Dolphins football season. It is unclear exactly when the test took, but it is certain that it was after Ricky began his transformation. When asked about the recent test, friends and family of Williams all agreed, that it would be shocking if Ricky was on marijuana, because of his natural lifestyle.

What is making this an even more intriguing story is the report that it was not marijuana that Williams tested positive for, but rather some other agent. This is even more out of character for the star RB. Despite a history of drug use, he has never shown any desire to experiment with hard drugs, and judging by he new anorexic look it is doubtful that it was steroids that he tested positive for.

So the question remains what was in Ricky Williams System?

There are several potential answers to that question. The drug test NFL players are subjected to be incredibly sensitive. Too much water in a urine sample constitutes a positive test. That seems possible, a fully yoga lifestyle means you must drink a lot of water. Another possibility is who knows what Ricky is ingesting into his system while he eats his roots and herbs; he probably is not sure of all of them. Not saying that he is doing anything illegal, but it is very possible he had taken something unknowingly (not in a MLB type of way though its not flaxseed oil I assure you). Another possibility is the NFL assumes a missed drug test as a failed test. Ricky Williams does not travel to the normal player destinations; you won’t find him soaking up sun in South Beach. Rather he prefers to spend his time in a tent in Australia, or wandering across India. I doubt that many testers are willing to trace across India to find Ricky.

Currently Williams is trying to process an appeal to the NFL. It is unclear exactly what basis he will file the appeal on. This writer hopes that he is clean, and he can continue on his path of redemption. Ricky Williams is a lot of things, but more than anything it is alone, as he struggles to fine exactly where he fits in, in this world. I wish him the best of luck through this process.

Pro Bowl Snoozer

The NFL Pro-Bowl took place Sunday afternoon from Honolulu Hawaii, with the NFC emerging victorious in a sloppy 23-17 victory. The 2006 Pro-Bowl mirrored much of the 2006 football season, sloppy slow and on the boring side. The Pro-Bowl is supposed to be a game that showcases the skill of the offensive players, and a high scoring extravaganza. QB’s get the opportunity to throw the ball around the field to the receivers they only dream of having on their teams, and rack up impressive stats across the board. The only impressive statistic on Sunday was the number 10, marking the number of combined turnovers between the teams. Six interceptions and four fumbles plagued both teams on offense and special teams, as neither team could put together an effective drive or a big play. High winds, and an early game shower did not help the game either, as QB’s from the NFC and AFC had trouble controlling the new wet slick balls.Why was the Pro-Bowl so sloppy? There are a number of answers to that question. First off, anytime you get players from different teams playing together team chemistry is going to be difficult to generate in a week. Football is the ultimate team sports, and it takes all eleven men on a team to make an offense work. It takes weeks and months of training for players to get their rhythm down and be comfortable with playing with each other. This is why QB’s and receivers get together at their homes in May and June to go through passing trees. It is why we see Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning on the field two hours before a game going through their progressions. It takes time to build that relationship with the other players around you. The Pro-Bowl is not like the NBA All Star game where five stars can come together and simply freelance their way through it. Another reason for the sloppy play is the restrictions that are places on Pro-Bowl defenses. The restrictions were created to help protect the offense players and generate more offense but the opposite has happened. Some of the restrictions include no linebacker blitzs, one of the safeties must remain between the hash marks, no defensive line stunts. On the offensive side of the ball, teams have to line up in the basic set formations we alllearned in high school. This has taking much o the offensive scheming out of the game and left playbooks bland. So what happens is you have the best defensive players in the league dropping six guys back into a prevent/zone coverage. Making it near impossible to complete a pass over 3-4 yards, and no one wants to see short dink and dunk passes in an all star game. After all it is the Pro-Bowl and what would be cooler than watching Peyton Manning throw a 60 yard pass down field to Chad Johnson. They tried that, and it failed, there is to bomb a pass down field when the four best DB’s in the NFC are sitting back playing centerfield waiting for a ball to float their way. The offenses in the Pro-Bowl need to be freed up from the restrictions currently placed on them. The reason why so many big plays occur during the regular season is because of the mismatches coordinators are able to create. Getting a receiver crossing the middle and forcing a linebacker to cover them, as they find that seem between DB’s and LB’s. Having blown coverage’s because so many receivers are coming at a defense When the DB’s can sit back it takes the receivers longer to find the open space, and when the O-Line cannot double team, the Pro-Bowl defensive line is just too powerful to hold off long enough for the play to develop.Finally the quality of play in the Pro-Bowl is lacking because the players are not fully prepared for the game. During a normal week of the season, the majority of the week is spent with the team gathering together with their position coaches, watching film. When they are not in the classroom, the players are on the field as a team running practice. The week leading into the Pro-Bowl is more like a summer camp for football players. They bring down tons of family and friends to soak up the Hawaii sun. Most of the players spend hours of the week going from newscaster to newscaster cutting interviews. Standout athletes spend time going to celebrity flag football games on the beach and competing for bragging rights in the skills competitions. The rest of the time they are gathered around the pool having cocktails playing cards and telling stories of past glory. The mood around the players is light and carefree; their focus is hardly on the game. The carefree athomesphere before the game translates onto the field as they are the players commit simple errors that stem from a lack of concentration.The Pro-Bowl is a fun energetic weekend, if you are there to enjoy the beach air and the cocktails by the pool. For the average fan who watched the game after being snowed in by the snow storm that buried much of the east coast, the game is less than entertaining. The rating shares show that the Winter Olympics had a better draw than the Pro-Bowl received. The Pro-Bowl promises lots of glitz and glamour with high power potent offenses, and it fails at delivering on those promises. Till they change the rules and allow offenses to scheme and create the mismatches that allow them to shine during the regular season the game will all be on the dull side. While we wait for that time we can continue to watch guys in ugly Hawaii shirts, and players walking through the motions of playing football.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Wie's Dog and Pony Show

Will someone tell Michelle Wie and her parents to just let it go? Please for the sake of the PGA the LPGA and sports fans everywhere, just drop it. Today for the fourth time of her young career Michelle Wie teed it off with men in the PGA Tours Sony Open near her family home in Hawaii. And again for the fourth time it appears she will not make the cut as she currently sits 9 over through the first day putting her 14 strokes off the lead.Now, do not get me wrong, I am not anti women. I have no problems with women being able to cross over and compete on the PGA. That being said, currently the only person I can think of with the skills to play on the PGA and be competitive is Anika Sorenstam and unfortunately she has made it clear she has no interest in playing on the PGA Tour in the near future. If someone wants to compete on the PGA Tour the have every right to, but for the integrity of both tours that person needs to be competitive, or at the very lest do not beat a dead horse.Michelle Wie made the transition from amateur to pro late in the summer of 2005. Since that time, she botched a finish in her first LPGA event and cost herself over 200 thousand dollars in prize money. Wie has endless amounts of potential andtalent. She already has a massive drive, and deft touch around the greens. All of this will translate over into a lucrative career. Every record that Anika is currently setting, Michelle has the opportunity to break them in a few short years. However, at the age of 16 Wie still have lots of maturing to do before she can become a champion on the LPGA. These are the years where Wie could be honing her killer instinct, by dominating the armature tour. She should be learning to win with grace and poise. There is no doubt that Tiger Woodsposed the talent to turn pro at the age of 17, but rather he remained an amateur and destroyed the competition. That confident stride he portrayed when winning his third straight amateur U.S. Open is the same stride we see now as he approaches the 18th at Augusta on a Sunday afternoon. Right now Wie is in Hawaii attempting the futile once again. The first time she tried her skills on the PGA Tour it was interesting, because it was rare to see a lady on the PGA, and to compound that, it was even rarer to see someone so young play in a PGA event. However, now I just feel sorry for Michelle Wie. Now it is a side show, and the novelty is gone. We all know Michelle Wie is talented and can play golf at a high level, just not quite at that level yet. At the age of 16 of her parents are parading her around like a dog and pony show during these PGA tour events. She is falling so far behind in the first round, that no one is watching the second round to see her.I want to see Michelle Wie do well on LGPA Tour; I want to see her do well on the PGA Tour. Right now she is not prepared to do either, and till she is, I rather she be someone perfecting her skills. That way when she does take the PGA by storm, makes the cut and maybe win a PGA event it will be a major story, and not an under card to multiple failures.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Meet Me at the Monkey Bars

The war of words has continued. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson have entered into a war of words that comes off more like a group of school kids giggling in the corner as they send mean instant messages to their rival nerd gang across the room.

The origins of this feud can be traced back to Phil’s first stint as the Lakers head coach, when he complained about the influence Mark Cuban had on the games when played in Dallas. Earlier this week Coach Jackson rekindled the rivalry after complaining about Cuban’s influence, saying this about the refs, “And those guys are nervous Nellies.” Jackson went on to say he knows there is immense pressure on the officials when they go to ref a game in Dallas.

Mark Cuban is the most vocal owner in the NBA, and he works to get his team every advantage he can. Cuban routinely sends tapes of games to the NBA offices to review the refs officiating. Its actions like these that cause Phil Jackson to cringe and feel the refs are too clammed up to ref a game down the middle.

After hearing these comments Mark Cuban did what any computer savvy mongrel would do and he went to his blogsite, and produced a blog of venom effectively calling Phil Jackson out to meet him by the swing set after school. Mark Cuban used his PC to thrust verbal jabs at Jackson via his blog

“I Own Phil Jackson. Not literally of course. That thrill belongs to the smartest businesswoman in professional sports, Jeannie Buss....he must now be considered my bucket boy."

Cuban went on to toot his own horn and claim how he has mastered the Zen Master, and rendered him helpless. Cuban also seems to be believed that his presence can control what Phil does, and he is the reason that Phil miss used his timeouts, and took two delay of game penalties.

Listen up Mark Cuban, you’re a good owner, I respect anyone who has a passion for their job as much as you do. If we could all have that passion in our own jobs, we would be much more effective workers and an effective society. That being said lets not get ahead of ourselves. Mark Cuban is little more than an annoying gnat swarming around the court for the opposing coaches. It is possible he works the refs up to a point where they cannot effectively perform their jobs. He does not keep any coach from effectively doing their job, I don’t care if your Phil Jackson, or Tito Jackson. If memory serves correctly, Phil Jackson’s Lakers have eliminated the Mavericks from the playoffs on more than one occasion. Where Mark Cubans influence on the Zen Master was when he let Kobe loose for 62 points in three quarters then had him rest in the fourth?
The war of words between these two men is sophomoric, I would hope that Mark Cuban has something more important to do than sit at his computer all day blogging about his hatred for Phil Jackson. (Least I hope so because that’s my job) Hopefully we will not

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Super Bowl Bust

Like most of America I spent yesterday evening glued to my television watching Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. There was one problem, this years Super Bowl was one of the most lackluster games I have ever seen. Rather than looking like two of the leagues best teams playing in the biggest arena of the year, I saw two teams mucking through a game in what looked like a pre-season exhibition.

Super Bowl XL ended with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming away with a 21-10 victory, and future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis riding off into the sunset as a champion. This had been the only story surrounding the Super Bowl, and it was good to see it fore filled. There are few players who played the game with the poise, and the class that Jerome Bettis did. While his stats may not have been impressive on Sunday, his previous years of service were more than enough to give him the right to be a Super Bowl Champion. Thank you for letting us all ride along with you Jerome.

As for the rest of the game, it boiled down to little more than glitz and smoke that amounted into a big flock of nothing. Both teams came out and played the entire first half flat and the majority of the second half they were stale. The teams appeared more like a lowly college team coming into a bowl game after six weeks off instead of the best in the AFC and NFC. Passes sailed high, QB’s and receivers had miscommunications on routes. On special teams there were missed field goals, muffed punt receptions, and holding penalties negating yards. Once again all tell tale signs of unpolished teams that have lost their rhythm.

It is difficult to say which team had the worse day, I guess one could say it was the Seahawks as their mistakes cost them more since they did lose the game. Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck finished the day going 26-49 for 273 yards, 1 pick and 1 TD. Not a bad day, but by no means a good day if you’re playing in the Super Bowl. The pick he threw was a costly one in the second half, at a moment when Seattle had an opportunity to regain control of the game. Regular season MVP Shaun Alexander carried the ball 20 times for 95 yards. While those are impressive stats, Alexander never established himself as a threat during the game, and you never had the feeling he could break one to change the pace of the game. The problems for the Seahawks were not just confined to the players on the field. Mike Holmgren and the rest of the Seahawks coaching staff failed their team and crucial moments of the game. As time wound down at the end of the first half Seattle was down 7-3 and marching the ball down field. Thanks to blowing about twenty seconds while trying to call a play, the Seahawks cost themselves a chance to score some points going into the half. In the fourth quarter the two minute drill once again proved to be too difficult for the Seahawks to execute as they wasted time trying to get play calls correct, and ended up costing them any opportunity to the tie the ball game. As one writer said earlier today, “Mike Holmgren had the worse time management problem since President Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina.”

The mediocrity bug was not confined to the Seahawks Pittsburgh did everything they could to lose the game. For the Steelers the problems began with a defense that was dominated during the first quarter, but somehow managed to only give up three points. Darrell Jackson tied a Super Bowl record with five receptions in the first quarter. Hasselbeck and company were able to move the ball against the touted Steelers defense almost with ease. Yet, it was as if a barrier was around the red zone and it was not the Steel Curtain, but a yellow flag. Penalties kept the Seahawks from scoring not the Steelers blitz. The Steelers blitz was picked up time and time again by the Seahawks all pro offensive line, and Hasselbeck was able to find soft spots in the zone which explains the semi-gaudy numbers he showed. On the offensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s numbers are surprising. They were dominated in everyway by the Seahawks, and the stats they did acquire are definitely misleading. QB Ben Roethlisberger had his worse day of the season, going 9-21 for 123 yards and two picks. This was good enough to give him a QB rating of 22.6, which I am pretty sure is the minimal amount they start you with (like getting a 200 on the SAT). The vaulted Steelers rushing attack was held silent as Bettis had 14 carries for 43 yards. Speedy Willie Parker had the bulk of the Steelers rushing yards with 75. All of those came on his TD scamper to start the second half. Hines Ward was the Super Bowl MVP for his performance which was impressive. 5 catches 123 yards and 1 TD reception on a Randle El toss. The Steelers had chances to make blow the game open, but an interception by Roethlisberger on the goal line nixed any chances of that. The one thing the Steelers were able to do successfully was burn clock with the game on the line.

Many people today have mouthed off about the officiating in the game on Sunday. I’m not going to waste my time doing that. If you want a rant on the Refs go check out ESPN Page 2. Yes, the Refs blew some big calls, but Seattle blew even bigger simple plays. Jeremy Stevens dropped three passes, and was benched in the second half. Its performances like that that cost a team the Super Bowl, not ticky tack penalties.

Super Bowl XL was not one for the ages. If not for the Jerome Bettis story it could easy fall into the annals of forgotten games. Most of the hype going into Sunday was purely media driven as they looked to find anything of interest to talk about to keep the hype alive. It should come as no surprise that the game was unable to come through with a blow out performance.

Congratulations Pittsburgh you finally have one for the thumb.

Earning Respect

Earning RespectThe Seattle Seahawks are ready to enter into unsheltered waters on Sunday were they will play in the first Super Bowl in franchise history. For Seahawk fans this has been twenty two years coming. Seattle was the best team in the NFC all season, and they may be the NFL’s best kept secret, till they are unleashed on Sunday.Somehow most of America has missed the fact that the Seattle Seahawks are a very good team, and it is not a fluke that they made it to the Super Bowl. Seattle may not have the national following of the Steelers, or the big names or personalities, but that does not mean they are lacking one bit in the talent category. Seattle is anchored by NFL MVP Shaun Alexander who led the league in rushing during the regular season with over 1800 yards. Alexander shook his playoff jinxes during the NFC conference championship where he broke out for a 137 yard performance. In the past the knock against him has always been that Shaun disappears during the big games, but right now, Alexander is saying he is here and ready to play.Shaun’s partner in crime this season has been QB Matt Hasselbeck, who has matured into a legit Pro-Bowl quarterback this season. Hasselbeck has pushed Seattle guided Seattle averaging 216 yrds ppg. In the first playoff game, after Alexander left with a concussion, Coach Holmgren put the game into Hasselbeck’s hands and he answered the calling. He used his legs and his arm to knife through a stout Washington defense. This was a the moment of arrival of Matt Hasselbeck, when he went from another average QB, to a Super Bowl contending QB, with the ability to put a team onto his shoulders and carry them to the promise land. Matt has not been picked off in the past five games his accuracy has been amazing, as he spreads the ball amongst a cast of number two receivers. Seattle also has the modern day version of the No Name defense. Seattle’s front seven on defenses are as good as they come. Grant Windstorm has been an amazing presence at D-end. Their linebacking core is young and athletic. Seattlefinished fifth in the league in rush defense. The Seahawks were the only team to put the clamps on wide-out Steve Smith. He was rendered useless against the Seahawks secondary in the NFC Championship game. Seattle proved they could play physical tough football, as they played press against Smith and frustrated him throughout the evening. (Be careful what you wish for Joey Porter)For the last two weeks Seattle has been looking for respect from anyone who will listen to them. With the story of Jerome Bettis, and the history of the Steelers, many have almost forgotten the Seahawks are playing on Sunday. The Seahawks are the number 1 seed remaining in the playoffs, and came into the playoffs tied with Indianapolis for best record in the league. They are a very good team who no one wants to acknowledge. They are coming into the Super Bowl with a chip on their shoulder; this makes them a wounded animal that should be considered dangerous. Anyone who thinks the Steelers will role over Seattle has not watched enough football. But I am not saying the Seahawks are going to win.

One For the Thumb

One for the Thumb!!“One for the thumb” We have heard that chanted time and time again since the mid-70’s. This Sunday the Steelers have what has been their best opportunity in years to finally bring home the coveted fifth ring.The Pittsburgh Steelers enter Sunday’s Super Bowl as the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs yet they are a 4 point favorite to win the game. They are supposed to be an underdog, but the only stories coming out of Detroit are ones of Jerome Bettis making a homecoming. Ben Roethlisberger has made headlines, being the second youngest QB to start a Super Bowl. Pittsburgh is riding a ton of momentum into the Super Bowl. They have huge road victories at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver. That means the Steelers have beat the 1, 2, and 3 seeds in the AFC playoffs. This puts Pittsburgh in the middle of what is one of the greatest playoff runs in the history of the NFL. Currently it seems as though there is nothing Pittsburgh cannot do.The Steelers have come this far in the playoffs because of two things. First is defense, the Steel Curtain has returned in full effect. Pittsburgh has used a blitz happy 3-4 scheme defense to terrorize teams all post season. Joey Porter and company have been aggressive all season in attacking and getting to the QB. They took Carson Palmer out in his first pass attempt. Peyton Manning was caught looking like a statue in the pocket, as his O-line never made the adjustments to protect him. The blitz made Jake Plummer remember his name, and play the worse game of his career at this worse time in the AFC Championship. Three of the Steelers front seven have combined for 7.5 sacks. Defensive Back Troy Polamalu has been a guided missile all post season. His athletic ability gives the Steelers the ability to add an eighth man into the box to blitz or cover the run. He also has the speed to show blitz and then retreat to the secondary and successfully cover the pass. As a team the Steelers have dominated everything in their path. Pittsburgh is giving up 313 yards ppg. They have played with the lead in every game they were in this post season with the exception of a few minutes in the early part of theCincinnati game. Playing with the lead is what makes this defense dangerous because that is when the can let the dogs out.Defense is not the only thing that has been churning Steeler nation. Big Ben and the Steelers offense have been on fire all post season. Roethlisberger is led all QB’s in total yardage during the playoffs. These are not your fathers Steelers. Pittsburgh came out firing the ball down field against Cincinnati and they have not stopped since. Pittsburgh number 3 receivers is leading the way with 196 yards, placing him Seahawks wide out Darrell Jackson for third in the post season. Roethlisberger leads all QB’s with 7 TD passes, to just 1 interception. Last season Ben was overwhelmed with the entire playoff experience. Now in his second season he has learned to cope and flourish under the pressure of the bright lights. Pittsburgh has all the required tools to be a Super Bowl champion. They also have a massive home field advantage. People across the nation love the Steelers. Fans can relate to the story of Jerome Bettis. Girls love Ben Roethlisberger. No knows how to get to Seattle and very few people can name more than two players on that team, and one of them is the leagues MVP. Inside the dome in Detroit there will be a sea of yellow terrible towels. But I am not willing to just hand them the trophy just yet.

Punch Your TIckets

Punch Your Tickets For Detroit Conference Championship Sunday is over, and we have learned a few things. Most importantly we know who got their tickets stamped to go to Super Bowl XL. Jerome Bettis is going home to play in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks may actually be the best team in the NFC, glad I’m jumping on this bandwagon early. I was half right with my Super Bowl predictions, so that means I am still qualified to have this job, and if I was a baseball player batting .500 I’d be a legend. The Pittsburgh Steelers continued their long road trip and their dominance on the road. Sunday afternoon, the Steelers went into Denver to take on a Broncos group looking for respect. After yesterdays performance the respect level is extremely low for the Broncos. Denver never established itself in this game and Pittsburgh took full advantage of it by dominating the game from the opening moments. Pittsburgh drew blood early, and never looked back. Using pin point passes from young Ben Roethlisberger to slow down an aggressive Denver defense. For the second week in a row we saw the Steelers putting the game in Ben’s hands and letting him go out and make plays to win the game. In last years AFC Title game Pittsburgh came out running the eight times in a row. They used their running game to protect the youth and inexperience of Ben. When they dropped behind to the Patriots they had no answer with the passing game and were unable to come back. This year against Indianapolis and against Denver the Steelers have become a pass first team, and it has been the key to their success. On Sunday Roethlisberger had a near perfect day going 21-29 for 275 yrds and 2 TD’s. Roethlisberger now has the ability to make reads at the line of scrimmage and he can stand in the pocket with confidence when he throws. Several times on Sunday we saw Ben identify the blitz, and make the accurate throw to the outside and find his open receivers. The majority of this young man is amazing, and right now Cowher is letting him go, and he is making the plays. Denver has a great defense with aggressive linebackers and blitz schemes. If the Steelers stuck to their traditional game plan of running the ball over and over, it would have allowed the Broncos linebackers to tee off on the Pittsburgh RB. With a pass first attack it slowed up that run blitzs Denver would use. When the pass rush was too hot for the Steelers, they turned to their rush attack and pounded at the open spots in the defense.On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers used their traditional aggressive Steel Curtain defense Jerry Porter has been a man possessed with the way he has played this post-season. He forced a fumble, had a sack, and created havoc in the back field all day. All world safety Troy Polamalu worked like a guided missile as he flew from the secondary to the line of scrimmage and crumpled anything in his way. The Steelers defense remained active all day and it turned the Pro-Bowl Jake Plummer we had seen all season, into the average Jake Plummer we would all love to forget. Plummer went 18-30 for 223 yrds, 1 TD, 2 picks and 2 fumbles. Not the day you want to have in the biggest game of the year. Denver never had a chance to establish their rushing attack against one of the leagues best defense, and then they got down early which are never a good place to be especially against the Steelers (3rd in the NFL). When a team is down against the Steelers as the Broncos were, during the second half it is extremely difficult to come back against them. Coach Bill Cowher is 110-1 when leading by 11 or more points, the man knows how to manage a lead. On Sunday the Steelers were ready to protect their lead. When Plummer was forced to drop back multiple times on Sunday you knew they were in trouble. The Steelers defense was chomping at the bit with the opportunity to attack Plummer. For one more week the Steel Curtain reined king, and Jerome Bettis gets the opportunity to go home for the Super Bowl.On the far Left Coast the Seattle Seahawks destroyed the Carolina Panthers, which had two effects for the Seahawks organization. Seattle jumped out to an early 17-0 lead because of two Carolina turnovers, and never turned back. Shawn Alexander showed no residual effects from last weeks concussion as he had a field day with what had been a strong Carolina defense. Alexander defused any rumor that he may be less than 100% when he took his first carry for 12 yards. By the end of the day Alexander had returned to MVP form, he had put to sleep the criticism that he could not perform in the big game, Alexander carried the ball 34 times for 132 yrds, and 2 TD’s not the performance of a choke artiest, but definitely the performance you would expect from an MVP.QB Matt Hasselbeck also played like a Pro-Bowler, by going 20-28 for 219 yards and 2 TD’s. Quietly over the course of the season Hasselbeck has transformed into an amazing leader and performer on the field. He has gained an understanding of Holmgren’s hybrid West Coast offense, which has given him an enormous amount of freedom while is on the field. While he may not be one of the leagues elite, he definitely has become a player who knows how to play the game. Hasselbeck has learned how to control and manage a game from a QB’s standpoint. He plays within his range of ability, and knows how to utilize his weapons around him. While he may not be a top 3 or 5 QB in the league, I would take the guy on my squad most any day.On the other side of the ball, Seattle has one of the best defenses I have seen all year. Seattle had the fifth ranked rush defense in the league during the regular season. The Panthers came into Sunday’s game with a crippled rushing attack, the Seahawks made sure they put the fork in them. Seattle destroyed the Carolina rushing attack, and put RB Nick Goings out the game early in the first quarter. After that the Panthers became a one dimensional team, the Seahawks went on to do the unthinkable and that was stop Steven Davis. The Seahawks ran multiple people at Smith all day, frustrating him and keeping him from getting his catches and his yardage. Since there was no threat of a rush attack, the Seahawks were able to put up to four guys on Smith and lock him down.Seattle is a force to be dealt with. They are ready to make the trip to Detroit and hope to return with the Lombardi Trophy, and the respect they deserve.