Monday, January 19, 2009

Championship weekend

Phil @ AZ
Throw ball in air, touchdown Larry Fitzgerald. It is apparently the unstoppable play.

There are two stories coming out of Arizona that lead to this team's success. Larry Fitzgerald's out of this world play is one of them. "But Chris, Fitzgerald is awesome in general. He's had a dominant season, remember?" How good/different has he been this post-season from the regular season?

This regular season, Fitz has caught 96 passes for over 1,400 yards and 12 TDs. If you project his post-season numbers out 16 games, this season he'd have 123 catches, 2,234 yards, and 27 TDs. This is against the (chronologically) #21, #16 and #3 pass defenses in the NFL. Not all awesome defenses, but it's not like he's bottom-of-the-barrelling here. He's playing big-time, which is what big-time players do in big-time situations, and it's not hard at all to see this guy in the Hall of Fame some day.

ESPN had an interview between him and Cris Carter on Sunday before the game. There was a great piece in there about his time as a ball-boy, back when the Vikings were in control of the Atlanta post-season game, and saw it slip away. He said he didn't want to become that guy...that he didn't want to see his team be so close, and have it slip away. And so it went that after the Eagles climbed their way back into a game that Fitz had absolutely dominated in the 1st half, and the Eagles finally seemed to shut him down in the 2nd, Fitz caught three balls for 39 yards, two of them for first downs.

The other story has to be the Arizona defense, which has other than one quarter this post-season, been completely different than they were in the regular season. A team giving up 332 yards and 26.6 points per game has thus far given up less than 270 yards twice, and haven't given up more than 25 points against three top 10 regular season offenses.

This team actually reminds me a good bit of the Colts team that won the Superbowl a couple years ago. Naturally the difference is one guy with the Colts made all the difference on that team. But the comparison is still fairly valid. The Cards defense had a lapse in the 3rd quarter of the Eagles game, but otherwise has played very well against some tough offenses. They're giving up fewer yard (other than the Eagles), fewer points, and they've gotten 12 turnovers.

It's that difference that's put them into the Superbowl. The defense has played adequate football, and their offense is good enough to overcome lapses like in the 3rd quarter.

The next test is the toughest they'll have faced, but this team has to be feeling like they're a team of destiny. And they're being led by a QB who's been there before. It's going to be a tough test, but you have to think this team will be up to it.

Balt @ Pitt
You know, it was a great game. It was a terribly sloppy game by both teams, but it was a great one.

But the ending of a game like this really makes it difficult to feel good about it. I've been a very harsh critic of McGahee this season. But he played like a warrior yesterday. He ran hard, and he was simply spectacular on blitz pick-up.

An injury like this can be a career ender. They say he is "neurologically intact." He has movement in all his limbs. But the way his neck snapped back, and what I'm sure he's going to go through over the next ... however long ... it wouldn't entirely shock me if he couldn't come back from that. I think he will, but it wouldn't be shocking if he couldn't. Best wishes to him.

This is one of those ugly games that the Ravens look like they're getting blown out in, but just hang around until the end for a shot at the win. Like the Titans, the Steelers really kicked them up and down the field. And yet with just under 7 minutes to play, the Steelers punted the ball to the Ravens, who took it at the 39, needing a FG to take the lead, and then a defensive stand to pull off another ridiculous upset in a game they'd for all intents and purposes lost.

And then Daren Stone committed the worst penalty in the history of penalties in the NFL. Literally about two yards out of bounds, and well after the play had ended, he took the defender he was grappling with, and hurled him to the ground. And like that, the Ravens are backed up, needing 50 yards to even have hope at a FG when they hadn't driven more than 44 yards the rest of the night. Five plays later, Polamalu was dancing in the end zone.

The Steelers look like a dominant football team right now. Their offense is playing good enough, and their defense is playing out of this world. They look better than the team that won the Superbowl a couple years ago.

This Superbowl match-up looks like it should be a lot of fun. A prolific offense up against a fantastic defense...the unstoppable force meets the immovable object. The Steelers have only given up more than 21 three times. The Cards have only scored fewer than 20 three times. The questions that will answer who our next Champion will be, are "Will the Cardinals offense be able to overcome the defensive force the Steelers field?" and "Can the Cardinals defense continue to play above what it played in the regular season?" Terrifically interesting.

I love this league.


  1. McGahee *was* spectacular on blitz pick-up in the 4th Q. Very impressive.

  2. The Philly / Arizona game was great to watch. I picked Arizona last year to make the playoffs, simply because they finally had the players to make it work. However, they didn't gel as a team and fell short of the mark.

    This year, they looked semi-decent, and made a nice run of it. They are very dynamic, very versatile in the play-calling department, and their defense is pretty impressive. I expect them to come out on SB Sunday and make it a good game -vs- the Stillllers....!

    As for the other side of the Championship weekend coin, it was just 100% brutal !!! Both teams (PGH-BAL) not only smashed each other in the mouth, they had an all-out MOSH PIT going on down there. My lil' brother was at the game, and I felt so good for him. Nothing better than frying a Raven to get to the Super Bowl. Us Steeler fans (and hopefully the Steelers) learned something. If Limus Sweed can't catch, he's got a starting spot on special teams. WOW what a hit he put on that guy.... BANG! It made me jump out of my seat, that's how good it was. Then the hit on McGahee... that was the nail in the coffin right there. I don't think Baltimore could have withstood another injury.

    Baltimore will be a menace in the AFC North for a long time to come, and when the two teams meet, regular or post season, you can bet there will be bloodshed. As it should be.

    Feb 1st, 2009 ..... I smell a FOOTBALL GAME !!!


  3. So, so many things I want to say about the Steelers/Ravens third round. Where to start...? We won, again. Full, complete sweep. No more crying about refs, no more crying about review, no more complaining about the overtime game. The third was the most complete and convincing victory of the three. There's so much to say.

    Yes, the Raven's had a long, break-free schedule. Yes, they had several injuries. Yes, they had a rookie quarterback. But, they also had (emphasis on the past tense here :)) the 2nd best defense in the league, a strong corps of running backs and receivers, and, at the time, the best, most electric, most dangerous safety in the league. Not to mention that, in spite of being a rookie, Joe Flacco wasn't called Joe Cool for no reason. Except when he played the Steelers. 8.whatever QB rating for the first half.

    It is my humble opinion that, were it not for three very costly (and admittedly well deserved) penalties, it is very likely that the Ravens don't even sniff the end zone the entire game, and maybe are blanked - 23-0 could just as easily have been the final score. Chris Kemoatu's personal foul gives the Ravens good field position, and a pass interference puts them on the 3. No tough touchdown from there. Same story on the second score. A deserved pass interference on Ike Taylor (good coverage had he actually been looking for the ball) puts the Ravens on the 1. Another cakewalk TD. Otherwise, there was not even one realistic threat to score. Not to mention that the second TD is aided by a bad luck botched punt by Mitch Berger. Again, the Steelers did these things to themselves, allowing the Ravens to stay in the game, but in truth, what threat did the Ravens offense really pose??

    And what happened to Ed Reed? All this talk all week about how amazing of a safety he is, how dangerous he is, how he should maybe even be a receiver, how he's going to possibly be putting points on the board, and what happens? Nothing. His name was barely even mentioned all game. What significant play did he make? What did he do to change the game or bolster the defense? By comparison, look at what Troy Polamalu does. Obviously, he pulls off an "Ed Reed" pick 6 that ends the game. But, what about the stop on 4th and inches? The QB pressure, tackling, run stops, etc. He was a machine, a game changer, and a producer of points. All the things Ed Reed was supposed to be.

    I can say this now, b/c I know that he is OK and safe, and appears to not have a serious injury. Willis McGahee, how the hell did THAT feel? Corey Ivy, is it relieving or embarrassing to be the first, but not last, player to get knocked the F out in the same game?

    Yes, the Ravens exceeded everyone's expectations this year. But the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl.

    Here We GO!

  4. Don Banks was on Czaban this morning and Czabe starts out the interview saying "So, Ravens Steelers, hardest hitting game ever?" Banks says "Yeah, probably...I can't think of another one." They were both in awe of how brutal that game was.

    The problem with this rivalry is basically that these teams meet each other twice each year...they're going to pound the everloving snot out of each other each meeting, and it might wind up hurting them against other teams. Still, IMO it's the most intense rivalry in the NFL right now and shaping into easily top 5, maybe even top 3 of all time territory.

    Responding to HereWeGO (who I'm assuming is my brother but I might be wrong about that)...

    1) You can't say the Ravens wouldn't have sniffed the end zone without those calls cause frankly if the Steelers defenders didn't interfere with those passes, they were both likely TD throws. The Ravens O didn't pose a threat other than those penalties, but they were both pretty blatant penalties and there's a reason those things get called. At least one of them is a TD, and probably both are, if the penalties never happened. (Side note: The reffing in general was terrible on both sides. Not biased in any way, just terrible.)

    2) It's not surprising that Troy had a better game than Ed, cause our QB is going to be simply more mistake prone. What Ed Reed does in the passing game is take away sides of the field. There's a reason you didn't hear his name called all night...they threw the ball within about 10 yards of him once, and that once was on a play he left his spot to try to make a play on the ball (which he did). Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best DBs in the game. He has two INTs the past two years, but it doesn't matter. No one ever throws at him...ever. DBs don't have to have stats to have a huge impact on a game.

    Second point is that Reed is very badly hampered right now by his nerve impingement. You can really see it in the way he tackles. If you look at how he was hitting guys the last couple years vs. this year, you can just see the difference. It's very unfortunate.

    People are talking about him as though he's almost a lock to break the all time INT record. This assumes he's going to play another 7-10 years. The problem is, this injury can't be surgically corrected. There's no cure for it. He just has to live through it. It's only going to get more painful for him from here out.

    I honestly believe that there's a good chance - anywhere between 33% and 50% - that he retires within the next two years.

  5. I love how you just SAY stuff like that: "easily top 5, maybe even top 3 rivalries of all time territory. No attempt at any kind of perspective.

    How about Cowboys-Niners, from the 90s? How about Cowboys-Redskins over the decades? How about Broncos-Raiders, with Shanahan? Titans-Ravens was a bit of a rivalry a few years ago. Do they play any football in the NFC North? Did they play any football in the 70s? Or, gasp earlier? How about Pats-Colts, in the 2000s?

    Steelers-Ravens has been a great, compelling rivalry this season. If both teams suck next year, it'll recede from the national consciousness, until the teams are good again.

  6. Boyz/Niners don't play each other every year. Same with Colts/Pats. Same with Ravens/Titans. I'm talking about long-term rivalries, not where they were on the scale of over a couple years. Bears/Packers is probably the biggest. Cowboys/Redskins is probably second. Others are up there... Steelers/Browns, Broncos/Raiders, etc. Ravens/Steelers doesn't have the longevity of those, but over the next couple decades, it's likely to grow more heated - assuming they stay in the same division.

    My point is that I believe that one day, history will show this to be one of the top rivalries in the NFL.

  7. They did play every year. I just don't think you have the perspective you need here. Steelers - Browns rivalry crushed the current Steeler - Raven one and as soon as Cleveland is relevant again it will again.

    Baltimore - Pittsburgh was the best rivalry this year, but not last year or the year before or the year before that. There is really no reason to expect the rivalry to even keep its current intensity. If those teams compete for the division every year for a decade then maybe that will change.

    I guarantee that any Steeler fan with a decent memory would not include this rivalry among the top rivalry's even in that team's memory. Cleveland, Oakland, those teams hated each other for years. With the integration of the league today I'm not sure that level of competition can exist any more.

  8. Maybe not. My memory of the game spans maybe 15-20 years. Pitt/Balt has been an incredible rivalry for the last decade though...


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