Monday, November 7, 2011

WVU-Lousiville and LSU-Alabama Recap

WVU vs. Louisville

There’s not much to say about the Mountaineers 38-35 loss to the Cardinals this weekend. WVU continued to put up gaudy numbers on offense, but couldn’t stop any one on defense. Special Teams was awful again and continued to get abused. The punting is awful and the kickoff return team is awful.
It’s tough to believe that this team was so good defensively last year, with the same Jeff Casteel 3-3-5 scheme, but is just not stopping anybody this year. Obviously it hurts that we lost 7 starters from that impressive defense, but we still have solid players and plenty of new talent. Bruce Irvin is a sack specialist and Darwin Cook is having a very solid year. Even Keith Tandy will make good plays, but he too will often give up the big play.
Offensively the Mountaineers have been lighting up the scoreboard. Geno Smith is a field general and can make all the throws. Stedman Bailey has spectacular catch ability and he too puts up big numbers. The speed of Tavon Austin is unmatched by anyone on the field.
There is no doubt that Head Coach Dana Holgorsen knows what he’s doing on offense. I don’t even fully blame him for the defense or special teams. There is plenty of inexperience and it’s starting to show.
There’s a tough matchup with Cincinnati this weekend and hopefully we actually look motivated out there. We can’t play only one half like we have been. We need to play a full game and put it together for a run at a BCS berth in the wild Big East.

LSU vs. Alabama

What an absolute defensive slugfest this game was. Most people were discouraged by a 9-6 victory with no scores in the game. But I thought it was great. These teams were so evenly matched and it showed on the field. The only difference was special teams. Alabama missed four field goals in the game and that truly killed them. Both of these teams have NFL caliber defenses and they look as if they are ready to play on Sunday’s immediately.
LSU’s secondary is absolutely filthy. From the “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu, to Eric Reid, to Morris Clairborne. They are superstars in the making. That interception by Reid on the gadget play by Alabama was truly stunning. I was in shock when he came up with that football. That was the game changer that LSU needed to come through with a victory. LSU is truly becoming “Cornerback U” with the way they are producing playmakers. They produced Patrick Peterson last year that already is making the most of his opportunities in the NFL. LSU tries to recruit fast and physical corners who can play man to man so they can load up the box and leave their corners on an “island.” I would definitely say LSU is the favorite to win it all this year.

Penguins Recap and Preview for this week

The Penguins went on a short “West Coast Swing” this past week and played the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings and took three out of the four possible points presented to them. Game one was played at the Shark Tank and the Pens were without Jordan Staal, Zybenik Michalek, and Sidney Crosby. Staal has been on fire and is a yearly Selke Award candidate (Top defensive forward). So that was tough for us defensively. Michalek has a broken finger but is expected back within the next three weeks.
The Penguins scored two goals with the first two minutes to take a commanding lead. Deryk Engelland and Evgeni Malkin put the pens up early. The Penguins played a dominant first period with a lot of shots and not giving up many to their opponent. The Sharks fought back to start the second period when Patrick Marleau scored on a slight break away. Later in the period Malkin scored again in what should have been a game-clinching goal, but the Sharks fought back again. The pens got way too defensive and the Sharks closed the gap by scoring two goals late and forcing overtime. The Sharks controlled the puck but no one scored and a shootout ensued. Greiss and Fleury were on top of their game until Ryan Clowe scored for the Sharks and Dupuis couldn’t match the Sharks and stole one from the pens. Sharks 3 Pens 2.

Two days later the Penguins were in L.A. and played a rather ugly game. But all that matters is a victory, not how bad you may have looked for some periods. Steve Sullivan scored his first goal of the year. The Pens were down 2-1 late in the third period but continued to grind it out on the boards and were rewarded when Jordan Staal won a battle and dished it behind the net to Chris Kunitz who backhanded it into the net with a few minutes to play in the game. This game also went to a shootout and Letang scored first with a filthy deke that left Jonathan Quick sprawling on the ice. Fleury gave up a shootout goal to Anze Kopitar, who scored earlier in the contest, but it was up to Chris Kunitz and he finished it off with a shot through the 5 hole. Pens 3 Kings 2.
This upcoming week the Penguins return home to play the Dallas Stars on Friday night, and travel to Carolina the following night to take on the Hurricanes.
There has been much speculation that Sidney Crosby would make his return on Friday night at home, but Crosby didn’t give any hints away and continued to say he is still progressing and there is no set date for a return.  

Steelers vs. Ravens: The Recap

Steelers vs. Ravens: Recap

In another classic Steelers Ravens game Quarterback Joe Flacco came up huge against the #1 rated pass defense in the final 2 and a half minutes to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) at Heinz Field in front of a national audience. This was only the third time in the last decade that the Steelers have been swept by any division opponent. Flacco was poised and delivered a huge victory for the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) who now essentially hold a two game lead over the Steelers with the tiebreaker. The Cincinnati Bengals also hold a 6-2 record to be tied at the top of the AFC North with the Ravens.
The Steelers appeared to take a commanding 20-16 lead with 5 minutes left in the game. And on the ensuing possession. The Ravens went three and out. The Steelers drove down the field but were stopped and had a difficult decision to make. They could’ve attempted a 47 yard field goal into the open end of Heinz Field or take a delay of game penalty and pin the Ravens deep in the their own territory. Coach Mike Tomlin chose to go with the second option and Jeremy Kapinos, who was picked up in free agency this week, pinned them on the 8 yard line with 2:24 left on the clock in the 4th quarter.
Flacco drove the Ravens 92 yards while picking up 2 third down conversions and a fourth down conversion on the final drive. The Ravens were 14 for 21 on third down conversions on the night. Their previous high this year was 7. Flacco methodically drove down the field with short intermediate passes and was clutch when he needed to be. He made it look easy on third down and continued to pick up first down after first down. The Steelers could not get off the field and the secondary was picked apart on that crucial drive. You can’t expect to win football games if you can’t make a stop on third down. This was easily the most disappointing aspect of the night from a performance standpoint.
I’ve never been very impressed with Joe Flacco, but he showed me a lot last night. It wasn’t his first 4th quarter game winning drive, and it won’t be his last. But he was precise and picked up the necessary yardage when needed. People are too critical of Flacco, including myself, but he really showed the poise and determination to get the job done. Most of the criticism towards Flacco is his inconsistency. It’s a fact he is very inconsistent but this was a huge step forward. The last two weeks he struggled mightily, until he got it going in the second half in a victory over Arizona last week. But the week before he threw for less than 140 yards in a loss to Jacksonville.
In the beginning of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, he relied very heavily on his defense and the run game to win, very similar to how Joe Flacco is getting it done. You can now see some of the progression that Flacco is going through and they are putting more confidence in him. The Steelers have continued to rely on the defense, but they are in great hands when they let Roethlisberger sling it all over the field. He too had to rely on his run game and defense, but he has full control of the offense and he currently has thrown for over 300 yards the last three games, a Steelers individual record.
For next week the Ravens fly west to take on the Seahawks, but I don’t see a letdown happen like after week one when they beat the Steelers and lost to the Tennessee Titans the following week. The Steelers will travel to Cincinnati in another crucial AFC North showdown. The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals have a combined record of 18-7. This is possibly the toughest current division to play in. So we will see how this plays out the rest of the year.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if these two teams meet up again in January. The Steelers will move on from this game and continue to play solid football. It was just a week ago that the “experts” were predicting this could be a possible repeat champion in the AFC Conference. The problem is now the road will most likely go through Baltimore if Pittsburgh has Super Bowl aspirations.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Also if you're curious about the Ryan Clark hit on Willis Mcgahee... here it is. Clearly a helmet to helmet hit, but Mcgahee ducked as Clark stepped in to lay the lumber. I would like to note that Clark did lead with his shoulder, either way it was a vicious hit that could be heard throughout the stadium.

Steelers vs. Ravens 11/4/2011


            There are two weeks that are circled on the NFL schedule for both of these teams. As a matter of fact, all football fans look forward to these two weeks of the year. And if were lucky enough, there will be a third chapter to this story, as there has been two of the last three years. These games take us back to the old school, smash mouth football of the 60’s and 70’s. In the future we will look back at this historic rivalry the same way we view the old rivalries of the Steelers-Raiders and Steelers-Cowboys of the 70’s.
These teams are mirror images of each other and play defensive minded football. I’ve seen five of these matchups live and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything so violent in my entire life. It’s controlled chaos in a rowdy environment. A play that stands out in my mind was in the 2008 AFC Championship game on a freezing cold night in January when the Steelers took a 23-14 lead after Troy Polamalu’s pick 6 to the house, on the next possession Flacco threw a short pass to Willis Mcgahee across the middle and Ryan Clark put a hit on him that sent him into next week. I was sitting 60 yards from the play and I could here the sound of the most violent collision I’ve heard in my life. I swore a car crash just happened at midfield. The hit was so hard that both players were knocked out of the game.
 I’ve watched countless hours of football in my young life, but nothing compares to the importance of these games. I love the respect that both of these teams portray for each other. Of course there’s always trash talk the week before the game, but it’s like it’s a promoter trying to hype up a heavyweight fight. Terrel Suggs said, “They already declared war on us, we're taking 53 men to the apocalypse and we ain't bringing flowers." It is a fight indeed, an all out street fight where the most physical team seems to always win.
            There is no other matchup in the NFL where every time these teams meet that it feels like a playoff game. Mike Tomin said it best, “We don’t care if it’s a pre season game, we’re still going to go out and treat it like it’s a playoff game.” The atmosphere at these games is unheralded. It’s almost a right of passage to go to this game. You truly can’t understand the rivalry unless you are there to actually hear the sounds of the game. The raw emotion running through the players and fans together feels surreal. I’ve honestly never seen a crowd react the way it does when the Steelers need a stop in the late 3rd quarter or early 4th quarter when Styx’s Renegade comes on the screen.
            Is it me or does it seem like in a past lifetime that players like Polamalu, Suggs, Lewis, Harrison, Roethlisberger, and Ngata were gladiators that battled for their lives in Rome.
            Since 2002, the Steelers have been swept only twice by division opponents. I wouldn’t count on a third at Heinz Field on Sunday night in front of a national audience. I’ll take the Steelers 24-16 in a hard-hitting physical game in front of a raucous crowd.
             As long as these teams play in the AFC North, there will always be conflict because their goals will be unchanging. To win the AFC North, the AFC Championship, and finally the Super Bowl.