The Most Surprising and Disappointing Players of 2010

It has not even been two weeks since Super Bowl XLV and we are already feeling lost.  Sure, basketball is entertaining, but NOTHING beats the thrill and excitement of the gridiron.  As we look back, we are highlighting some of the players whom we personally found to be the biggest surprises and disappointments of the 2010 season.  Before long it will be time to move on and talk about the possible impending NFL lockout, the 2011 draft and other player, coach and team issues.  But for now, let us bask just a bit more in last season and some of its hot and not-so-hot players!

Biggest Player Surprises

Arian Foster

Houston RB Arian Foster ranked 1st in rushing in the NFL during the regular season, running for over 1600 yards and 16 TDs.  Foster also had over 600 receiving yards and 2 TDs, which ranked 1st for running backs in the NFL.  Foster has come a long way.  I remember being at the 2007 Outback Bowl in Tampa when Penn State played the Tennessee Volunteers.  Foster was playing for the Vols. and with the score tied in the fourth quarter, Foster fumbled the ball near the goal line.  A Nittany Lion returned it 88 yards for a TD and PSU ultimately went on to win 20-10.   That notorious fumble gave him a reputation for inconsistent ball handling, and in 2009, Foster entered the league as an undrafted rookie.  That season he started in just one game.  But he started off 2010 in a blaze of glory.  In the first game vs. the Colts, Foster had 231 yards rushing and 3 TDs.  It was the 2nd best rushing performance on opening day in NFL history, falling just 19 yards short of O.J. Simpson’s 1973 opening day performance.

T.O.

Terrell Owens ended his season early with the Cincinnati Bengals due to a torn meniscus.  T.O.’s season was a pleasant surprise.  He had 72 catches for almost 1000 yards and 9 TDs.  T.O’s supreme confidence and his constant desire to talk about himself and his athletic abilities have created a large number of haters and skeptics.  Like him or not, he had a surprising comeback season.  Unfortunately, the Bengals had an abysmal 4-12 season and failed to make the playoffs.  Since T.O. is a free agent, it is anyone’s guess what team he will end up on.

LaDainian Tomlinson

31 year old Tomlinson had a resurgent 2010 season with the NY Jets.  Many considered him past his prime and believed he would serve as the backup to Jets RB Shonn Greene.   But Tomlinson got more carries than Greene and rushed for over 900 yards and 6 TDs.  These may not be mind blowing stats.  But given the pre-season predictions regarding L.T., he certainly surprised many fans, critics and media members with his important contributions to the Jets.

Michael Vick

Ahhh..one last chance to talk about our favorite player!  You really didn’t think we would keep Michael Vick off this list, did you?!  If you’re a regular reader, you already know how deep our love for Vick runs.  We have always been believers, but many considered Vick a non-factor for the 2010 season.  Pundits predicted the Eagles would use him in limited “gimmick” plays for short yardage.  But when Kevin Kolb got injured, Vick seized the opportunity and showed he had not missed a step from his playing days before being incarcerated.  In fact, Vick’s hard work and off field preparations were evident and he played better than ever.  He rightfully earned the starting position and threw for over 3000 yards, 21 TDs and had a passer rating of 100.2.  He rushed for nearly 700 yards and 9 TDs.  At 30 years of age, Vick’s comeback was one best surprise of the season!

Biggest Player Disappointments

Chris Johnson

In 2009, Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson tore up the NFL as he rushed for 2006 yards.  Football enthusiasts had high hopes for Johnson this past season.  In fact, he was the number one draft pick in most fantasy football leagues.  Prior to the start of the season, Johnson himself predicted he would rush for 2500 yards.  It was a bold prediction to make and he fell considerably short.  Johnson rushed for over 1300 yards and 11 TDs, ranking 4th in rushing overall in the NFL for the regular season.  These are impressive numbers, but given pre-season hype and expectations, we can’t help but be a bit disappointed.

Brett Favre

We have always loved Brett Favre.  His place in NFL history can never be taken away.  This past season, though, was a difficult one to watch as Favre dealt with struggles both on and off the field.  His scandal with a former NY Jets employee, coupled with his injuries and on the field play – 11 TDs and 19 INTS – were unfortunate ways for the “gunslinger” to leave the NFL.  Favre’s streak for consecutive starts was ended this season as well.  After 297 consecutive starts over 19 seasons, the 41 year old legend finally succumbed to an injury to his throwing shoulder that he simply could not overcome.  We will forever love and respect Favre.  It seems jumping on the “anti-Favre” bandwagon has become fashionable.  But we refuse to ignore the incredible legacy he built both on and off the field, despite the way this particular season unfolded.

Randy Moss

Another player people love to hate is the never dull Randy Moss.  Sure, he may be brash and outspoken.  But Moss still possesses the raw athletic ability, speed and capacity to out jump even the most talented cornerbacks.  We contend that he can find success with an NFL team in the future, but it needs to be with a team that uses him correctly and can handle his personality.  But his selection to 7 Pro Bowls was not a fluke.  Moss has talent that cannot be denied.  This season, he was the center of a number of controversies and was traded by both the Patriots and the Vikings.  He played his remaining games with the Tennessee Titans, but they have announced that his future with them is uncertain.  Given the right circumstances, we believe Randy Moss can shine once again.  Unfortunately, he did not shine this season, which is quite sad for those of us who still believe in his talent.

Our list of surprises and disappointments is, of course, incomplete.  There were many players that, like a phoenix, seemingly emerged from the ashes and had brilliant seasons.  Others simply crashed and burned.  This unpredictability is what makes each season so captivating.  While players’ surprising and/or disappointing performances can frustrate our most carefully planned fantasy teams (we speak from personal experience!), we would not trade it for the world!

Advertisements

NFL 2010..One Roller Coaster of a Season!

The 2010 NFL Season had more ups and downs than all the roller coasters in Cedar Point combined!  We love roller coasters and since the NFL season had just as many thrills and chills, we thoroughly enjoyed these past months on the gridiron.  Here are just a few of our favorite highs and lows….

High Points:

Michael Vick’s comeback! 

This is no doubt the “feel good” story of the year.  Vick’s phenomenal performance after being incarcerated on dog fighting charges and being relegated to back up behind both Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb could truly be a movie script.  The perfect ending may have to wait, though.  Only a Super Bowl Championship seems like the larger than life finale fitting Vick, Andy Reid and the Eagles.

Ndamukong Suh PAT attempt 

In early November in a game vs. the NY Jets, 307 pound Ndamukong Suh, a rookie tackle for the Detroit Lions, lined up for the extra point attempt after the starting kicker got injured.  While he missed the extra point, the sight of Suh making the attempt was definitely a highlight of the 2010 season!

Celebration dance by B.J. Raji 

In the NFC title game vs. the Bears, Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji intercepted a Bears pass and “ran” 18 yards for a TD.  His hula hoop-like dance was one of the most amusing, fun moments of the playoffs!  Click below to see Raji in motion.

The Chicago Bears

The Bears made it to the NFC title game, despite the preseason prediction by most pundits who beleived they were a below average team with little hope.  In 2009, they went 7-9 and had failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year.  The Bears ended the 2010 season at 11-5.  Some people believe that luck was a big factor in their winning season, as they faced a number of back up QBs and a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team in the playoffs.  In Week 1 against the Lions, a Detroit TD was overturned by a little known, controversial call with just a minute to play, giving the Bears the win.  Lucky or not, it was good to see the Bears return to the playoffs once again!

Aaron Rodgers 

The Packers’ QB finally emerged from Brett Favre’s shadow.   His stellar play this season earned the Packers a Super Bowl Championship, but nearly as important, gave Rodgers the recognition he deserved.  During the regular season, he earned a passer rating of 101.2 – the third best in the NFL.  He also ranked third in rushing yards by a QB.   In the post season, Rodgers had a passer rating of 109.8 and showed his composure and exceptional ability to read defenses.  What we love most about the Aaron Rodgers 2010 story is that in addition to being a great QB, he seems to be a genuinely good guy as well!

Low Points:

Mike Shanahan   

Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan started a streak of behavior in October that slowly spiraled into a complete lack of respect for veteran QB Donovan McNabb by the end of the season.  Trailing by 6 and with less than 2 minutes left in a game against Detroit, Shanahan benched McNabb and put in back up Rex Grossman.  On the next play, Grossman fumbled the ball, Detroit returned it for a TD.  After that fiasco, most coaches would have tried to apologize for their poor decision.  But Shanahan went in front of the media and awkwardly tried to explain his decision by first claiming he benched McNabb because he didn’t feel he could run the 2 minute offense.  His statement was perceived as a criticism of McNabb’s intellectual ability by many in the public, so Shanahan changed his reason, stating that he actually thought McNabb didn’t have the physical endurance to effectively run the two minute offense.  Later, he modified his statement once again and claimed McNabb was suffering from sore hamstrings.  The tension between Shanahan and McNabb was quite evident.  Later, with only 3 games left in the regular season,   Shanahan benched McNabb in favor of Rexman and actually publicly demoted him to 3rd string.  The Redskins had a myriad of problems this season.  But it appears that Shanahan chose to focus on McNabb rather than recognize other issues hurting the team, including the coaching staff and their poor decision making over the course of the season.

Peyton Manning’s streak of INTs

11 INTs over a three game span brought forth criticism about Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning.  Some questioned his age, while others questioned his ability.  Manning had to deal with a porous offensive line, a slew of injuries to his receiving corps and no running game all season.  Despite his 4700 yards of passing this year, Peyton could not carry the team alone.  But to question Manning’s ability is absurd and short sighted.  It was one of the low points in the season for us, but Manning himself seemed unscathed by his critics.  That focus and drive makes him one of the game’s all time greatest QBs!

Vince Young meltdown 

In a game vs. the Redskins, Young injured his hand.  When Titans coach Jeff Fisher put back up Kerry Collins in, Young became agitated and a childish tantrum ensued.  He paced the sidelines, swearing and mumbling to himself, and then tossed his shoulder pads and jersey into the stands as he stormed into the locker room at the end of the game.  That day was his last as the Titans’ starting QB.  Owner Bud Adams recently announced that Young will not be on the roster next season.  He will either be traded or released. 

Inconsistent fines by the NFL 

The NFL established a reactionary, subjective policy early in the season in response to a number of head injuries.  While we applaud their efforts to protect players, this policy fell short and needs to be revamped before next season.

Super Bowl XLV seat fiasco  

In the most technologically advanced and extravagant stadium in the history of football, Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium came up short on the most important day for the NFL.  400 fans attending the Super Bowl were unable to be seated because their seating area was not completed in time.  The seats were valued at $800 and the NFL issued a refund of $2400 to each of those affected.  Fans had the option to watch the game in the $350 “Standing Room Only” section or on monitors in the North Field Club.  Despite these allowances by the NFL, fans were understandably upset.  There is no excuse for incomplete seating areas in a venue like the Super Bowl!

New York Jets Tripping 

The Jets Strength and Conditioning coach, Sal Alosi, admitted he intentionally tripped Miami’s Nolan Carroll as he raced down the sideline on punt coverage.  Alosi’s role in the NFL was to help players become physically stronger and healthier, yet he showed a complete lack of judgment when he tried to trip an opponent running at full speed.  Alosi was subsequently fined and suspended by the Jets.  Later, the NFL levied a $100,000 fine against the Jets.  Alosi announced his resignation from the team January 31st.

The NFL’s decision to postpone the Eagles vs. Vikings game 

In late December, the NFL postponed the Eagles/Vikings game because of a predicted winter storm expected to dump 18 inches of snow on the city.  Since when does FOOTBALL get postponed due to weather?  This isn’t soccer and the NFL set a bad precedent by postponing the game when both teams were in the city and capable of playing.  Vince Lombardi must have turned over in his grave!

We hope you have enjoyed our review of our favorite ups and downs of this past season.  It truly was an exhilarating ride, but like any good roller coaster, seemed much too short!

Post Season Awards! Brady Earned NFL MVP, But We Still Don’t Have to Like Him

The Super Bowl is over and it’s time to reflect upon the past season.  What were the highs and lows?  What player or team was the biggest surprise and who left fans feeling disappointed?  Which coaching and owner decisions were successful and which were foolish?  There’s plenty to discuss about the 2010 NFL season and playoffs, but before we delve into these issues, let’s take a look at a few of the major post-season honors recently awarded to some of the gridiron’s greatest players.

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady was named the NFL’s 2010 MVP.  The award is bestowed by the Associated Press and voters consist of 50 members of the media from throughout the U.S.  For the first time, the vote for MVP was unanimous, with Brady receiving all 50 votes.  In 2007, with a 16-0 record, Brady received the MVP award with 49 votes. 

This season Brady passed for over 3900 yards.  With 36 TDs and a mere 4 INTs, his TD:INT ratio of 9.0 set a record for the highest ratio in NFL history.  The previous record was set by Brady in 2007.  Brady also set another incredible record this season with 334 consecutive throws without an interception.  His pretty boy looks, coupled with his exceptional athletic ability, make him one of the most popular NFL players among women – just not us!  But we will concede that he truly did deserve this award.

The 33 year old Patriots QB was also named AP Offensive Player of the Year.  He led his team to a 14-2 regular season record, the best in the NFL.  Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick shared the spotlight as well.  He was named NFL Coach of the Year, receiving 30 of the 50 votes by members of the AP.  Since joining the Patriots in 2000, Belichick has led the Patriots to 3 Super Bowl Championships, 4 Conference Championships and 8 Division titles.  This is the 3rd time he has received Coach of the Year honors.

The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year was a much closer vote, with Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu edging out Green Bay Packer linebacker Clay Matthews by just 2 votes.  Polamalu received 17 votes, Matthews earned 15 and fellow Steelers linebacker James Harrison received 8.  Polamalu had 63 tackles this season, along with 7 INTs in 14 games.  His game-changing play ability, coupled with his natural instincts, helped Pittsburgh earn its #2 defensive ranking and get them to the Super Bowl.  In the end, however, Clay Matthews earned the NFL’s most sought after award – a Super Bowl title.  His forced fumble in the 4th quarter was a MAJOR momentum changing play in the game and helped seal the Packers’ victory.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, another award was given out Sunday night.  Aaron Rodgers became Super Bowl XLV MVP after he and the Green Bay Packers defeated Pittsburgh 31-25.  Rodgers completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards.  He had 3 TDs and no interceptions.  The victory was the first Super Bowl title for the Packers since 1997.

Finally, we come to an award that is perhaps our very favorite this post-season – the Comeback Player of the Year.  Michael Vick was recently honored with this AP award, receiving 29.5 votes.  After limited play in 2009 as a back up to Donovan McNabb, the 30 year old Vick began the 2010 season as a back up to Eagles QB Kevin Kolb.  When Kolb became injured in the first game of the season, Vick stepped in and his exceptional performances earned him the starting position for the rest of the season.  This season, Vick threw for over 3000 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs and had an impressive QB rating of 100.2.  His spectacular scrambling and running ability earned him 9 rushing TDs and almost 700 yards on 100 attempts.  After his 18 month incarceration for dog fighting, his success both on and off the field this season deservedly earned him the Comeback Player of the Year honor.

Stay tuned for more post-season discussion!  Next up:  the highs and lows of the 2010 NFL season!  With more drama than a cat fight on an episode of “The Bachelor”, this past season had many thrilling ups and downs that are both entertaining and interesting to look back on.  The season may be over, but a true fan never tires of gabbing about the gridiron!

Black Eyed Peas and Sangria? It Must be Super Bowl Sunday!!

Last year, 106.5 million people tuned in to watch the Saints and Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.  That broadcast broke the record for the most viewership which was previously held by the finale of the show “MASH”.  There will be a projected 110 million viewers for Super Bowl XLV. 

Women account for approximately 34% of viewers during the regular season.   But on Super Bowl Sunday that percentage is obviously higher as some women who don’t have a real interest in the game tune in for the entertainment, commercials and to simply be part of the experience.  While it is hard for us to understand why a woman would not be watching the Super Bowl for the sheer fun and excitement that occurs on the field, we do acknowledge some women really don’t have an interest in football.  With that in mind, we are providing a guide to today’s pre- game and half time entertainment.  Later this week, we will do a review of the best and worst of Super Bowl XLV’s commercials.  As you prepare for the game, we also wanted to share our very favorite Sangria recipe for those fans who want a departure from beer. 

Prior to the game, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly will conduct an interview with President Barack Obama.  O’Reilly is billing the interview as “the most watched interview in history. More people will see this interview than any other interview that’s ever been done in the history of mankind.”  It’s hard to say if all 110 million viewers will tune in to see the O’Reilly-Obama interview, but it should make for an interesting pre-game battle between two very opposing forces!  Here is the rest of today’s entertainment, but of course we believe the best show takes place on the field at kick off time – 6:30 pm ET on Fox!

Pre-game entertainment will include performances by the Blue Man Group, Maroon 5 and Keith Urban.  Glee’s Leah Michele will sing “America the Beautiful” and the National Anthem will be sung by 5-time Grammy Award winner Christina Aguilera.

The half time show will feature the Black Eyed Peas, with “surprise” appearances by singer Usher and guitarist Slash from Guns n’ Roses.

A slate of diverse and high quality entertainment… a few hours of funny, clever commercials… and oh, by the way, a thrilling football game in between… is the recipe for a perfect day and a gridiron fan’s dream!  As you enjoy today’s festivities, we hope you will also enjoy our Red Zone Sangria!

Red Zone Sangria

For one pitcher of Sangria, use the following ingredients

1 lime

1 lemon

1 orange

1 apple

Red grapes

3 Tablespoons of sugar

½ bottle of full bodied red wine

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Ice cubes

Orange soda

Ginger Ale

½ cup orange flavored liqueur or brandy (I prefer to use Triple Sec)

Slice the fruits (lemon, lime, orange, apple, grapes) and place in pitcher with the liqueur, brandy, or Triple Sec.  Let stand a minimum of 30 minutes.  Add the wine and lemon juice and stir.  Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes more.

Before serving, add the ice cubes and fill the pitcher with equal amounts of orange soda and ginger ale.  Garnish with red grapes and enjoy!

Can the Packers’ Contain Polamalu and the Steelers?

Tomorrow is the big day – Super Bowl XLV is shaping up to be a classic.  Two tough, physical defenses look to make this a low scoring, hard hitting game.  Since we have Super Bowl party platters to prepare, let’s take a quick look at the Steelers’ defense.  Will the Steel Curtain be able to close the window on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers?  Here is our take on this crucial aspect of tomorrow’s game.

Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu was recently named the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year.  He deserved it.  He is the leader of the Steelers’ #2 ranked defense and will be perhaps the number one threat to Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV.   Polamalu had 7 interceptions and 63 tackles in 14 games during the regular season.  Polamalu is a hard hitter, but what is most impressive about him is his natural and uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time on the field.

Other key players on the defense are outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.   Harrison enters Super Bowl XLV with 13.5 sacks, while Woodley has 12.  Woodley will pass rush on the right side of the Packers’ offensive line, forcing Rodgers to his left to throw.  This pressure could possibly impact Rodgers’ accuracy, so expect the Steelers to blitz Woodley all game.  Harrison has become notorious for his ferocious hits, as well as his ability to apply pressure to QBS.  Given Rodgers’ two concussions this season, the Packers will need to account for Harrison and keep him away from the pocket.

The Steelers have the #1 ranked rush defense and will likely limit the Packers’ running game.  Although Green Bay’s James Starks has established a running game late in the season, the Steelers should be able to contain him, forcing Rodgers to win the game through the air.

The Steel Curtain vs. Aaron Rodgers – who will win this intense battle of two powerful, unrelenting forces?  While it is hard to bet against the Steelers’ defense, we give the slight edge to Green Bay.  In order for the Packers to win, they will need to keep the ball away from Polamalu as much as possible.  Rodgers’ accuracy and quick release should allow him to make big plays downfield.  With the weakest part of the Steelers’ defense at cornerback, look for Rodgers to work the perimeter.

As we close out this week’s 4 part Super Bowl XLV analysis before the big day tomorrow, we have given the edge to Green Bay’s defense over the Steelers’ offense.  We also believe that Aaron Rodgers will find a way to score and prevail over the Steelers’ dominant defense.  Look for a low scoring, close game with Green Bay walking away with the Lombardi Trophy.

The Packers got to the Super Bowl with sheer guts and determination this year.  Finishing the season with an award named after their legendary coach – who believed in hard work and determination above all else – would be the perfect ending for Rodgers and the Packers.  Prediction:  Green Bay 24-Pittsburgh 21.

Flying Ace Aaron Rodgers is the Man in Command!

A few weeks ago, we wrote a feature about Aaron Rodgers being accustomed to being overlooked.  He was snubbed for the Pro Bowl.  He was not offered any Division I college scholarships coming out of high school.  He was passed over in the draft to a much lower spot than predicted and, finally, he had to live in the shadow of Brett Favre for three long years. 

Rodgers flourished “flying under the radar” in the past, but he no longer holds stealth status.  Instead, he is like a state-of-the-art fighter jet pilot.  On Sunday he will fly into Cowboys Stadium and try to blast the Steel Curtain to shreds on his way to winning the Lombardi Trophy.   Let’s take a look at Green Bay’s offensive weapons and what they need to do to overcome the Steelers’ #2 ranked defense.

Aaron Rodgers is indeed the “pilot” of Green Bay’s offense.   In the post season he has been soaring high, completing over 70% of his pass attempts for nearly 800 yards and an impressive 113 quarterback rating.  In those 3 playoff games, he threw for 6 TDs.  His accuracy and quick release have been a thing of beauty this post-season, rivaling the elegance and finesse of a seasoned Blue Angels pilot performing his aerial show.  Combined with his strength, often underestimated mobility and composure, Rodgers just oozes Super Bowl MVP potential.

Greg Jennings is one of Rodgers’ favorite downfield targets.  With 76 catches for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns, he received his first Pro Bowl bid this season.  Rodgers has other powerful weapons in his arsenal as well.  Twelve year veteran Donald Driver is the Packers all time leading receiver and has been selected for the Pro Bowl three times.  Jordy Nelson and James Jones have made great contributions this year, especially in third and fourth down situations.  With a number of offensive passing threats, Jennings is less likely to be in double coverage, which gives the Packers a greater scoring opportunity.

Most of the season, the Packers’ running game has been practically non-existent.   More recently, RB James Starks has been able to contribute to the rushing game which has helped balance the offense.  During the regular season Starks was injured and played in only 3 games, rushing for a mere 101 yards.  During the post season, he has accumulated 263 yards.  Facing the Steelers’ #1 ranked rush defense will likely limit Starks’, but his power and speed will get him the tough, short yardage when most needed.

Keeping pressure off Aaron Rodgers is a necessity for the Packers’ offensive line.  Rodgers suffered two concussions this season and a brutal hit to the head in the NFC Championship game.  The Packers cannot afford to let Rodgers take a blow to the head on Sunday.  The O-line is an experienced group, including Pro Bowl tackle Chad Clifton who has been on the team since 2000.  Center Scott Wells and left guard Daryn Colledge have played in their current positions since 2006.  While the O-line is not an outstanding unit, it adequately gets the job done.  Rodgers’ mobility and ability to get rid of the ball quickly help make up for this average O-line.

As we look at the overall Super Bowl scenario it appears that, offensively, the Packers will be forced to almost exclusively rely on Rodgers since the running game will be limited.  The key for Green Bay will come down to how effectively they can contain the Steelers’ intense pass rush and how well the receiving corps matches up against Pittsburgh’s secondary.  The battle should be intense, but Aaron Rodgers seems poised and ready to take command, just like the celebrated fighter pilot he has become!

Can Clay Matthews and the Packers Bring Down Big Ben?

The clock is ticking down to Super Bowl XLV and we are getting excited for this classic match up!  We’ve taken a look at Pittsburgh’s offense, focusing on the offensive line and the adversity it has faced this past season.  We believe that the O-line must win the battle in the trenches and allow a rushing game to develop in order for the Steelers to win.   Standing in their way is Green Bay’s defensive guru – Dom Capers.  Let’s examine Capers, some key players and the potential strategies Green Bay will use to stop Big Ben and company.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is considered one of the most organized and thorough coaches in the league.  He keeps volumes of notes and is a master at devising schemes that confound opposing offenses.  When he coached at Pittsburgh in 1992, he and Dick LeBeau, the Steelers’ current defensive coordinator, created and installed the 3-4 zone defense that the Steelers use today.  On Sunday, Capers and LeBeau face off against each other in a battle of defensive masterminds.  There is no doubt that both defensive coordinators will devise clever, well designed game strategies.  The game will come down to which team best executes those game plans.

In 2009, Green Bay lost to Pittsburgh 37-36.  Roethlisberger had over 500 yards passing and 3 TDs in that game.  Capers and his pressure oriented defense sacked Big Ben 5 times, but it wasn’t enough to throw the big, physical QB off of his game.  Mike Wallace also had a huge impact on that game.  He had a TD on the first play from scrimmage, as well as the game winning TD in the final seconds of the game.   Capers will likely use that 2009 game as inspiration as he draws up his 3-4, zone-blitz scheme to contain the Steelers. 

In the 2009 contest, Capers didn’t pressure Big Ben as much in the final minutes of the game because his deep coverage was falling apart and Roethlisberger was picking them apart.  He was only able to rush 3 or 4 players in the final minutes and the opportunistic Wallace scored on a 19 yard TD pass.  The Packers have cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams to provide much better coverage than in the 2009 game, which should allow more Capers to rush more players towards the pocket and apply more pressure on Big Ben. 

Given Pittsburgh’s patchwork O-line due to injuries, Capers will look to exploit any suspected weaknesses.  With Pittsburgh standout center Maurkice Pouncey doubtful for Sunday, 6’ 2”, 337 pound nose tackle B.J. Raji is likely chomping at the bit.  Raji has become a YouTube phenomenon after he intercepted a pass in the NFC Championship game, returned it for a TD and proceeded to celebrate by dancing with his hands on his waist and wiggling his hips like he was in a hoola hoop contest.  Raji is the heaviest player to ever score a TD in post season play!  If Pouncey is out, Capers will look to disrupt his replacement – undrafted center Doug Legursky – and the dancing Raji may just be the one to cause that disruption.

Another potential mismatch exists between tenacious left outside linebacker Clay Matthews and Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams.  In last year’s game, Matthews annihilated Steelers tackle Max Starks as he sacked Big Ben twice and hit him hard three times.  Mathews also forced a fumble that eventually got overturned.  Big Ben is hard to bring down, but with Matthews’ success against him from last year, it is an advantage that Capers is sure to use, especially as he is lined up against the declining, older Adams, who is in his 13th year in the NFL.  Both Raji and Matthews will try to disrupt the pocket all game long, pressuring Big Ben and causing a potential game changing turnover in the process.

The Steelers know they will need to run the ball to win and will count on Rashard Mendenhall to carry the load.   In the AFC Championship game against the #3 ranked Jets rush defense, Mendenhall ground out 121 crucial yards.  The Packers have a run defense ranked a mediocre 18th in the league.  At first glance, that appears to give the Steelers a real advantage in running the ball.  However, Capers has deliberately designed his defense to allow opponents to gain 5 or 6 yards on 1st and 2nd down.  They use their nickel package, with 5 defensive backs on the field.  Capers’ strategy is that in passing to set up the run, this scheme gives the Packers a chance of creating an interception.  When it matters, Capers dials up a defense that stiffens to stop the run. 

Raji and tackle Ryan Pickett have been effective in stopping the inside run, which Mendenhall favors.  Matthews and linebacker A.J. Hawk will be called upon to stop Mendenhall from getting to the second line of defense.  In 2009, with much of the same defensive personnel in place, the Packers run defense ranked first in the league.  That is why the #18 ranking is so deceptive.  Capers has simply devised a different tactic that gives up short yardage on 1st or 2nd down, but can effectively stop the run on crucial third downs.

After looking at the matchup between the Steelers offense and Packers defense, we give the edge to Green Bay.  While Roethlisberger will undoubtedly make some clutch plays, we think Capers and his pressure oriented defense will slow down Big Ben’s scoring.  We also think turnovers by the Packers’ defense will play a pivotal role in the outcome of the game.  Clay Matthews missed the Associated Press’ coveted Defensive Player of the Year this season by the slimmest of margins (a mere 2 votes) to Super Bowl rival Troy Polamalu.  The relentless Matthews has something to prove and we feel he may very well be a critical factor in Super Bowl XLV.

%d bloggers like this: