Posts Tagged ‘Clay Matthews’

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!

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.

Steelers O-Line May be Key to 7th Super Bowl Championship

This week, as we look forward to Super Bowl XLV, we will look at each team’s offensive and defensive units and what they need to do to be successful as they appear on the biggest gridiron stage in the world!   Today, we examine Pittsburgh’s offense, including its strengths, the challenges it has faced and the keys to holding off a very talented Green Bay defense.  While Pittsburgh is known for its defensive prowess, like the lore of the Steel Curtain, offensively the Steelers must have a big day if they want to walk away with their 7th Super Bowl title.

Ben Roethlisberger is the face of Pittsburgh’s offense.  With 2 Super Bowl rings and an impressive record in post season play, he is a critical component to the Steelers’ success.  While he may not have the accuracy and poise of Peyton Manning, Big Ben can make the clutch plays needed to pull off a win.  He has grit and determination that does not quit and it is those attributes that have brought the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV. 

Big Ben’s 6’5” 240 pound frame has been essential this season.  His size and strength make it difficult for defenders to bring him down.  But Roethlisberger has faced a great deal of pressure since the offensive line has been plagued with injuries all season.  Right tackle Willie Colon was injured in July and missed the entire season.  Right guard Trai Essex missed 4 games early in the season, left tackle Max Starks was out Week 9 and left guard Chris Kemoeatu missed a game with an ankle injury as well.  Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers’ first round draft pick last year, is the latest misfortune to affect the O-line.  Pouncey suffered an ankle injury in the AFC Championship game and it is unlikely he will play on Sunday.

If Pouncey does indeed miss the Super Bowl, it means that right tackle Flozell Adams will be the only offensive line player to have started every game this season.  Adams is a veteran who played for the Cowboys the past 12 seasons before being released by them this year.  This is his first Super Bowl appearance and as he returns to play for the Lombardi Trophy in Cowboys Stadium, we can’t help but wonder if Jerry Jones regrets his decision to let him go.

The adversity that the Steelers’ offensive line has lived with this season would have caused many teams to fail.  Injuries forced some O-lineman to play positions they had never played before.  Despite these challenges and Roethlisberger’s 4 game suspension early in the season, the Steelers found a way to win.  Against the Packers, they will have to be able to run the ball, which could prove to be especially difficult if Pouncey is out.  But in last week’s AFC Championship game, the O-line played what was arguably its best game yet.  Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 121 yards in that game, but more importantly he consistently gets the tough, short yardage when most needed.  In post-season play, the Steelers have scored on all 6 of their first and goal situations and Mendenhall scored 3 of those TDs.

When Mendenhall isn’t being asked to grind out some yardage, Big Ben will go to the air.  Roethlisberger will no doubt be pressured by Dom Capers’ defense.  Big Ben has the ability to escape pressure, but the Packers will be relentless with their very talented defensive unit, including linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive tackle B.J. Raji. 

With a strong pass rush from the Packers, the key for Big Ben will be to get rid of the ball quickly.  He has the ability to make quick passes, especially on crucial third downs, that can prove deadly to blitzing defenses.  Roethlisberger’s downfield targets include veteran Hines Ward, who was the Super Bowl MVP in 2005.  However, look for the younger players in the receiving corps, like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown to play bigger roles in Sunday’s game. 

As a rookie, Wallace caught the game winning TD in a 2009 game against the Packers, just as the clock expired.  This season he led Pittsburgh with over 1200 yards and 10 TDs.  In the post season, rookie receiver Brown has been more of a factor, as Wallace has been drawing double coverage.

The Steelers face an intimidating defense on Sunday orchestrated by Capers who is simply a master at disguising his schemes.  Pittsburgh’s offense will face a daunting challenge trying to read and contain the defense, but they can triumph if their offensive line plays well.  While Pittsburgh’s O-line is often criticized, it has scraped and scratched its way to success amid much adversity.  For the Steelers to win, the O-line MUST contain the Packers so that Roethlisberger is not constantly shedding off defenders all day long.  If they can step up as they did in the AFC Championship game, the running game can be established and it will allow Pittsburgh to control the clock.  A running game will also force more Packers to the line of scrimmage and open up Big Ben’s passing game.   While Roethlisberger may indeed be the face of the Steelers offense, on Sunday it will be the O-line that determines whether they win or lose.

Can the Packers Bring the Heat to Matty Ice?

Following the Raven/Steelers game on Saturday afternoon is the NFC Divisional Playoff featuring the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons.  The 13-3 Falcons are seeded number one and had a bye last week, while the Packers played a tough game against the Eagles.  Their win against the Eagles was their first road playoff victory since 1997!  Let’s take a look at this matchup which takes place at 8 PM ET on Saturday.

The two teams played in the Georgia Dome in Week 12, with the Falcons emerging with a 20-17 victory.  Falcons QB Matt Ryan is 20-2 at home and, to their dismay, the Packers find themselves playing in the Georgia Dome.  Ryan is having a phenomenal season, throwing for over 3700 yards and 28 TDs.  In high school, Ryan earned the nickname “Matty Ice” for his ability to remain cool and calm under pressure.  He has continued to show poise in the NFL and has led Atlanta to 13 4th quarter or overtime drives that resulted in wins.

How can the Packers rattle the unflappable Ryan?  Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson may just be the duo for the job.   Matthews was just named The Sporting News NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  That recognition was well deserved, as he is one of the leading pass rushers, recording 13.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception this season.  Last week against the Eagles, Matthews blitzed Eagles QB Michael Vick all game and was a key factor in disrupting the Eagles offense.  Matthews and Woodson will likely be a major part of the Packer’s strategy to contain Ryan and his offense. 

The Packers have relied almost exclusively on QB Aaron Rodgers and his passing game all season, as their running game has been virtually non-existent.  Last week they found success in RB James Starks, who rushed for 123 yards.  If Starks is able to build on last week’s success vs. the Eagles, this could greatly improve the Packer’s chances.  In their Week 12 loss against Atlanta, Packer’s RBs rushed for a mere 26 yards and Rodgers himself picked up 51 yards.   A new found rushing game helps balance the offense and control the time of possession and could be the big difference in the game.

Matty Ice may be unflappable, but he will likely feel some pressure from Matthews and Woodson.  While the Falcons have home field advantage and beat the Packers earlier this season, Rogers appears to be a man on a mission and seems unstoppable.  Coupled with a new, promising running game, they have an edge over their previous meetings with the Falcons.  Look for a tight game, with the Packers winning by 7.

Eagles vs. Packers/Vick vs. Rodgers…Who Will Win the Final Wild Card Game of the Weekend?

As Wild Card Weekend winds down, we are gearing up for what should be a great contest between two high powered offenses!  The Ravens defense held strong in this afternoon’s game, in part due to the many mistakes by the Chiefs.  The Ravens join the Seahawks and Jets as winners of this weekend’s playoff games. Will it be the Packers or Eagles that joins them?

Get ready for the next game – Go Eagles!

NFC Wild Card Game – Packers vs. Eagles

It is no secret that we are BIG admirers of Michael Vick.  With that in mind, here is our view of today’s game.  It should be a wild wrap up to this Wild Card weekend!

The Packers and Eagles met in Week 1.  The Packers won that game 27-20 and starting Eagles QB Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion, allowing back up Michael Vick to take over.  Vick brought the Eagles back from a 17 point deficit that fateful day, throwing for 175 yards and rushing for over a hundred yards.  While he may not have been able to ultimately win that game, he did put himself in the position to win the starting QB position for the Eagles.  The rest is history.

Michael Vick is the key to an Eagles victory today.  The past few weeks, Vick has struggled against the blitz.  When the Eagles played the Vikings earlier this season, he was sacked 6 times.  Green Bay will likely use a similar strategy and throw some innovative blitz packages at the elusive QB.  It will be up to Vick to read them and adjust. 

In their first meeting, the Packers sacked Vick 3 times in only 19 attempted passes.  Look for Packers cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews to play big roles in disrupting Vick today.  The Philly offensive line will have to play better than they have in the last few weeks in order to protect him and give the Eagles a chance. 

Aaron Rodgers’ passing ability defines the Packers offense.  Rodgers has the third highest QB rating in the league and the Packers are ranked 5th overall in passing in the NFL.  Despite injuries to both his starting RB and TE, Rodgers has propelled the Packers into the post-season.  Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are Rodgers’ leading receivers on this pass-first team.  If the secondary cannot contain them, Rodgers could put up some serious points. 

With two high powered offenses facing each other in a “do or die” situation, this game is hard to predict.  But given our love for Michael Vick, we find ourselves inclined to pick the Eagles to win.  While the Eagles lost their last two games, we don’t see it as the beginning of a losing streak.  A healthy Michael Vick, with his dual threat ability, is hard to contain.  If the Packers blitz all day, LeSean McCoy’s blazing speed should be enough to win this one for the Eagles, even facing the NFC’s top ranked defense.

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