Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

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.

Steeler Nation or Cheeseheads? Which Super Bowl Team Boasts the Best Fans?

In 2008, ESPN ranked all 32 NFL teams’ fan bases and determined that the Steelers and Packers were tied for first place.  Exactly what criteria were used to make this determination is unclear, but not many people would argue that these two teams have fiercely devoted fans.  After a “tiebreaker” by an ESPN writer who just happened to be a native of Steeler country, they ultimately named the Steelers’ fans the best in the NFL due in part to their sellout of 299 consecutive games.  Every home game since 1972 has been a sellout.

Pittsburgh’s fan base is referred to as “Steeler Nation” and their fans are indeed scattered throughout the country. How and why is there such a huge, nationwide following of the Steelers?  The answer can be traced to the decline of the steel industry and the emergence of the Steelers as a dominant force in the league.  When Chuck Noll became head coach, the Steelers ushered in a new decade of supremacy.  The 1970’s gave birth to many Steeler icons such as Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, “Mean” Joe Greene, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth – just to name a few.  Is it any wonder that during that decade the franchise made the playoffs 8 times and won the Super Bowl 4 times?

The rise in the Steelers’ success occurred at a time when the steel industry began its decline.  In the late 70s to early 80s, steel mills shut down, causing major unemployment and the beginning of an economic crisis in the Pittsburgh region.  As a result, many people were forced to leave the area to find jobs.  When they left, they took with them their fervor and passion for their beloved Steelers.  Behold, Steeler Nation was born! 

Today, the Steelers’ black and gold clad fans are rampant wherever the team travels.  Waving their trademark “Terrible Towels”, they should indeed be considered one of the most loyal, fervent fan bases in the NFL.

So how does the Steeler Nation compare to Green Bay’s Cheeseheads?  Green Bay has the 2nd oldest franchise in the NFL and, like the Steelers, their fans are loyal beyond measure.  Perhaps that loyalty can be attributed to the small town feeling associated with the team.  Or perhaps it is the fact that the Packers are the only non-profit, publicly owned professional sports franchise in the U.S., with nearly 112,000 shareholders, most of whom are Cheesehead-wearing fanatics!  On game day, nothing can compare to the70.000 screaming fans at Lambeau Field.  Their incomparable passion and dedication is certainly tied to the fact that most of these fans have an actual stake in the team!

So as we head into the Super Bowl, which team boasts the most devoted, fervent fan base?  Tune in on February 6th and find out when these two fanatical groups meet in Cowboys Stadium for a real Texas showdown!  Jerry Jones’ egotistical vision built the largest, most state of the art NFL stadium in the country, with a seating capacity of over 100,000.  What better venue to host two of the largest and most dedicated fan bases in all of professional sports?  Even with this massive seating capacity, we have a feeling the stadium will be bursting at the seams!

Super Bowl XLV – Let’s Get Ready!!!

After a few days recovering from last weekend’s Conference Championship games, we’re back!  Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that on February 6th, Super Bowl XLV will feature the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the NFC Champion Green Bay Packers.  As the big day approaches, we will be bringing you all the latest player, coach and team news, as well as what we think the keys to the game are for both teams.  We will also include some features that look at some of the interesting and unique aspects of this year’s Super Bowl.

The Steelers are the oldest team in the AFC, having been established in 1933.  Pittsburgh has 6 Super Bowl championships – the most in the history of the NFL.  The Packers franchise was started in 1919 and they have the most league titles, twelve of which are prior to the establishment of the Super Bowl.  With two teams so rich in tradition, Super Bowl XLV is shaping up to be one of the greatest matchups in recent history. 

We hope you will join us over the next 10 days as we explore the on and off field storylines – like an in depth feature on Cowboy’s Stadium, a look at the very loyal and unique fan bases of both teams, a preview of the pre-game and half time entertainment, and of course, an in depth analysis of both teams!

As we prepare for next Sunday’s festivities, we want to share one of our very favorite tailgating recipes that will be a great addition to your Super Bowl party menu.  It is super easy and can be made the day before the big game.  Enjoy!

Touchdown Tortellini Skewers

Marinade: 

½ cup olive oil

4 Tbsp. sugar

4 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Salt, pepper, oregano, basil

Cook one package of fresh tortellini (cheese filled).  I use the multi-colored tortellini to make it look more interesting.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Add cubed Jarlsberg cheese.  I buy the pre-packaged wedge of Jarlsberg from the deli and use the entire thing, cubing them to approximately equal the amount of tortellini pieces I have cooked.  Add sliced pepperoni (use enough to approx. correspond to the number of tortellini and cubed cheese) and cherry tomatoes and place in marinade.  Refrigerate a few hours to overnight.

Place on wooden skewers or long football themed picks, alternating tortellini, cheese, and pepperoni.  I use just a small amount of the cherry tomatoes, usually one or two per skewer.  Place on tray and cover with plastic wrap.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Who’s Your Man?

Tomorrow’s AFC Championship game has two high profile quarterbacks – New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez and Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.  When it comes to a title game, who would you rather have on your team?

 Big Ben and Mark Sanchez are light years apart in public image.  Roethlisberger’s off the field problems – careless motorcycle driving, two different accusations of sexual assault and a possible drinking problem – have given him a bad boy image.  His QB performance this season has certainly helped repair that image somewhat, but if he doesn’t take the Steelers to the Super Bowl, we have to wonder if fans will once again be reminded of his misdeeds.

Sanchez, on the other hand, has somewhat of a golden boy image.  His wholesome looks, combined with his Southern California roots, make him the perfect candidate for a Hollister ad campaign.  Not only can he pull off a sun-kissed, fun loving surfer image, but he also embraces his refined, cultural side as well.  This past summer, he appeared at the Tony Awards and introduced a song from a Broadway musical, while admitting that he is a big fan of theatre and the arts since moving to New York.  Talk about a multi-faceted personality!

Both Roethlisberger and Sanchez were first round draft picks.  Sanchez was the 5th overall pick in 2009.  When drafted, he had only 16 starts under his belt as a USC Trojan.  He started only one season, but led the Trojans to a 12-1 record and Rose Bowl Championship.  In his first year with the Jets, he took his team to the playoffs, but ultimately lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship game.  He became the 4th rookie QB in NFL history to win his first playoff game and the 2nd to win two playoff games in his rookie year.

Despite only 2 years in the NFL, Sanchez exudes the confidence of a much more experienced player.  Perhaps his poise and leadership skills can be traced to his childhood.  Sanchez’s father – a former Army Sergeant and fire department captain – believed in teaching his son how to think quickly and to be a leader.  As a child, Sanchez mastered these skills by doing drills such as dribbling a basketball without looking – while reciting multiplication tables.  Sanchez’s father would have Mark stay after practices and do these drills in order to learn how to concentrate and think fast in a pressure situation – two skills that are serving him well as the NY Jets QB.

Roethlisberger was the 11th pick in the 2004 draft.   When drafted, he had 3 years of experience playing at Miami University of Ohio.  He broke every major record at the university and dominated the Mid-American Conference as well.  Since he started playing for the Steelers in 2004, Big Ben has compiled an impressive resume, too numerous to list.  Some of his major accomplishments include 2004 Offensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowl Selection in 2007, and oh, by the way, TWO Super Bowl Championships!  Big Ben was the youngest starting QB to ever win a Super Bowl.

Sanchez may have had an upbringing that helped him develop leadership and quick thinking skills.  But Roethlisberger clearly has the advantage when it comes to playoff experience, where those types of skills are truly tested.  He has a 9-2 playoff record, compared to Sanchez’s 4-1 playoff record.  Another advantage Big Ben has is his 6’5” 240 pound frame that makes him a real challenge for defenders to bring down. 

So, which QB would you want on your team tomorrow?  If we were only choosing based on likeability, Mark Sanchez – the California surfer with a love for Broadway – wins hands down.  But if we want to have the best chance of winning the game, Big Ben is our man.   His size, combined with his playoff experience, arm strength and mobility, make him our choice for this fabulous AFC Championship game.

Flying Under the Radar – Why Aaron Rodgers Thrives on Being Stealth

Snubbed by the Pro Bowl this year, overlooked by most of the media and having endured playing in the shadow of Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers is now making his presence known.  Even Troy Aikman stated this week that if he had a team, he would choose Rodgers as his starting QB.  As Rodgers leads his Packers into the NFC Championship, he is playing like not just a would be Pro Bowl QB, but quite possibly an MVP.

His path to the NFC title game was not easy.  Coming out of high school, Rodgers was not offered a single Division I scholarship offer.  Never one to give up, he went to Butte College, a small community college in California and led them to a 10-1 season and number 2 national ranking.  His performance there caught the attention of the University of California, who offered him a scholarship.  As a Golden Bear, Rodgers once again played exceptionally well and set a number of passing records as a sophomore.  He led his team to a victory over Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl and elevated himself to national recognition. 

Rodgers entered the 2005 draft and was considered to be the top QB and likely number one overall pick.  But Rodgers was overlooked by the teams many considered would take him and was finally chosen by the Packers as the 24th pick.  Unfortunately, he found himself on a team with one of the most elite QBs in the history of the game – Brett Favre.  For the next three seasons, Rodgers waited for his opportunity to play.  Upon Favre’s departure in 2008, he earned the starting position.  Despite his solid play, the Packers had a losing season and fans directed their anger and disappointment towards their new starting QB. 

In 2009, Rodgers led the Packers to an 11-5 record and a wild card spot in the playoffs.  While the Packers lost in the first round of the playoffs, Rodgers had a very successful season.  He was the first QB to throw for over 4,000 yards in both of his first two seasons as a starter.  Rodgers was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2009.

This season, he was the top ranked NFC QB with a rating of 101.2.  He passes with incredible accuracy and is the epitome of a pocket passer.  His incredible ability to read defenses quickly and pick them apart is reminiscent of Peyton Manning. Like Manning, he also changes the play at the line of scrimmage when he sees a better read – that is a true testament to the confidence his coaches’ place in him. Rodgers also has the ability to run and was the Packers’ leading rusher this season, rushing for nearly 400 yards and 4 TDs.

While most of the attention in last week’s playoff game focused on Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan who was selected for the Pro Bowl, it was the QB NOT selected by the Pro Bowl who had the big day.  In that game, Rodgers was 31 of 36 for 366 yards, 3 TDs and a 48-21 victory.  It seems Rodgers thrives on the underdog status, playing like a man with something to prove.

Flying under the radar is something Aaron Rodgers has become accustomed to.  From his early days when he was overlooked by Division I colleges, to being passed over in the draft and living in the shadow of Favre,  Rodgers has maintained his dignity, while preparing for his day in the spotlight.  That day has finally arrived and it seems Rodgers is fully prepared to take center stage.   With this new found attention and hype, will Rodgers’ hot hand continue?  Or does he perform better when he is the underdog and plays with a chip on his shoulder?  Sunday’s game should answer that question and I, for one, cannot wait to discover the answer!

There’s No Place Like Holmes!

As we gear up for this weekend’s NFL Conference Championships, we plan to take a look at some of the intriguing players and plots among the Steelers/Jets and Packers/Bears.  Today we highlight New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes. 

Holmes was drafted by the Steelers in 2006 in the first round.  He was both a receiver and a punt returner.  Holmes went on to become the Super Bowl MVP in 2009, when he caught the game winning TD with 35 seconds left in the 4th quarter to give the Steelers their 6th Super Bowl title.  It was one of the most amazing receptions in Super Bowl history, as he had to balance himself and make a tip-toed, far-reaching catch!  

In April, after a number of off the field issues including a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets for a 5th round draft pick.  Given his Super Bowl performance and some impressive games over his years as a Steeler, the news stunned the sports world.  The NFL handed down a 4 game suspension to Holmes because of his substance abuse violation at the beginning of the season.   Holmes became eligible to play for the NY Jets on October 11th against the Vikings. 

Through twelve games, Holmes had 52 receptions for 746 yards.  While those may not be eye-popping stats, it is his ability to make clutch plays that makes Holmes so valuable.  Just like the Super Bowl catch that earned him MVP status, Holmes made another unforgettable big play in last week’s divisional game vs. the top seeded Patriots.  The game was still close, as the Patriots had just scored to make it 14-11.  On third down early in the 4th quarter, Holmes made an incredible TD reception, managing to get his knee down in the end zone while extending his body in an extraordinary display of control and athleticism!

The Jets defeated the Steelers 22-17 in Week 15 at Heinz field.  Once again, Gang Green will head back to the land of the twirling “Terrible Towels”.  Will Santonio Holmes, the ultimate clutch player, have one of his unforgettable performances that change the outcome of the game?  Will his play be one of vengeance, where he stuns the Steelers into wishing they had not traded him?  Or will the Steelers shut Holmes down and feel validated by their decision to rid themselves of the controversial WR?  Tune in Sunday and watch as Holmes’ intriguing story unfolds in this AFC Conference Championship game!

Click Here to See Holmes’ Amazing TD Reception vs. the Patriots

Next Up: NFL Conference Championship Games!

With less than 4 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves tied with the Baltimore Ravens.  With Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in charge, was the outcome ever in doubt?  The calm, veteran QB gathered the team in the huddle and simply stated, “I’m going down to score.  Who is coming down with me?”  With that, he and the Steelers put together an 11 play drive that resulted in the game winning TD by Rashard Mendenhall. 

The Steelers 31-24 victory earned them a spot in the AFC Conference Championship game next week.  This is Pittsburgh’s 4th AFC title game in seven years.  They will face the New York Jets at home.  The Jets defeated the top seeded New England Patriots yesterday 28-21.  After a week of trash talking from Jets head coach Rex Ryan and some of his players, Gang Green backed up their words with their on field play.  The key to the game was stopping Tom Brady and the Jet’s defensive strategy did just that – sacking the likely MVP 5 times and intercepting him once.   Prior to yesterday, Brady had not thrown an INT in 335 pass attempts.  

The Steelers versus the Jets!  Game time is 6:30 pm ET Sunday.  Make sure to check back this week for the latest news and analysis of what promises to be an exciting AFC Conference Championship!

Meanwhile in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers manhandled the NFC’s top seeded Atlanta Falcons Saturday, defeating them 48-21.  We stated before that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers seems to be a man on a mission and he certainly played like one.  Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three passing TDs, plus a rushing TD.

Green Bay will travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in the NFC Conference Championship game.  The Bears defeated the Seahawks yesterday 35-24.  The Bear’s offense overwhelmed the Seahawks and Bears QB Jay Cutler, in his first post-season appearance, threw 2 TD and rushed for 2 as well. Despite a valiant effort by Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle offense simply could not get things going.  The question remains – were the Bears that good, or were the Seahawks really that bad?

The Packers and Bears have a long-standing rivalry, dating back to 1921.  They have met 181 times, but this is the first time they have are playing for an NFC title.  Sunday’s game will air at3 pm ET.  We look forward to breaking down this traditional, storied rivalry in the days to come!

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