Saturday, January 22, 2005

Blah, blah, blah

Apparently, you can get paid to write about football without having to do much research or know much about the game. You can be on ESPN with even less preparation.

The guy who irritates me most is Sean Salisbury. He defines pomposity. He doesn't analyze; he makes pronouncements. It really gets me when he talks about QBs. No one with his career stats should speak so definitively about other player's abilities. Kordell Stewart threw more touchdown passes in 1997 than Salisbury did in his whole career. Quite simply, Salisbury was not a good quarterback, never played with a great quarterback, and never played on a great team. He lacks credibility when he issues his hanging judge verdicts.

(That's why I find Salisbury far more irritating than Sterling Sharpe or Michael Irwin. When they call out a receiver, they have authority.)

(OTOH, I'm not sure receivers make the best analysts-they are the most self-absorbed players on a team, and are removed from 90% of the action.)

Sportswriters should be better, but too many of them want to spout one-liners on TV. (Curse you Tony Kornheiser for ruining a formerly respectable craft.) And too many seem to just repeat the conventional wisdom tarted up with a new anecdote.

WOW. That was a lot of venting to get to my main point. The storyline for Sunday's game is that Brady played great last week while Big Ben played horribly. Therefore, the Patriots will win in a walk.

I don't dispute that Brady is a better QB than Rothlisberger and that is especially so under play-off pressure. But there is more at work here than the quarterbacks. Our O-line is better, our run defense is better, our run offense is at least as good. So maybe Pittsburgh has a chance?

Further, how much better was Brady last week? He did not throw an interception, while BR threw two. Big advantage Patriots. But, look at the other numbers. Brady comes in second in total yards, yards per attempt, yards per completion, sacks, and longest completion. Plus, the Jets defense is much tougher than the Colts.

The Brady/Rothlisberger narrative is bolstered by the final scores and the Steelers's narrow escape against the Jets. But boiling it down to the QBs ignores too many factors that have nothing to do with them. Brady did not tear the ball away from Dominic Rhodes, BR did not let Moss run back the punt for a score, BR did not make Bettis fumble in Jets territory, nor did he let the DB take the ball back 86 yards for a score. Avoid any one of those breakdowns and the whole dynamic of the game changes. BR is being blamed for things that have nothing to do with his play at quarterback.

All that said, I'm not brimming with confidence. Hopeful? Yes, but I know New England is a very, very good team. But, my worry is not about Ben Rothlisberger. It is about special teams (nightmare flashbacks from the 2001 season), play calling (too many passes too early), and plain bad breaks.

Four things I would like to see the Steelers try:

1. A bootleg early in the game to make the defense respect BR's mobility.
2. A couple deep shots to Burris in the first half to set the tone.
3. A gadget play. Cowher has used relatively few of these in the last month. Something, anything to not be predictable.
4. An early series in the hurry up offense with three wide receivers. Try a couple runs from this set. We had good success on second down running out of this formation against the Jets.

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