Friday, February 27, 2009

Throwing away $20 million

Going into the off season, the Steelers have just one glaring weakness... the offensive line. Our franchise quarterback was sacked 46 times last season good for second in the NFL. Despite winning the Super Bowl, this line needs to be fixed badly. First, the Steelers franchise Max Starks again. I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, "Well they did that last year and everything worked out, so I guess this is fine". Then they make a contract offer to Willie Colon. Okay, so its only for a couple million, I can live with that. He could be a backup. Now here's where things really take a turn for the worst and I just can't take it anymore. With long time Colts center and all pro lineman Jeff Saturday expressing an interest to play in Pittsburgh, the Steelers cut loose Kendall Simmons. I don't know if the two are related, but it was shocking. Yeah, Simmons missed all of last season injured, but he's still a former number one pick and a much better guard than what the Steelers have now. Saturday then went on to resign with the Colts.

The Steelers were running out of options and needed a guard fast so they throw $20 million at Chris Kemoeatu. Are you kidding me?? Four million a year for a guy that was simply awful in the Super Bowl and I mean AWFUL. It was Kemoeatu's man that deflected Ben's pass up in the air that led to the interception. It was Kemoeatu that got in Ben's way and didn't block anyone when he tried to scramble up in the middle on 3rd and goal in the second half. Resigning Kemoeatu is a horrible move. Replacing him with Simmons would have been a significant upgrade, but instead they're keeping together one of the worst offensive lines in the game. They're poor run blockers, poor pass blockers and you can forget about getting any kind of push up the middle with this line. Gary Russell would have an easier time punching a football through steel than punching it in from the one yard line.

I'm not going to say the Kemoeatu signing is a stupid move, but its very illogical. The Steelers are rewarding mediocre play with a long term contract. Simmons was a much better option at guard and he would have cost the Steelers about the same amount of money ($4.7 for Simmons, $4 for Kemoeatu). Making bizarre off season moves isn't new for the Steelers and it usually works out for them in the end. Hopefully this is one of those times it works out. If it isn't, you're at risk of losing the best quarterback your franchise has ever known and you can't spell risk with without ChrisKemoeatu.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crosby - Winger = Shero

Alright Shero, this has gone on long enough. Its time to give your franchise center what he needs in order to be the next "Great One". Rotating guys like Andy Hilbert, Colby Armstrong, Pascal Dupuis, Miro Satan, Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko, Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, etc, with Crosby isn't working. Crosby is a playmaker and a very good one at that. He can use his speed to setup a thousand scoring chances, but if he doesn't have someone to bury it, it goes to waste. How great would Wayne Gretzky have been WITHOUT Jari Kurri. Kurri scored 40+ goals in seven straight seasons. In some of those years he scored around 70. This garbage of putting a sub par sniper or a grinder with Crosby and hoping he'll produce is like throwing crap against the wall and seeing what will stick. This is Sid's 4th year in the league and aside from his brief stint playing alongside Marian Hossa, he's never had a competent winger that can bury the puck. Its ridiculous.

For me, the clock is ticking for Penguins GM Ray Shero. If the Pens open next season without a good scoring winger for the top line, then Shero needs to be fired. He's had plenty of chances to acquire this winger in the past. In the 2006 draft, he drafted Jordan Staal over goal scoring snipers Phil Kessel and Peter Mueller. He may still use Staal as a bargaining chip to trade for a winger, but I'm not sure what he's waiting for. There's no need to hang onto a third line center (as talented as he may be) when you have such a glaring weakness on your top line that is affecting your best players' performance. Yeah, so Crosby is third in the league in scoring. This is mostly due to the fact that he's been paired up with Malkin for most of the season. They shouldn't be on the same line. Putting Malkin and Crosby together makes the Penguins a one dimesional, one line, fringe playoff team. I do NOT want to see Shero half ass this again. I don't want to see Milan Hejduk, Keith Tkachuk, Jonathan Cheechoo or Mark Recchi. I want to see Illya Kovalchuk, Marian Gaborik, Dany Heatley or Dustin Brown. No more of this, "Well he had 40 goals 10 years ago" or "He had that one big year". I want to see an elite winger on the top line. I want someone that can produce by themselves and compliments Sid. Not someone like a Rob Brown that just sponges up points and goes along for the ride.

In the next few weeks before this years' trade deadline or during the off season, something needs to be done. On opening night next season, if Crosby's lined up with a couple of "past their prime" or "hustle and grind" players, Lemieux should drop a pink slip on Shero's desk the same time that puck hits the ice on the opening faceoff. Not acquiring a good scoring winger for Crosby is like the Yankees sending A-Rod to the plate with a wiffle ball bat. If you want to get the best out of your players, you have to provide them what they need.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't let the door hit you on the way out

Eight months ago, Michel Therrien was in the Stanley Cup Finals with an uber talented Penguins team. Today, he's unemployed. I never like to see anyone get forced out of his or her job, but the Penguins needed to do this. As I stated back in July when he was given a three-year contract extension, he was not going to lead this team to a championship. I made this statement on an extremely popular Penguins blog and verbally assaulted by a bunch of know-nothing yinzers that think hockey season starts in February. "Hey, Fruscello - stick with Fantasy Football!", "...stay home and ponder your NHL roster moves on your computer, rather than take an active interest in something that seems to be a bit out of your realm of expertise." Out of my expertise eh? The team has the top two scorers in hockey and is 10th in the Eastern Conference with a little less than two months left in the season. Maybe now all the dirty, lowbrow yinzers that jumped on me for saying that the Therrien contract extension was a mistake, will learn shut their mouths when a sports expert tells you like it is. Where are all the "Therrien's a great coach, what a great signing!" people now? Is 10th place where you want to be? Is the team scrambling to just make the playoffs what you want? Sorry, but it was painfully obvious that no matter how talented this team was, they were always going to be out coached and that they would need to rely on just their talent to win games.

Last year in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was very obvious what needed to be done. Therrien was outcoached very badly. His only strategy in that entire series was to complain about obstruction (aka stop letting the Red Wings defense shutdown my teams' offense). The team looked pretty good in Game 5, but as soon as Wings coach Mike Babcock changed the lines in the third period, Therrien had no answer. The Wings scored two goals, outshot the Pens 14-4 and nearly won the championship right there had it not been for Max Talbot's late heroics. Even though the shots were only 14-4, I can't ever remember seeing the ice tilted so badly in favor of one team.

Fair or unfair, I put the blame on Therrien. Several times, the Pens would get matched up against a lesser team with a good coach like the Islanders and lose. How can a team with so much talent lose to a bottom feeder? I'm not saying it's impossible, you'll have down games, but to consistenly struggle against teams with no talent, but good coaching, suggests there's a problem with the coaching. The deathblow finally came last Saturday when the Pens played in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are in a rebuilding process and a lot their guys are fighting for a roster spot. Who's their coach? Ron Wilson, a guy that knows how to get the most out of his players. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Penguins collapsed and gave up 6 unanwersed goals. Are you kidding me? Six?! To the Maple Leafs? That wasn't the first time they were gashed by the Leafs either. They gave up 7 on December 20th and 5 on January 31st. They gave up 6 goals to the Panthers on January 3rd. These are not exactly the best teams in hockey that's tearing them up here. On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes they have a hard time scoring goals. They were shutout by the Lightning on December 23rd, 2-0.

I don't want to hear Therrien fans complain about "Well Gonchar was gone and we lost Hossa, Malone, Roberts, etc". That's not an excuse. Lots of teams have turnover from year to year and they deal with it. They still have two of the best players in the game and your franchise goaltender. The Pens lost Hossa, but so what? They were already a pretty good team before he even showed up at the trade deadline last year. Roberts spent almost all of last season injured. Adam Hall was a 3rd or 4th line checker that spent most of last year as a scratch. Malone is missed, but you don't go from the best team in the conference to 10th because of Ryan Malone. Gonchar is the only real key component missing to this year's team and he would have helped on offense, but how much would he have really helped on defense, where they need the most help? Sure he was great last year, but the year before that he was a minus 5 and the year before that he was a minus 13. I don't see his presence making that much of a difference.

The Penguins appear to be headed for the unthinkable (missing the playoffs after reaching the Finals) and it has mostly to do with Michel Therrien. He makes bad decisions with line combinations and doesn't get the most out of his players. I was positive after the way the Pens were beaten by the Wings in the Finals, that they would've changed their style to be more like Detroit who play a puck possession style of game and rely a lot on their passing. With as many puck moving defenseman as the Pens have and with a great passer like Crosby, it just makes the most sense. Instead Therrien has them playing some sort of 1-2-2 trap that utilizes the talents of no one. I think this move comes too late, but at least someone in the Penguins front office woke up and realized what I already knew back in July, this team was never going to win a championship under Therrien.
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brett Favre retires... again... maybe...

After playing in the NFL for 18 seasons, Favre is hanging them up... again... I hope. Hopefully, in August we won't be talking about "Which team will Favre play for next??!" Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Brett Favre. In 2003, he won a fantasy football championship for me after his 4 TD, 399 yard performance against the Raiders on Monday Night Football. But the way his career ended in Green Bay and the way he took an 8-3 Jets team and drove them into the ground to miss the playoffs shows that not only can he no longer play in this league, but he should have retired years ago.

In January 2007, Favre threw his final pass as a Green Bay Packer, right into the hands of Giants defender Corey Webster. The Giants went on to kick a field goal, send themselves to the Super Bowl and send Favre into retirement... or so we thought. After saying over and over again that he was retired and done with football he decides to un-retire and reclaim his spot on the Packers. Problem was the Packers had already moved on with Aaron Rodgers. Now one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time needed a home. The New York Jets saw this as an opportunity to put themselves over the top and get past the Patriots. They pushed aside Chad Pennington like the ugly girl at the prom and asked more popluar and flashier Favre to dance. It was a match made in heaven, big time quarterback in a big time city.

The Jets were ready to make a run at the playoffs. Unfortunately, that popular, flashy player they asked to take them to the playoffs turned out to be just an old 39 year old quarterback, who turned over the ball so often people were starting to wonder if he remembered what team he played for. In the final 12 weeks of the season, Favre was intercepted 18 times. With teams like the Bengals, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Seahawks and 49ers on the schedule during that time, that shouldn't be happening. The final week of the regular season against the Dolphins, Favre dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" in the phrase "Spectacular Failure" as he threw 3 picks with the last one being the worst. He pretended to spike the ball, only to actually throw a pass to a receiver that wasn't looking for it. Meanwhile over on the other sideline, that "ugly girl" that Favre replaced, finished second in the MVP voting and led his team to the AFC East crown.

Even if the worst should happen and Favre does decide to come out of retirement again, the NFL needs to learn a lesson from this. This man CANNOT help your team. PERIOD. If he had stayed retired, the Jets would have made the playoffs with Pennington. Guaranteed. Everything fell into their favor this season and Favre couldn't get them into the playoffs. They had a good running game, a strong offensive line, a soft schedule, an injury depleted Patriots and their biggest threat was 1-15 last year. I'm sorry, but whether Favre wants to be finished or not, he's finished.

Favre gave us many memorable moments and games and for that, NFL fans are eternally grateful. He will go down in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but right now this is the best thing for Favre and the NFL right now. If he continues to play, he will only ruin good NFL teams with his inconsistent play and continue to tarnish his legacy. Let the fans remember you as you were, a gunslinger that fired all over the field, broke a lot of records and won a lot of games. Not some old guy that keeps shooting himself in the foot every time he reaches for his gun.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In defense of the best defensive player

One of the story lines, I was surprised to hear a lot about was the "thuggery" of James Harrison when he took a personal foul penalty for unnecessary roughness against the Cardinals Aaron Francisco.

Obviously Cardinals fans will have a problem with it, its one of their guys is getting killed by one of ours. But the backlash I'm hearing from Steelers fans is absurd. "He should have been ejected!", "That's not Steelers football, that's acting like a dirty thug!", "His act of violence tainted a great night for the Steelers". Give me a break, Steeler Nation.

I've heard nothing but negative comments in regards to this. Yes, he got penalized and that pinned the offense deeper in their own end. But so what? Nobody called for Jack Lambert's ejection when he slammed Cowboys all pro safety Cliff Harris to the ground after Harris taunted Gerela for missing a field goal in Super Bowl X. Where was the "he's disgracing Steeler football" then? This nobody for the Cardinals, tries for a low block on Harrison's knees. It rubs him the wrong way and gets extremely physical with him. A little too physical apparently. Actually, I'm not sure it should have been a penalty. The play was still going on and Harrison was simply blocking. Yeah, he hit him, but it wasn't with a closed fist. He pushed him back hard with an open hand. This is football people. If you're not a fan of hitting, the Pirates season is right around the corner for you. You won't see any hitting then.

James Harrison won the NFL defensive player of the year award because he's stronger, tougher and plays more physical than anyone else in the league. So Harrison beats the hell out of a couple safeties that get in his way. So what? You won't care about him being too physical when he runs over a 300+ pound tackle and sacks the quarterback. Or when he's the only guy that plows through the line on 4th and inches and stops the running back cold in his tracks. Or when he's intercepting passes on the goaline and running 100 yards the other way for a touchdown. Harrison is a monster and you can't have a monster without him smashing a couple buildings every now and then.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII

It was another big game for the ages. It was another game that went down to the wire. It was another game with big plays to go along with the highs and lows. It was another game that showcased the NFL at its finest. It was another game that has the fans of the losing team complaining about the referees and saying they would have won if it had not been for the bad officiating. There was so much to that game. I was up till 1:30am watching highlights. There was so much to digest. Ben not getting in the end zone on the first drive of the game, Ben's interception that was batted up into the air and gave the Cardinals life, the 100 yard INT return by Harrison, the Cardinals committing three personal fouls on one drive that only led to a FG, Warner fumbling the ball but the call gets reversed, the Cardinals making a come back, the safety, the big Fitzgerald TD, Ben driving down the field in the final minutes, Holmes making an unforgettable catch, Woodley causing the fumble to end the game <catching his breath>. That is what the Super Bowl is all about. If you didn't like Super Bowl XLIII, then I've got two words for ya! Quit watching. If big plays and drama like this doesn't do it for you, then make like a Cardinals fan and don't watch.

Speaking of Cardinals fans, when the game ended I was interested to hear what Cards fans (all 14 of you) had to say about the game. I read message boards, article comments, articles by professional journalists, watched video, etc. I'm not going to bash the entire fan base, a lot of the comments were very respectful and were good sports about the game. A lot of them were the opposite. Here are some of my favorites:

"We had it in the bag! We... had... it... in... the... bag" - I heard this from one Cardinals fan on an AP video and a lot of Cards fans feel the same way. They had it won and they blew it! Hmmmm... there was 7:33 left in the game and the Cardinals were down 20-7. I never knew being behind by two touchdowns with only half the 4th quarter left, constituted having "it in the bag". Funny, two weeks earlier, I didn't hear anyone say the Eagles "had it in the bag" when the Cardinals gave up a big lead and had to come back in the end to win. Its funny how it works like that.

"We dominated the Steelers but we couldn't beat the refs." - Dominated eh? Your best offensive weapon caught one pass in the first half. Your high octane offense put up 7 whole points 3/4 of the way into it. The Cards had a hefty 33 yards rushing for the game. Where exactly was the domination? My eyes were glued to the big high def TV I was watching the game on and I didn't see any Cardinal domination. Not even a hint.

"Warner shredded that <expletive> Pitty defense" - I can see why one would think that. Especially to the untrained eye of a Cardinals fan that has probably watched as much football as my 14 month old, but let me educate you. When the Cardinals scored all those points, made their big comeback and nearly stole the game from the better team, the Steelers defense played a little thing called "Prevent". In the "Prevent" defense the safeties drop way back, the corners give the receivers a huge cushion and defense only attacks the QB with 3 or 4 players while the rest are in coverage. Its designed to "Prevent" the big play by keeping everything in front of you, but all it really does is it prevents the defense from being able to stop anyone. Not to take anything away from Warner, who is a great quarterback, but Ryan Fitzpatrick could have driven down the field with no pass rush and the defensive backs giving 15-20 yard cushions. When the Steelers played their usual brand of defense, the Cards did nothing. Don't take my word for it. Again, Fitzgerald with one catch in the first half and only 7 points in the first three quarters. To be fair, the Cardinals employed the same type of defense on the final drive in which Ben drove down the field and won the game. Why do defenses still play the prevent if it never works? That's a pretty good question.

"The fix was in for the Steelers, just like in XL." - I'm not a 100% sure, but I'm pretty sure a bitter Seahawks fan wrote that. If the "fix" was in for the Steelers, why wasn't Warner penalized for removing his helmet on the field when he fumbled? Why did the Steelers get a holding penalty in the end zone, not only negating a Steelers first down, but giving the Cardinals two points and the ball and 2:58 left? Why did they penalize the Steelers on the first play of the final drive making it 1st and 20 deep in their own end? If the refs were trying to help the Steelers win the game, they did a really bad job.

"Was Holmes' catch too unreal?" - The wonderful folks over at the
Arizona Republic posted this article and these photos a couple days after the Super Bowl. This article and these photos are meant to make people believe that the Cardinals got ripped off and the Steelers were given a TD they didn't deserve. They have several photos of Holmes' feet crossed with one foot not touching the ground. To which my reply is... Are you kidding me??! The play was reviewed over and over again using high def monitors and played, slowed down and played again. It was probably the most reviewed play in history, but this genius over at Arizona Republic has conclusive photographs proving otherwise. Let me let you in on a little secret, all your photos of his feet crossed were AFTER the catch had already been made. As long as you have two feet in bounds and possession of the ball, its a catch. What's really incredible is that in photo 12, it shows just that. Quit trying to stir up controversy. It was a great catch and your team lost. Now show a little class.

It will go down in history as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time and in my opinion is the greatest Steelers Super Bowl ever. Before the game, my wife and I were at a party reminiscing about the Steelers / Colts game back in January 2006 and said we'll always remember where we were during that game. This Super Bowl was one of those kind of games and no one will ever forget where they were when they watched it.
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