Sunday, November 9, 2008

Steelers-Colts Preview

With only about an hour until kickoff, here are some random thoughts regarding your favorite black and gold clad football squad:

-It's looking like some seriously bad news for Willie Parker. In case you haven't heard, Fast Willie is rumored to have been diagnosed with a torn labrum, a pretty serious injury that requires some pretty serious surgery. It is unknown when Parker will have this surgery, but it likely will at least be another week or two, as he has been ruled out for today's tilt. It's also being said that if he does play again this year, it will be with the aid of a shoulder harness. Hmm... a back who has had a bit of a fumble history in his past wearing a sling that makes it even more difficult for him to maintain ball control. I think I'm going to pass on that one. It will be interesting to see what happens with the running back position, as Mewelde Moore has been excellent, but has never really consistently fed the ball, and certainly has never been a guy that defenses game plan for.

-Ben Roethlisberger looks like he will be the starter under center today, and to tell the truth, I am a little bit surprised. I, for one, wouldn't have minded seeing Big Ben take a seat for a week and heal up that gimpy shoulder of his for the stretch run. Byron Leftwich demonstrated last week that he is more than capable of shouldering the load of being the QB1 for the short-term.

-The cover story of today's Post Gazette was all about Peyton Manning testing the dominant Steelers defense, and while I would never, under any circumstances, take a game against Peyton Manning for granted, this isn't the same force of nature Peyton Manning of the past few years. Anyone who has watched this Colts team can tell you that. Granted, there are still those flashes of greatness, but you no longer face this Colts team dreading a 40 point outburst. To be fair to Peyton, though, I don't really think that this is really the result of Peyton declining. He still looks about the same as he used to. The difference this year has unquestionably been the talent around him. Marvin Harrison is a shell of his former self, Reggie Wayne has still been very good, but is constantly getting extra attention, Anthony Gonzalez has been decent, but looks to be better equipped to be a 3rd receiver in this offense, instead of the number 2 spot he has mostly assumed, Joseph Addai has been hurt and ineffective, and Dominic Rhodes surely isn't going to scare the opposition.

-The Colts once vaunted pass rush from their undersized defense has faded. Once upon a time, Dwight Freeney was perhaps the premier pass rushing end in football, and was certainly the most athletic. When teams started keying on Freeney, the underrated Robert Mathis would wreak havoc with his blinding speed. The Colts also rotated in other under-sized linemen like Raheem Brock for a handful of sacks a year in mostly spare playing time. They also had the defensive back sized linebackers that could run with any tight end or running back in the league, and provided the aforementioned pass rushers with a number of coverage sacks by quarantining the typical safety valves underneath. These players, like the departed Cato June and the still-underrated Gary Brackett, also swarmed in to halt opposing running games, and while they had trouble with larger backs, they were serviceable enough to at least prevent the opposition from ringing up big tallys on the scoreboard like their own O did. Nowadays, though, this Colts squad has just 10 sacks throught their first 8 games of the season, one of the lowest totals in football. And while Mathis is still stirring up trouble with 5 sacks so far, Freeney has really declined the past few seasons, and has just 3 sacks this year. To illustrated just how far Freeney has fallen, he had 51 sacks in his first 4 seasons (63 games), and appeared to be on his way to chasing down single season and career sack records. The last two and a half seasons though, when many pass rushers are expected to enter their primes, he has just 12 sacks in 33 games, a number he twice exceeded in a single season. I haven't watched him play a ton this year, but will be very interested in his play today.

-I'm so sick of the NFL slapping these fines on players for rough, but legal, hits. I understand that there will be times when the league will fine players for non-penalized hits, as the refs will miss these on occasion, and some discipline must be handed out in these situations. LaMarr Woodley's fining was an absolute B.S. move by Roger Goodell and his minions. Woodley had a very tentaive grasp on Jason Campbell against the Skins, and the only way he was going to get Campbell down was to toss him by the jersey, which is what he did, and Campbell happened to fly head first into the ground. If Woodley doesn't act in this manner, he likely doesn't get Campbell down, and the course of the game is altered. No player should be fined for an aggressive and rough hit that was totally necessary. And I don't even want to get started on the hypocritical nature of the NFL as a whole. For years the league has promoted vicious hits and a tough guy persona as two of its biggest marketing ploys. Simply because Goodell has done his best to phase these aspects out of the game doesn't mean these things will or should stop. If he wants to tone down the promotion of these types of hits, fine, but these players have been conditioned all their lives by the actions of past NFL visuals and methods, and you can't expect them to alter their game because of Goodell's desperate need to tone down the violence.

-Lastly, my prediction for this evening's festivities: Steelers 27 Colts 20

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