New Roughing The Passer Emphasis is Ruining The Game

Roughing the quarterback where you cant land on them is going to lead to really hard hits on the quarterback. Defenders are going to speed into the collision so the hit knocks them down instead. This will lead to plays that cause concussions not lessen them.

Matthews flagged again under the new bogus “roughing the passer” emphasis.

This isn’t about fantasy football… this about the game of football. Defense, hitting, and tackling are the essence of the game. What is ironic is they keep flagging Clay Matthews for the take down tactics that Anthony Barr injured Aaron Rodgers with last year when he got hurt. The NFL in a knee jerk reaction made a stupid rule change and doesn’t want to admit they were wrong.

Every former NFL player is talking about how idiotic the rule is and only those who haven’t played the game could come up with something so impossible to do.

The act of a tackle that has been taught for nearly 100 years is a simple one. Make contact with your shoulder with your torso lowered into the offensive player. Your head is to be in front to impede the ball carrier or quarterback’s progress. Then take them down with your weight on the ball carrier. It doesn’t matter what position the offensive player is deployed…take the man down with some force.

No one wants to see injuries however they are a part of the game. Its a tough sport and the corporate soft men at the top who never played have too much sway. They don’t understand the visceral side of the game that many of us love and why we played the sport and appreciate NFL players who took their craft further.

Make the game safer? Yes.

Make the game softer? No! Do you remember when former President Theodore Roosevelt saved football at the turn of the 20th century??

After a string of deaths during games in 1905, President Roosevelt met with elite coaches in a closed door meeting at The White House to save college football. It was there that Roosevelt revealed that collegiate men had become soft and a gladiator game like football was needed to keep men hardened. In fact he went on to reveal his “Rough Riders”, the first voluntary cavalry in the Spanish American War of 1898 were made up of football players.

Instead of the game being abolished new rules were made to make the game safer. Of those who met with President Roosevelt that day, Walter Camp went on to father the forward pass as an offensive tactic. The 10 yards needed to gain a first down was another rule change. So the game remained a rough tough  sport however fatalities were reduced.

The men who President Roosevelt summoned for that closed door meeting in the White House went on to found the NCAA. Pro Football was in its infancy and took it’s cues from college football at the time. It would be another 15 years before the NFL began play in 1920.

In the game of football either you want to hit or get hit, if not go play lacrosse or one of those sports Roosevelt was talking about that was making American men soft. If you want to watch a man fling a ball all over the field and not get hit go watch lacrosse. All these roughing the passer penalties are ruining the game and giving teams cheap first downs. It’s a sport first not a television show. So every week your favorite actor (QBs) won’t be in each episode because there are injuries in a game.

So we have to wait all year with this dumbass rule because they won’t pay players in the concussion settlement. They are trying to act as though its about player safety. Its about limiting potential legal litigants later when this group currently playing retires. It’s about protecting the shield. Then also to water down the product where quarterbacks don’t leave the field after being hit….however

If Don Majkowski doesn’t get hurt in 1992 we wouldn’t know who Brett Favre was…

If Trent Green didn’t get injured in 1999 we wouldn’t know who Kurt Warner was…

If Drew Bledsoe didn’t get hurt in 2001 we wouldn’t know who Tom Brady was…

Be careful what you wish for. It was injuries that led to each of these Hall of Fame quarterbacks to emerge in a sport and not a television show.

You cant have a gladiator game without gladiators.

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Missing Rings: The 1987 Cleveland Browns

When it comes to talking about Super Bowl Rings of NFL champions gone by, we think of great teams. Yet within each team, there are individuals who have their own story to tell. If becoming a champion is the crowning jewel for a lifetime achievement then how monumental is the chase itself?? Enter Marty Schottenheimer and the 1987 Browns.

Mark Jackson celebrates the touchdown at the end of "The Drive"in the '86 AFC Championship Game.

Mark Jackson celebrates the touchdown at the end of “The Drive”in the ’86 AFC Championship Game.

It all began on a dark foreboding afternoon on January 11, 1987 in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. After holding the Denver Broncos to only 216 yards of offense and 13 points in the first 55 minutes of the game, scored to take a 20-13 lead, then pinned the Broncos to their own 2 yard line after the kick. The crowd was rocking as Browns fans were throwing confetti and were just a series or two away from Super Bowl XXI. Decades of NFL futility were about to come to a close as John Elway and the Bronco offense took the field.

Yet in one of the NFL’s greatest ever playoff drives, John Elway drove the Broncos 98 yards to the tying touchdown. Then the game winner in overtime. The 23-20 thriller ended a season that had been the most accomplished in the modern history of the franchise.

In 1985, the Browns were a limited team that was easing their prized rookie quarterback, Bernie Kosar, into the game plan. This earthbound run oriented outfit was the first division winner in NFL history with a .500 record. Both Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack rushed for 1,000 yards during the season. These shortcomings came back to haunt them in a 24-21 loss to Miami in the playoffs. A game in which Cleveland was up 21-3 at one point. Once the Dolphins focused on the ground game, Kosar was ineffective in his first road playoff game.

So in 1986, third year Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer brought in passing guru Lindy Infante to open up the offense and personally develop Cleveland’s kid quarterback. Kosar developed into an upper level quarterback throwing for 3,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. Along with the Dawg defense they paced the conference and wrapped up home-field advantage with a 12-4 record. As the playoffs neared, pundits were mixed with what they expected of Bernie. Although he finished with the NFL’s lowest interception ratio per pass attempt, many felt a 23 year old quarterback would fold under pressure.

Marty Schottenheimer

Marty Schottenheimer

In the AFC divisional playoff contest with the New York Jets, Kosar completed 33 of 64 for an NFL playoff record 489 yards in a come from behind 23-20 win. The game went to double overtime before Mark Moseley kicked the Browns to a victory. Then came the loss to Denver and depression set in state wide. It wasn’t the fact the Browns lost, it was the heartbreaking way they lost it. Yet with a developing quarterback and one of the AFC’s best defenses, they vowed to make amends the following season.

Going into 1987, Cleveland started tinkering with their defense. They parted ways with high profile linebacker Chip Banks and altered their 3-4 defense in the early portion of the season. With two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon, the Browns could go man to man against anyone. Results were mixed as Cleveland had issues rushing the passer. Minnifield and Dixon started in the Pro Bowl for the 2nd straight year, so coverage wasn’t the issue.

The offense continued to diversify as Kosar elevated his game to a higher degree. In 1987 he had the second lowest interception percentage  of all NFL quarterbacks (2.3%) as he threw for 3,033 yards, 22 TDs with only 9 interceptions. His 62% completion percentage (241 of 389) was among the best in pro football. Although he was a bit awkward as a quarterback he started to win some acclaim. He made the Pro Bowl and was voted the People’s Choice MVP that year. Keep in mind these numbers came from only 12 games thanks to the players strike that year.

He still had future Hall of Fame TE Ozzie Newsome to go with his receivers Webster Slaughter (47 rec./ 806yds / 7 TDs) and Reggie Langhorne. However third receiver Brian Brennan (43 rec/ 607 yds / 6TDs) out of the slot was Wes Welker before Wes Welker. Running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack were no longer the 1000/1000 tandem. Mack was the straight ahead freight train and Byner became a combination runner and receiver out of the backfield.

Ancient Cleveland Municipal Stadium was remembered fondly by those from Ohio. Yet to the outside world it was an antiquated unattractive place.

Ancient Cleveland Municipal Stadium was remembered fondly by those from Ohio. Yet to the outside world it was an antiquated unattractive place.

To the casual football fan this team was put together in a hodge-podge sort of way. Very few of the Cleveland Browns were blue chip players. Kosar and Mack were supplemental selections. Inside Linebacker Mike Johnson and All Pro Cornerback Frank Minnifield came from the USFL. Spot time starter Felix Wright #22, came from playing several years in the Canadian Football League. The year before, the Browns brought in former Ohio St alums LB Anthony Griggs and SS Ray Ellis. Each of which were let go by the Philadelphia Eagles when Buddy Ryan took over. Starting DEs Al “Bubba Baker” was a former Cardinal and Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston was in his 12th year was a former Philadephia Eagle from an even earlier regime than Ellis and Griggs.

Now Pro Bowl Cornerback Hanford Dixon and Pro Bowl Linebacker Clay Matthews were 1st round selections fully entrenched as starters.Yet it was this unlikely group that fought as a unit to bring prestige and respectability to Cleveland. Their stadium was ancient and unattractive when you compared it to other teams around the league. Yet all of this fueled the furnace that was the spirit of those 1987 Browns. It fueled the fans as well. Hanford Dixon coined the “Dawg Defense” and the bleacher zone the “Dawg Pound” and that took on a league of it’s own. People dressed in dog masks, chewing on dog biscuits, throwing them on the field. In fact, in 1989 playing the Denver Broncos, the fans were so rowdy throwing biscuits on the Broncos huddled in the endzone, the referees switched sides. It was the first time in NFL history that had happened.

Did I just mention the Broncos?? Well back to 1987…

Wide Outs Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne embodied the spirit of the Browns of that era.

Wide Outs Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne embodied the spirit of the Browns of that era.

After posting a 10-5 record and winning the AFC Central, the Browns beat Eric Dickerson’s Indianapolis Colts 38-21 to set up the rematch they had waited for all year with Denver. This time the AFC Championship would be held in Mile High Stadium. Yet the Browns didn’t care. They had to exorcise the demons from “The Drive” and losing the AFC Championship the year before to the Broncos. When in fact it was a morality play when you thought of the two cities and the two teams. Cleveland was the unattractive “Mistake By the Lake” and Denver was the sprawling western urban city with mountains to ski off in the distance.

Even the quarterbacks took on the embodiment of their towns. John Elway was the prototypical glamour quarterback. First round draft pick with a rocket right arm who was on the cover of magazines and gained much of his fanfare from the previous year’s championship game. Where Kosar was the physically awkward antithesis to Elway’s athleticism, he didn’t have John’s polished ready for television demeanor and looks either. However there was an assassin beneath the surface. This was the kid who won the 1983 National Championship at the University of Miami (The [[_]]) as a redshirt freshman. The 31-30 upset of the #1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers that were averaging 52 points a game. So Kosar didn’t shrink under intense pressure.

How about the Head Coaches??

Well in one you had the polished, always in a shirt and tie Dan Reeves v. the bland “V-Necked”sweater or brown overcoat wearing Marty Schottenheimer. Reeves came up as a golden child on one of the NFL’s glamour teams playing for Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. Then coming up through the coaching ranks and winning a ring as a coach (Super Bowl XII) just as he had as a player in Super Bowl VI. He was a highly sought coaching commodity when Denver hired him in 1981.

Schottenheimer?? He had been a back-up linebacker and special teams player for the Buffalo Bills over in the “other league” known as the AFL. He had been a mid-season replacement for embattled coach Sam Rutigliano for whom he coached the defensive backs in 1984. In ignominious fashion it was his secondary who gave up one of the Browns biggest gaffes ever in 1980 when they allowed a Hail Mary to Ahmad Rashad in the final seconds to the Minnesota Vikings.

In short Cleveland was the antithesis of everything they felt the Broncos were not. Gritty, tough, fighting for respect from the establishment. It tapped into the inferiority complex of the Browns fans and together they lived with the pain of “The Drive” from 1986 ripping at their souls. As for the ’87 AFC Championship??

 

The largest come from behind game in NFL postseason history was the 20 point comeback by the 1957 Detroit Lions in a 31-27 win over the 49ers. At least up until that time. That was against a 49er team that couldn’t win the big game. This comeback by Cleveland, down 18 twice, was performed against the team with the best home record of any NFL team (75% 1960-1987) during those years. Against the backdrop of the emotion from the previous year?? It was the epitome of a never say die attitude that should be taught to kids everywhere.

To have such a monumental performance come up short like that doesn’t take away from it’s brilliance. Earnest Byner had rushed for 67 yards and caught 7 passes for an additional 120 and 2 touchdowns. Did you know this was only the 2nd time a team scored 30 points in any NFL championship game and lost?? The Browns scored 30 in just the second half!! They were down 21-3 at the half and lost 38-33. We’re talking 178 games of AFC /AFL Championships, NFC / NFL Championships and Super Bowls. The only other time was when Dallas lost Super Bowl XIII to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yet the overwhelming feeling after Byner’s fumble was the best team didn’t win that day. All the media talked about was John Elway who passed for 14 of 26 for 281 yards 3 TDs and 1interception. When the best player on the field that day was Bernie Kosar who threw for 361 yards (26 of 41) for 3 TDs and 1 pick. Which was the record for any championship quarterback playing on the road.

Browns fans had to watch in disbelief when Washington blew out the Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII knowing their team was better. In fact the following year Cleveland won in Washington 16-10 on the road to knock them out of playoff contention in 1988. So could they have beaten them in a Super Bowl?? Probably. The year before when they lost “The Drive” to the Broncos, they had to watch the Giants pull away from the Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI. In 1985, the Browns beat the Giants 35-33 in the Meadowlands in the 13th week. Are we sure the Giants would have won at a neutral site Super Bowl?? Remember we’re talking about a pre- free agency NFL back then.

However for one magnificent evening, Marty Schottenheimer and the Cleveland Browns taught fans everywhere a lesson in not giving up. Working your way out of a hole borne from self induced mistakes and putting on a Herculean effort that shouldn’t be forgotten.

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rayellis

The Greatest NFL Game Never Talked About

Webster Slaughter’s hauling in a 52 yd TD in the second quarter.

Welcome to another episode of theater of the past. The most famous games in NFL history have always been playoff games. Football is a game of emotion and it’s the finality of knowing your season could be over that can elevate the play of both teams. Yet some playoff games are talked about and held with esteem while others are rarely written about, rehashed, re-shown, or ever discussed among the greats.

To us, there is a heavy bias toward the glamour franchises or darlings that the media aid in anointing their games great while others are passed over. One such game was the 1989 AFC Divisional playoff tilt between the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills. Not only was it great, it was as great as “The Epic in Miami”, or in our CEO’s estimation better.

This was a magnificent football game. You have to realize that particular weekend you had John Elway and the Denver Broncos hosting the cinderella Pittsburgh Steelers in one playoff game. Jim Everett’s underdog Los Angeles Rams in New York facing Lawrence Taylor’s Giants, and the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers of Joe Montana hosting the Minnesota Vikings for a third straight post season. Yet it was the Browns v. the Bills that caught the imagination of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was in attendance, and Donald Trump who was in the box with Browns owner Art Modell. Why??

Well the Browns, famous for their “Dawg Defense”, had been stung 3 years before by John Elway’s Denver Broncos in the ’86 AFC Championship, and the following season with Earnest Byner’s fumble in the 1987 AFC Championship. Although the Cleveland Browns had been the NFL’s Team of the decade in the 1950’s, they had been a down franchise for many years. However each time the Browns thought they had a team capable of winning it all, they lost in heart breaking fashion on 3 occasions. The stellar teams they had from 1985-1989 were aging and many pundits thought this was the last chance for this team to get a Super Bowl win for owner Art Modell.

The other side had an up and coming Buffalo Bills team that rose to prominence as a defensive giant in 1988, after nearly a decade of futility. High draft picks,which included future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, and Shane Conlan carried this team to the 1988 AFC Championship Game. After losing that game to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills were looked upon as a team of the future. However the team almost imploded in 1989 from infighting and finger pointing, which earned them the nickname ” the Bickering Bills”. The offense of Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas was starting to show signs of life as the defense slumped slightly from the year before.

Better than “The Epic In Miami”?? Yes! This game featured big play after big play and came down to the wire with the Browns prevailing 34-30. To compare it to the great ’81 AFC Divisional playoff: Want to talk excitement?? With touchdowns of 33, 44, 52, 73, and 90 yards out, this game in ’89 had 5 touchdowns from 33 yards or more compared to 2 in that one. The only other playoff game in the Super Bowl era to equal 5 TDs of that distance was Super Bowl XXXVII between the Bucs and the Raiders. This game had 4 lead changes as compared to 3 in the earlier game.

Each had the record holder for receptions in a playoff game with 13 in both Thurman Thomas and Kellen Winslow. (both Hall of Famers) Each had a Hall of Fame Coach, Marv Levy of Buffalo and Don Shula as well as quarterbacks in Jim Kelly and Dan Fouts. Where the earlier game went to double overtime and ended on a boring field goal, this one had a sense of de ja vu. The Bills made a last second march toward their goal line with time running out, just like John Elway and “The Drive.” Although this time Clay Matthews intercepted Jim Kelly at the 1 yard line with :03 left. Now that is a finish!!

The game was also one of the best ever broadcast with Charlie Jones and the late Merlin Olson making the call. Here are the sights and sounds of the biggest plays from that game…

One outstanding aspect of this game was how great the commentary was. Notice how Charlie Jones and Merlin Olsen allowed the viewer to take in the sights and sounds of 80,000 fans going crazy. This is the antithesis to Joe Buck, who our CEO thinks is the worst play by play man ever. One aspect of announcing a football game versus a baseball game: Allow the visuals to stimulate the viewer more so than the commentary and know when to acquiesce to such.

Epilogue: Why is this game not revered like “The Epic In Miami”? This game had more Hall of Famers and neither game produced a Super Bowl winner. We feel that it might have something to do with the media’s growing disdain for the University of Miami football team, from which both Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar hailed. Then NFL Films, who rarely slights a team due to media prejudice, chose NOT to put this game in the Cleveland Browns 1989 Yearbook. Seriously?? That was embarrassing. Yet alas it came down to one play and Clay Matthews made it. So when you saw the 4th quarter fumble caused by his son Clay Matthews III in last year’s Super Bowl, and Casey Matthews forcing a 4th quarter fumble in last year’s National Championship Game for Oregon, you now know it’s in the genes.

The Browns would go on to lose their 3rd AFC Championship Game in 4 years to the Denver Broncos that brought an end to their playoff run. However the Buffalo Bills went on to a record 4 straight Super Bowls which began the following season. From 1986-1993, one of these teams was in every single AFC Championship game for an 8 year period. It was this game that was the birth of the Buffalo “K-Gun” offense and the crossing point where Cleveland conceded to Buffalo as an AFC elite team. For one game, and four hours of sheer escapism magnificence, they played to the highest level worthy of being one of the greatest NFL playoff games ever played and is due more in it’s remembrance.

I dedicate this article to the late Charlie Jones and the late Merlin Olsen for their broadcasting excellence in elevating this game to one of  magnificent lore. Your call on this afternoon in January 1990 was simply the best ever. Gentlemen, thank you for a job well done.

R.I.P. Charlie Jones and Merlin Olsen

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2011 Packers Preview

Alright we had a break after a breath taking Super Bowl where we watched the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the 45th edition.  So now we turn our attention to the upcoming football season.  We want to avoid the labor talks because we’ll all be inundated with that talk through television outlets and we want to keep the talk on pro football.  Where do we begin?  How about where we left off?  Going into 2011, we watched the Green Bay Packer’s 2nd string win the Super Bowl.  If we were to address issues with the defending champion where would you start.  Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson have to be grinning from ear to ear.

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers joined the pantheon of quarterbacks that are the vanguard of future expected excellence at the quarterback position.  Accurate, mobile, and fearless he stands to wrest the mantle of NFL’s best QB from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning with an excellent 2011.  Think about it.  Of the 3 Super Bowl seasons Tom Brady had the best statistically was 2004, where he threw for 3,690 yards 28TDs, and 14 interceptions.  Last year despite missing 2 games with injury, Rodgers threw for 3,922 yards 28 TDs and only 11 interceptions for the Packers.  More importantly he didn’t have Corey Dillon run for 1,635 like Brady had either.  Rodgers had to manufacture yardage while the Packers ground game struggled to replace Ryan Grant.

Mobile, accurate, and fearless he is the first quarterback since Brady that we knew he had the better part of a decade left to shape his career after a Super Bowl triumph.  Barring injury, Rodgers would have thrown for 4,000 yards for a third consecutive season and second straight with more than 30TDs.  With Brady and Manning going into their “grey” years this is one of the quarterbacks that will own this decade.  Matt Flynn showed in the 24-21 loss to the Patriots he can move the football if Rodgers has some time away from the field.  As for Rodgers (shaking my head) Clearly on the rise…

Offensive Backfield: How can this team not get stronger with a return of a healthy Ryan Grant?  His 3,412 yards on 782 carries over the last three years is a lofty 4.36 yards per carry. Back to back 1,200 yard rushing seasons have shown that he can be a workhorse.  With his injury coming early in the season he saved his body from wear and tear and should be fresh coming into the new year.  James Starks and Brandon Jackson are serviceable.  I see the Packers exploiting Starks to spell Grant in the upcoming year.  He didn’t fumble in the playoffs as a rookie and had patient feet as a runner.  Jackson will be relegated to special teams since Grant is a good receiver out of the backfield.  Starks came into his own going into the playoffs and to play that well with the stakes at their highest, his confidence should be soaring coming into the new year.

Packers have a folk hero in John Kuhn whom fans relate to. His emergence along with Boise State product Korey Hall give Green Bay power backs to move the pile on 3rd and 1 or goalline offense.  However, both Kuhn and Hall have to get their noses dirty as blockers and each do so willingly.  The fullbacks will lose carries to Starks.   Look for the Packers to use Starks and his big body behind either Kuhn or Hall on most short yardage situations and save Grant from heavy pounding.  With all defensive eyes on Rodgers this could be quietly the best backfield in Packers history with a combination 1200 yard season by Grant and a 600-700 yard season by Starks. This of course barring injury.

Offensive Line: Although they tied for 10th in the NFL for most sacks allowed with 38, this group performed well in the playoffs.  They stymied the feared Steelers pass rush in Super Bowl XLV.  However this line did give up 15 sacks over the final 6 games of the regular season.  They must protect Aaron Rodgers better.  Rodgers made them look better with well timed escapes from the pocket that kept the sack totals lower than what they could have been.  Rookie RT Bryan Bulaga, 3rd year RG Josh Sitton, and center Scott Wells in his 7th season, simply need to get more push off the ball when rushing .  They tied for 8th with negative rushing plays running to the strong side with 17 during the regular season.  Again this is where they can improve and a bigger back in Starks may be the route they take.

On the left side is LT Chad Clifton, and another Boise State product in Daryn Colledge at left guard.  On the left side of the line the Packers were 24th with negative  rushing plays with only13.  A pretty good number for a team that runs a lot of draws and screens to their left.  Chad Clifton from time to time looks like he’s slowing down and then comes up with a big performance.  However facing the likes of Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and the Justin Tuck’s of the conference can wear him down.  The Packers may look to groom his replacement this year now they have the luxury of drafting for want and not need.  With Rodgers suffering two concussions last year, its imperative they protect him by getting those precious first downs rushing right (strong side) and protecting Rodgers from the weak side. Injured Tackle Mark Tauscher is getting a little older also and probably will be replaced permanently by Bulaga. Right now they are so set with the line with a good mixture of youth and age.

Receivers: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, an James Jones are deadly as a set of receivers.  Throw in a Jermichael Finley at TE with a mature Rodgers and this team can threaten some all time NFL offensive numbers.  Jordy Nelson’s growth and Super Bowl performance of 9 catches for 140 yards and a TD could spell the end of Donald Driver as a go to guy.  Not only did he not get down on himself during the Super Bowl after dropping several passes he proved to be more than an intermediate possession receiver.  He got deep, he made catch and run plays on digs or deep in routes and showed the burst that the fading Driver once did.  Driver is slowing down and a draft pick could be spent here.  James Jones had several key drops during the playoffs and the Packers aren’t sure which #89 is going to catch the ball.  Will it be the #89 that climbed the ladder for a spectacular leaping TD against the Atlanta Falcons, or the streaking #89 who dropped a sure TD in Philadelphia during the wildcard as well as the near TD that could have put Super Bowl XLV out of reach with a second 18 point lead.  Could see some change at receiver this year but at least two receivers two years from now.

Greg Jennings is an ultimate pro and team player.  Please pay attention this is a great player in the prime of his career. Entering his sixth season, this is a receiver who makes big play after big play when the Packers need it.  He’s had 3 straight 1,000 yard season with 2 back to back over 1,200 yards.  The last two years he has had touchdown longs of 83 yards and has caught at least 6 passes over 40 yards over the last three years.  Go back to the Super Bowl when Pittsburgh had swung the momentum, who came through with a 31 yard catch to turn the tide back to the Pack??  On third down to boot!!  He remains injury free he will go by many of Sterling Sharpe’s numbers. He’s not better than Sterling, he……I digress.  Jennings is going to be making music with Rodgers for years to come gang.

Defensive Line: Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji are decent at the point of attack but could be better anchors in keeping offensive lineman off of the linebackers. A little more push against the passing pocket could make a good defens a great one. In fact the key play that turned Super Bowl XLV was when backup Howard Green hit Roethlisberger which force the interception by Nick Collins and a 14-0 lead. Cullen Jenkins is a solid DE.  I could see a draft pick being used here as well.  The Packers could use a more impact player at the DE position.  Raji is a keeper but he does need to provide a little more push when rushing the passer.

Linebackers: Did the mantle of greatness leave the Steelers linebackers and thrust onto this team’s set?  Think thats overstated?  I watched James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and James Farrior combine for 4 tackles in the Super Bowl when Clay Matthews out did that hmself and forced a crucial 4th down fumble.  Clay Matthews came in 2nd in the voting for NFL Defensive MVP yet did get many votes to be Super Bowl MVP.  He,  A.J. Hawk, and their hair were the two starters who remained injury free and were the playmakers among the front seven.  Hawk became the linebacker the Packer’s brass envisioned when they drafted him from Ohio St.

I still am scratching my head thinking “They won the Super Bowl without Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett?”  To me, Poppinga had been the most complete LB before his injury and Barnett its soul.  Matthews has taken that mantle from them both.  As a unit this team could be frightening and their depth has to be considered a strength now that Zomba #58, Desmond Bishop #55 played admirably throughout the playoffs.  Throw in Brandon Chillar and I’m seeing a linebacking corps without a weakness.  Against the run, pass, rushing the QB, show me where they are deficient?  I’ll wait…

Clay Matthews is some kind of beast.  I thought his father was great, yikes.  This is going to be one of the faces of the NFL as Ray Lewis’ fades out with retirement.  The Packers should pull a coup and draft Casey Matthews of Oregon, yes his brother, just to confuse teams with the name and the hair when preparing for them.  LOL  In all seriousness being coached by Kevin Greene who is in tune with his young protege’, who told him in the Super Bowl that it was time for him to make a play.  Next play he forced the Mendenhall fumble.  We’re watching the beginnings of perhaps a Hall of Fame career and he did get my Super Bowl MVP vote for that fumble.  Hey, I like linebackers.

Secondary: Charles Woodson, the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year had just as good a year in 2010.  The emergence of Sam Shields (from the U) allowed him to blitz from the nickel back  spot just as Dom Capers did with Rod Woodson some 15 years ago in Blitzburgh. Sam Shields as a rookie got better as the season wore on and capped his season with two timely interceptions in the NFC Championship Game v. Chicago.  Did I say two interceptions in a playoff game?  Well Tramon Williams #38 performed that feat in the divisonal round and put that game against the Falcons out of reach with a pick six of Matt Ryan on the last play of the second quarter.  Did I say intercepti0n for a TD?  Well isn’t that what Nick Collins did in Super Bowl XLV to put that game out of reach?  I know it was only 14-0, but no team has ever come from a 10-0 deficit to win a Super Bowl, so that play was that big.  This is a cornerback threesome that is headed to a great 2011.  Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are the NFC’s best set of safetys.  Please show me what this secondary can’t do.  Support the run, defend the deep ball, blitz the quarterback…very little holes.

This is a team that will draft for want more than need.  They almost have a free agency type of impact just coming off injured reserve.  Aside from a few spots on the defensive line and possibly the offensive line this team damn near doesn’t need to even attend the NFL Draft.  They can address future needs at receiver also.  Right now Coach McCarthy, Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson are toasting somewhere with grins from ear to ear.  The Packers are set for a five year run at the top of the NFL easily.

Packers 13th NFL Championship: Super Bowl XLV Recap

Wow!!  You can’t say enough great things about this Green Bay Packers team as champions.  In 1996 they arrived with all their big guns in Favre, Reggie White, and company.  Where this team had 16 men on injured reserve and lost leaders WR Donald Driver and CB Charles Woodson for much of the game.  Yet the constant was Aaron Rodgers who kept firing amidst a receiving corp that dropped a few.  When it counted Jordy Nelson and James Jones made up for earlier drops with critical catches in the fourth quarter on the final scoring drive.  They indeed brought the Lombardi Trophy home in a unique way and vanquished an accomplished opponent.  Lets take a look at things.

What was a strength of the Steelers would be the ability to run the ball with Rashard Mendenhall.  At times it seemed like the Steelers got away from their running game but a closer look and you saw that the Packers were successful against the run.  Aside from 17 and 15 yard gains, Mendenhall had 12 carries for 31 yards (2.8yd avg) and on several plays he had to break tackles in the backfield to gain positive yardage.  Evidenced by the shot he took in the 4th quarter from Clay Matthews which forced the 3rd and final Steeler turnover.

What was the defining storyline of this Super Bowl for me was for all the Steel Curtain talk, the Packers were outhitting the Steelers from the beginning of the game.  They tackled crisper and with more conviction. We never heard NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu’s name called for any plays of significance and former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison’s until a fourth quarter sack to give Pittsburgh a fighting chance.  Green Bay had problems protecting Rodgers all year yet seemed to keep the Steelers blitz at bay for much of the game.  Pittsburgh cornerbacks, a liability all year, were completely undressed before the nation.  Had the Packer receivers not dropped 6 passes the game would have been a blowout.

In fact had James Jones not dropped that skinny post where he was inside William Gay and even with Troy Polamalu, he would have been off to the races and the score would have swelled to 28-10.  It was the mid point of the 3rd quarter and another 18 point lead would have been too much to overcome.

Actually that point was when Nick Collins picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter, returning it for a 37 yard TD for a 14-0 lead.  No team had ever come back from a 10-0 deficit to win a Super Bowl game. (Redskins in XXII)  The Steeler gave it a valiant effort but could not overcome their mistakes and penalties.

Roethlisberger had a poor game, no other way to say it.  He did have a few good throws, the fourth quarter TD throw to Mike Wallace was a thing of beauty.  He was off for much of the night.  His throws were high and they seemed confused on that last drive in just lining up. Yes the Packers had good coverage but Roethlisberger detractors would cite his holding onto the ball too long with the Nick Collins interception.  The second interception was a poor decision also.  Yes the receiver needs to fight for the ball but he was clearly double covered.  When the Steelers defense gave Ben the ball back, on social media, the countenance that he was in position to win it again was echoed loudly.  Then Pittsburgh looked confused lining up after a terrible penalty by Keyaron Fox for a personal foul that backed the Steelers up.  Then three poor throws and it was over.

This is about the Green Bay Packers winning this Super Bowl, not the Steelers losing it.  Green Bay forced every Steeler mistake and only gave up a first half TD when two of their top three cornerbacks Woodson and Sam Shields left injured on consecutive plays right before.  Aaron Rodgers MVP performance easily places him in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL.  He lit Pittsburgh up finding Greg Jennings for two TDs and making a Super Bowl hero of Jordy Nelson, who caught 9 for 140 yards and a touchdown.  His stats on the day 24 of 39 for 309 yards, 3TDs & no interceptions.  If you factor in the dropped passes his stats would have been staggering.

There was a time during the 3rd quarter, after the James Jones drop, where Rodgers played with nervous feet and was off for two series.

When the Steelers trimmed the lead to 28-25 in the 4th quarter, Rodgers made the play of the game with his throw to Greg Jennings for 31 yards which reversed the momentum.  He drove the Packers to a field goal for the final score of 31-25 and the milking of the clock left the Steelers with just 2:07 for a final drive.  Rodgers was the MVP of this game upon further review however he did have some help.  James Starks did run for 52 yards on 11 carries that kept the Steelers off balance.  Clay Matthews, AJ Hawk and Nick Collins picked up the defensive slack and stopped Roethlisberger when it counted.

The Lombardi Trophy returns to Title Town…Aaron Rodgers enters the realm of the league’s best quarterback.  With 16 players on injured reserve, I don’t see teams picking them apart in free agency. The Green Bay Packers just won the Super Bowl with a second string football team!!  How can they not be the pick to win next year’s Super Bowl??  There will be time to answer that…for now congratulations Green Bay Packers 2010 World Champions.

Super Bowl XLV Preview (Part I)

The crowning of an NFL Champion…love it!  It’s time we begin to breakdown this edition of Super Sunday and see if we can have some foresight into who will win the game.  Each team has marched a long desolate road to get here and each is deserving of becoming a world champion.  The question is who will rise to the occasion and who will just miss on their attempt at becoming a world champion.  Today let’s take a look at offensive backfields…

Packers RB: Aaron Rodgers has had some assistance lately with the emergence of James Starks.  Along with Brandon Jackson these two were effective in the first half of the NFC Championship against Chicago. Starks is a bruising back who slashes into the hole yet runs upright which makes me uneasy against a top flight defense.  I’m smelling forced fumbles.   He usually carries the ball in one hand away from his body.  Brandon Jackson may really prove affective on screens in this game to slow down the pass rush.

During these playoffs they have averaged 3.8 yards per carry as a group with Stark’s 70 carries for 263 yards for 3.8yds per carry supplemented by Jackson’s 6 carries for 28 yards respectively. However a closer examination shows that nearly 47 % of Stark’s yards came in the wildcard against the Eagles.  Hmmm, so that means on his last 47 playoff carries he’s rushed for 140 yards or a meager 2.9 yard average.  That’s supposed to get it done against a defense giving up an average of 60 yards per game?  Can they run effectively on James Farrior, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Troy Palamalu (defenisive player of the year), and company?

Steelers RB: Is it me or does Rashard Mendenhall epitomize Pittsburgh football with his running style?  He fits in a way that “Fast” Willie Parker did not in replacing Jerome Bettis.  His pad level is extremely low and he runs with power. Mendenhall is a violent runner who has fleet feet and can make yards on his own if there isn’t a hole.  He’s adept at catching a flare or screen pass and can possibly break a big gain against a nervous tackler early in this game.

Now we do have a greater body of work to go off of with Mendenhall.  A season in which he rushed for 1,279 yards on 324 carries while averaging 3.9 yards per carry. We watched this kid rip off an 80 yard touchdown in a Rose Bowl when his Illinois team was behind and the lights were brightest.  What is often not talked about is his ability to block which is paramount going against Clay Matthews coming off the edge or catching an A.J. Hawk coming up through the middle.

Advantage:  Steelers…big advantage and key to the game.  Don’t forget that Dom Capers, the Packers defensive coordinator spent several years in Blitzburgh drawing up zone blitz schemes.  He knows of the injuries to the Steeler offensive tackles and possibly missing Pouncey at center.  He will come after Big Ben. Rashard Mendenhall may have his coming out party where he’s welcomed into the realm of the best backs in the league period. His running and blitz pickup are vital to the outcome of this game.  The New York Jets were unable to come after Ben Roethlisberger when Mendenhall was running well.

The other half of that equation is; how will the Packers run on a Steelers defense that is allowing about 60 yards a game?  That’s one of the best in league history. Does Green Bay turn the trick? I don’t think so.  They are coming at a defense without speed to get to the corner. They run north and south and that’s right into the teeth of the Steelers D.  Not good…

Packers QB:  Aaron Rodgers has had a field day though much of this year’s playoffs. He had a rough go of it in the second half of the NFC Championship Game, but that was due to the Bears defense playing up to their potential.  His electrifying performance against Atlanta, 31 of 36 for 360 yards with 3TDs will be the signature game of his career.  Well, at least until he wins a Super Bowl game.  His accurate passing from the pocket and on the run is the best seen in the NFL for a long time.  If they would have allowed 4 more defenders on the field for the Falcons I still don’t think they would have slowed him.  Showed he is in the upper echelon of today’s quarterbacks with 3 straight 4,000 yard seasons. Ok, we’re giving him 85 yards….yet I digress.  Here he goes again back indoors for this Super Bowl game where he has produced 42 and 45 points in playoff games for the Packers respectively.

Steelers QB:  Two Super Bowl wins and counting for Ben Roethlisberger one in which he threw the most dramatic touchdown in Super Bowl history.  Big Ben is creeping into the realm of the all time greats in terms of winning playoff games with a 10-2 record.  He plays a different brand of football where it’s from his gut more than X’s and O’s.  I am one reluctant to give way to that sandlot style of play because you can’t base your game on the broken play. Yet there is no substitution for guts when the game is on the line or when you’re alert enough to throw the right pass at the right time.  See the last two passes to close out the Jets two weeks ago or that heave against the Ravens to rookie Antonio Brown for 59 yards on 3rd and 19.  It was a thing of beauty.  He comes alive when defenses start getting nervous near the end of games.  He knows he can take some chances with the Steelers defense behind him.  He did throw for 503 yards and score 37 points on the Packers at the end of the 2009 regular season.  I know that was at Heinz Field yet can he do that again?

Advantage: Packers slightly.  Rodgers is coming in as the hotter quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is still the sly like a fox, do what must be done to get the first down type player he’s been for years.  Rodgers will have to have a game similar to the Falcons game for his Green Bay Packers to pull this off.  He’s indoors and is playing the best football of his career.  What better time than now?

As for Big Ben the game has to get away from the Steelers or the Packers defense will get nervous when the score is 23-20 and he takes the field late in the game.  Aaron Rodgers will have to gun down the Steelers to make the clock tick down because the Packers won’t be able to just run the ball to run time off if they are ahead.  So analyzing the quarterbacks…Rodgers gets a slight advantage.