The Soul Of The Game: 1986 Conference Championships

When we say “The Chancellor never sleeps”, we mean there is always football on. Whether we’re talking about the Hall of Fame exhibition game between the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints, or a former landmark game, there is always football on in the imagination. Although I’m writing a football book based upon the Super Bowls, my favorite week are those of the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

There you will find the last of the games between passionate fans of the home teams versus the sterile groups that attend the Super Bowl. The season ticket holder who has been cheering and screaming for 4 months… it leads to a contrast that can’t be underscored by the corporate Super Bowl ticket holder.

86TaylorWhen the home team wins the conference championship the celebration reverberates throughout the stadium. The fans don’t want to leave and in some instances players take a victory lap long after the cameras are gone. On the other hand the silence that can overcome a stadium when the home team goes down can be deafening. It’s almost like something has gone wrong with your ears. How can 80,000 people go that silent?? Yet you remember last January how quiet it got in Candlestick Park when Lawrence Tynes kicked the New York Giants to the Super Bowl.

In 1986, the Championships were two tightly fought games. The New York Giants beat the Washington Redskins 17-0 and did so based upon good field position with a fierce wind in the first quarter. In Cleveland a defensive battle gave way to John Elway coming of age with “The Drive”. From there the Broncos, who had gained 216 total yards throughout the first 54:00 of the game, drove 98 yards to the tying score. Then won it in overtime.

These fiercely contested game made Super Bowl XXI anti-climactic. They had intensity that bordered on the Hatfields and the McCoy’s and all four defenses played terrific football that day. The two games before the Super Bowl are normally better games than the Super Bowl and my love for the conference finals started with these fiercely fought games.

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NFC Championship Preview: Alex Smith Coming of Age

The new Alex Smith

As the 49ers came to the line of scrimmage with :14 seconds left, Alex Smith was just 14 yards away from forever changing the perception of him league-wide. He had battled Drew Brees head to head in a wild 4th quarter in last week’s NFC Divisional Tilt with the Saints holding a 32-29 lead. It’s at this point after the spike everyone held their collective breath as to what was going to happen. Would they go for the tie and play in overtime or would they shun conservative logic and go for the win?? What were you thinking as the 49ers broke that huddle?? Did you have faith in Alex Smith borne from this game where he already had accounted for 3 touchdowns or were you waiting for the old Alex Smith to emerge and throw an interception?? Tell the truth…

Well last Sunday, Alex Smith turned into the quarterback 49ers brass envisioned when they drafted him out of the University of Utah some 6 years back. Less than a year ago they weren’t sure if Alex Smith was their future. They selected Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick with their 2nd round pick in last April’s draft, throwing Smith’s future in serious jeopardy. Yet with new found confidence in himself, courtesy of his relationship with new head coach Jim Harbaugh, Smith progressed.

The NFC Championship Trophy the Giants and 49ers will be playing for.

Over the course of the season, many pundits and fans alike thought of Smith as no more than a care taker of the 49er offense. Play to the strength of Frank Gore’s running, don’t turn it over, and unleash a rested defense on opponents. It all went according to plan until 2 quarters into the divisional playoff, when the high flying New Orleans offense woke from a haze and started moving the football. Smith had engineered a 17-0 advantage when Brees brought the Saints back to within 3 cutting the Niner lead to 17-14 at halftime. Gone was the defensive swagger from the San Francisco defense and the realization that Smith and the offense would have to keep pace to win it.

Fast forward to :14 seconds left… Which Alex Smith would emerge?? The quarterback with the jittery feet who was unsure of himself and threw off his backfoot of previous vintage?? Or would the confident, almost swaggering player who showed up to battle Brees tooth and nail complete a miraculous transformation?? The second his drop back plant foot hit, Smith uncorked a rocket to Vernon Davis just beyond the zone patrolled by Scott Shanle for the winning touchdown.

He had transformed himself forever and celebrated in the endzone with his teammates and the ghosts of Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jeff Garcia. Candlestick Park and everyone who watched this game was in disbelief. Not that the 49ers won, it was Smith’s surprising emergence into a quarterback who could win a big playoff game. He stood toe to toe and gunned down media darling and Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees to lead the 49ers to their first NFC Championship Game since 1997.

The question is: What will he do for an encore?? Will he join the ghosts of Montana, Young, and Garcia and beat the New York Giants in a home playoff game?? Each one of his predecessors have. With one more win we can have our first rookie coach to make it to the Super Bowl since Denver Broncos Red Miller in 1977. One thing is he’ll have Coach Harbaugh’s confidence in taking the field tomorrow to prove he’s worthy of a Super Bowl trip. He has to best another Super Bowl winning quarterback to get there. Yet the road Alex Smith has had to travel to get to this point…

  • Considered a first round draft bust, by many, heading into this season.
  • Enduring two head coaches other than Harbaugh in Singletary and Nolan where he played very unsure of himself.
  • Persevering the carousel of 5 different offensive co-ordinators and numerous benchings in his first 5 seasons. Benched for Shaun Hill and Troy Smith to name a few.
  • Having to swallow his pride and rededicate himself after the 49ers drafted an heir apparent replacement in Colin Kaepernick.

He definitely has the chance to erase a history that he distanced himself from last week. A second win and a Super Bowl berth will anoint him into a light that has been reserved for a Matt Ryan or a Joe Flacco. Quarterbacks who have been anointed by the media yet haven’t proved anything in playoff competition yet. Not to the degree that we witnessed last week in Candlestick…

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2011 NFC Championship Preview; Eli Manning “The Silent Killer”

George Halas Trophy: Awarded to the NFC Champion

As the NFL train heads for the NFC Championship, one passenger looks strangely familiar to us. We’ve seen him before and haven’t really given him his due as how great he’s actually becoming. Do you realize thanks to last week; Eli Manning is the only quarterback in NFL history to defeat two different teams with 15 regular season wins?? He was the quarterback of the Super Bowl XLII upset of the 16-0 New England Patriots, and now conquered the 15-1 Packers last week in Lambeau. Is it time we consider him great?? We know…get up off the floor and consider this; he has more signature playoff wins than his celebrated brother Peyton. In fact he’s the tougher quarterback between the two.

Stop and think of the signature games Eli has in his back pocket. Everyone remembers the run to the Super Bowl in 2007 especially the Dallas Cowboys. Remember that group?? An emerging Tony Romo and Terrell Owens sparkled as they ran to an NFC best 13-3 record and the championship of the Eastern Division. Then in a frigid Lambeau Field took down the 13-3 Green Bay in Brett Favre’s last game as a Packer. The most startling fact were these two games and the Super Bowl that year were all of these teams beat Eli and the Giants in their first meeting. Something the 49ers should take solace in since they defeated Manning’s Giants 27-20 in November.

Last weekend propelled Alex Smith into a higher echelon of quarterbacks, yet where did the 37-20 defeat of the Packers propel Eli?? We have to remember he is already a Super Bowl winning quarterback although the sporting press doesn’t cover him like one. He isn’t coddled like his brother when it comes to his short comings. Think about it for a second…. Had Eli Manning thrown a 4th quarter interception to seal his team’s fate in a Super Bowl you would never hear the end of it. We hardly hear of his triumph in Super Bowl XLII, he’s treated like a supporting actor to the upset itself or even David Tyree’s helmet catch. Neither of which could have taken place without Eli’s heroics. If you can remember Eli had to break free of two linemen and scrambled before throwing that famous pass to Tyree.

The silent killer

With a win this week, Manning will have his 7th playoff win and second Super Bowl appearance. He has a 5-3 record in the playoffs and get this he’s 5-1 away from home in the playoffs including the Super Bowl, for his career. Contrast that against Peyton’s 3-6 record away from home in the playoffs, which includes a 41-0 devastating loss to the New York Jets. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200301040nyj.htm Understand Eli doesn’t have a lopsided postseason loss to that degree on his resume’. It also needs to be reiterated he just missed becoming the 4th quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards this year with 4,933, while throwing for 29TDs to just 16 interceptions. You’re starting to get the feeling that he will win this road game and advance to his second Super Bowl.

No one even comes close to his road post season record. He’s quiet and tremendously unassuming off the field. Yet it’s at this moment we have to anoint him to that of a great quarterback on the precipice of his second Super Bowl. You’d think that the coddling the media has given his brother would have rubbed off on him. That it hasn’t has given him a thicker skin and stronger resolve. The same as being a younger brother getting beat up by his older brother’s Peyton and Cooper.

If Aaron Rodgers ascended to greatness with last year’s postseason, where will that leave Eli if he’s able to pull it off for a second time??  An NFC showdown against the formidable (13-3) 49ers awaits. Yet nothing has rattled a quarterback who has bested 4 teams with that same record or better for his postseason career. Before this championship he ascended to becoming a great quarterback with the win over the Green Bay Packers. With a win in San Francisco he’ll cement it. Can he pull it off?? We’re not betting against the “silent killer”.

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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.

Deion Sanders Makes The Hall

Deion Sanders Makes the Hall of Fame

Judging a book by its cover usually gets you in trouble.  There are so many players who have press clippings before they have done anything and I thought here was another one when I first heard of Deion Sanders.  He was still at Florida State and was “Neon”, “Prime Time”, etc…

Now being a Miami Hurricane fan I shouldn’t be turned off by the flash he displayed on and off the field yet I was.  I didn’t think the game was as important to him as being a winner.  That was my initial thought of Deion.  The comparisons to Bo Jackson for playing both baseball and football were not accurate.  Bo was hit on every play being a runner compared to a cornerback who can go a whole game without being hit.  So went my opinion.

I remembered his first game in 1989, the first time he got on the field after being shuttled in from his baseball sojourn and took a punt back 68 yards for a TD against the Rams.  Now you have to give credit where credit was due, that was pretty big for one that hadn’t practiced or even got used to performing in those pads.  He would have flashes and I started to notice how great he played against great players.  He was the first one that “wanted” to line up against Jerry Rice in his prime.

In 1990 Rice scored 5TDs against Atlanta CB Charles Dimry in a game and Deion vowed that wouldn’t happen to him.  This started a series beginning in 1991 where Jerry Rice would battle tooth and nail with Sanders.  Deion shut Rice down in both games in 1991, which led to Atlanta wresting the NFC West division title from San Francisco that year.  You had to notice that Sanders was the spirit of that team and I started to become a fan. Yet this paled in comparison to the performance that turned me around completely.

No, I’m not talking of his ’94 season where he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year I’m talking about the best team transforming performance ever.  It was 1993 and Deion was still playing baseball and Jerry Glanville’s Atlanta Falcons were spiritless.  They had no fight and were 0-6 without him.  They were in the midst of being blown out on Monday Night Football by the Pittsburgh Steelers when the announcers turned their narration to things other than the game in front of them.  How could they turn their season around?  Would Glanville be on the chopping block?  What would happen with Deion Sanders coming back?  It was expressed his impact would be minimal being a cornerback to which I agreed.

Just like a little brother who perks up playing sports when he discovers his big brother and dad are watching, Atlanta completely changed their temperament with his arrival.  He came in and brought a moxie that had been missing.  He was smothering Lawrence Dawsey of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a huge fight broke out after a punt return where Deion was hit late. You saw the fight and the bench cleared to protect their best player and from that point on, the team that had been getting laughed at galvanized behind his brazen spirit.

A team that was being laughed out of their own stadium on a Monday night in October was playing the most spirited football this side of Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense led Houston Oilers and finished 6-4 over the final 10 games. One of those losses came to that Oiler team that finished with 11 straight wins.  Pundits and everyone noticed he was more than a shut down corner.  He had to be a great locker room teammate to pull that off.  That fight with Dawsey in a game that meant absolutely nothing showed that the game meant something to Sanders.  It was the year he garnered respect as a football player and galvanizing force as a teammate.

Later that year after his Pro Bowl selection, the media descended on Atlanta for Super Bowl XXVIII for Buffalo v. Dallas.  He enjoyed a celebrity that was borne of the respect he showed in turning around the Falcons that season. Folks wanted to know who he thought would win the game as much as be entertained by his personality.  He was the defacto master of ceremonies and everyone from Inside the NFL, ESPN, to NBC had specials with him talking football and showcasing great spots in Atlanta.

On the field before the game NBC asked a panel of current players about the Super Bowl.  There was speculation on would he return or not.  Deion elaborated “Here is the Super Bowl in Atlanta and I’m watching it. I want to play in one.”  You saw in his face that he meant it and felt it on live camera with the Super Bowl being minutes away.  He wanted to be recognized as a winner and not just the flashy corner / return man and he wouldn’t be back in Atlanta.  No season turned around the perception of Deion Sanders as a football player like 1993.

No season cemented his legacy like 1994.

The baseball strike relegated Deion to being slightly bored and needing something to do.  He had been a Cincinnati Red yet was being courted by New Orleans Saints and such as a free agent in football.  The Saints had the best free agent offer on the table for Sander’s services with a 4 year, $17 million contract.  He was going to be a Saint right? Wrong!  Remember that on field admission of wanting to be a champion before Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta? Well Carmen Policy convinced him to join the San Francisco 49ers for 1 year with a $1.1 million contract, the last $170,000 of which was Jerry Rice sacrificing his own money so they would sign him under the cap. What showed that the championship was more important than to sacrifice $15.8 million for a one year chance at the brass ring? That was a tremendous risk…..so what happened?

Deion joins the team in week 3 and displayed the cover corner prowess that allowed him to intercept 6 passes, returning 3 for touchdowns.  He set the records for return yards in an individual season; two 90 yard TD interception returns in a season…and ran away with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.  His complete smothering of Alvin Harper, then the NFL all time yardage per reception leader in the playoffs actually ruined Harper’s career.  Or at least the descent of Harper’s career can be traced to the 1994 NFC Championship Game and the first few series. Deion became a Super Bowl champion that year which cemented his legacy and he didn’t have to apologize for anything the rest of his career.

He subsequently moved on to sign a 5 year $35 million dollar contract with the Dallas Cowboys where he won another Super Bowl and had stints with the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens to help influence a slew of young players with his will, verve, and spirit.  He is a Hall of Famer and is recognized among the greatest cornerbacks in the history of football.  He was an All Time great and earned his way to the Hall of Fame on the field.  Cornerbacks still emulate him yet can’t turn an interception into instant offense like he could.  He was big and his hand-eye coordination stymied not only the great Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, and later Andre Rison.  Sorry Sterling Sharpe used to get him….yet I digress.  He finished with 53 interceptions, had 19 combined return touchdowns and 1,331 yards in returns.  Just an electrifying performer.  An all time great?  Absolutely!

Deion Sanders, one of the all time great cornerbacks and now:  Pro Football Hall of Famer!!  Congrats on your election.

Super Bowl XLV Pick? After Further Review

Super Bowl XLV Preview (Part II)

Man, I love the roman numerals of the Super Bowl.  We’re two days away from the 45th Super Sunday and in the back of my mind I can hear the late Don Meredith when he announced when he was right outside the San Gabriel Mountains and about to bring you the 11th Super Sunday! I wish I had his voice or Dick Enberg’s to start this one off… yet time marches on.  So let’s get after the finale of this game.

Are the Steelers on the verge of 3 Super Bowls in 6 years? Does that qualify as a dynasty?  I don’t think it qualifies as a dynasty because there wasn’t a back to back win involved.  Early Super Bowl era dynasties were winning two in a row to separate themselves from other champions.  Then Dallas went 3 of 4 as did the ‘00’s Patriots, which changed the landscape. So who’s going to win??

Steelers Front 7 on Defense: I believe in LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and James Harrison.  This is one of the best linebacking corps ever in the NFL and it’s time to recognize them. When they brought back Larry Foote #50 from his Detroit sabbatical he has helped solidify their goal line defense.  Watch Fox #57 along the goal line also.  I’d like to see him on the field more instead of Lawrence Timmons.  James Farrior has played so well for the Steelers everyone forgets he started as a Bill Parcells New York Jet. He absolutely knocked Shonn Greene’s chinstrap loose with a great hit in the AFC Championship Game.  They scrape into running lanes and stonewall runners and pass rush with the best of linebacking corps that I have seen, but what makes this group different is the muscle with which they can stand up to blocking linemen.

Brett Keisel, beard and all, along with Casey Hampton and emerging Zigy Hood are just immovable.  They are only allowing 60 yards rushing which is among the best in history near the 2000 Ravens numbers.  This is the NFL and if you can’t run you can’t win.  If they haven’t been moved in 18 games what makes you think they’ll be moved in the 19th??

Packers Front 7 on Defense: B.J. Raji is coming into his own as a pro player up front but its Cullen Jenkins who has been playing like his brother Kris.  The Packers have become stronger against the point of attack when opponents try to run.  They still miss the speed of Brady Poppinga, and Nick Barnett but have made up for it from stellar play by Clay Matthews.  He has grown into one of the best pass rushers and is taught by one of the best ever in former Steeler Kevin Greene.  A.J. Hawk has been a pin to hold down running games and cover tight ends also.  Not since Lawrence Taylor has a defense leaned so much on one play making linebacker.

The Packers can be run on somewhat between the tackles and some off tackle.  They have proven to be stout during the playoffs but only faced one grade “A” running back in Atlanta’s Michael Turner.  The Falcons had some success but the Packers taking a commanding lead took the ball out of his hands. Can they stop Mendenhall? Hmmmmm… Can they slow him? Uh

Advantage Steelers: As the question went unanswered earlier, if you can’t move a defense in 18 games how do you expect to do so in the 19th?? To be run on you have to be pushed off the ball and this defense can’t be moved. After a few penalties and an 18 play drive where they were tired, they stopped the Jets on 4th and goal in the AFC Championship Game.  Keep in mind that the Packers began the season unable to protect Aaron Rodgers and they really haven’t in the playoffs.  He’s just escaped and run from any spirited danger.  He’s not running from Woodley and Harrison.

I see Matthews getting after Big Ben as well but he’s too much of a focal point where the Steelers can gameplan to minimize his effectiveness.  A lot like what happened with A.J. Duhe when he was with Miami against the Redskins and make him go through additional blockers.  The Packers will also abandon the run first which will allow Woodley, Farrior, and Harrison will collapse Green Bay’s pocket

Steelers Receivers v. Packers Secondary: Mike Wallace came into his own this year and rookie Antonio Brown, are both speed receivers that may sneak deep. At tight end Heath Miller is a sure handed receiver and a good blocker.  Hines Ward is one of the reasons the other receivers will get deep by putting lumps on Packer defensive backs and linebackers with his run blocking.  He’s also still there to help the Steelers with the possession routes and is a former Super Bowl MVP who is playing his last game.  Look for Hines to get Big Ben out of trouble at least 7 times in this game.

Charles Woodson, Sam Shields (The U), and Tramon Williams #38 have been good on the corners all year.  Woodson, last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has become one of the best defensive backs in football.  When they go to a nickel defense, Woodson will cover Hines Ward or blitz from the slot.  Shields and company have smothered receivers in this year’s playoffs.  Each had two interception games in this year’s playoffs, Shields in the NFC Championship, and Tremond putting the Falcons away on the last play of the 1st half.

Each group is young and fast…

Advantage Push:

Packers Receivers v. Steelers Secondary: The Packers receivers are going to get open in this football game.   Greg Jennings is on a tear, Donald Driver is a possession receiver with a ton of fight in him, and Jones is a capable big play receiver who can make the big play left in one on one coverage.  Will Jones drop the easy pass like he did in the Wildcard v. Philadelphia or will he catch the ball and dominate like he did against Atlanta?  They have been getting open with great routes for the last two years for Aaron Rodgers.

This secondary of the Steelers is its weakest link and they are weak on the corner.  They bank on superior rush to keep them from being exposed.  Ike Taylor, and nickel back William Gay can be taken advantage of.  Before the Ravens game in week a stat was put up on NFL.com that they were 22nd against the pass as a secondary.  The strength is Ryan Clark and present NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu. Troy’s made timely plays in this season that earned this award outright.  He’s the most instinctive player in the NFL. Ryan Clark made the two biggest plays in the AFC Championship game forcing the two third quarter turnovers that allowed Pittsburgh to come from behind.

Advantage Packers slightly…

Pick for the Game: Steelers 27-24. The pass rush will get to Rodgers and the Packers won’t be able to run the ball. Roethlisberger will be the MVP