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February 05, 2006

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I put on the nearest approximation I had of black and gold today, but will not be surprised at a Seahawks blowout.

In other positive news, SLU is tied with Fordham for third in the league! Woo hoo! Pitt is beating Georgetown by 6.

To put a maximum likelihood estimator on it: Seahawks, 27-13.

The Seahawks do have weaknesses.

A team that crosses the goal line as much as Seattle should have better kickoff coverage by now.

The season hasn't afforded us a lot of experience in white-knuckle finishes.

And if Pittsville can knock Matt Hasselbeck out early, it'll be a more interesting game.

But I've rarely seen a team -- in any sport -- with more deserved confidence in their own approach to the game.

I'm with 4jkb4ia. I wouldn't be surprised if Seattle won. I mean, the Steelers seem to play best when they're underdogs, and between Bettis and Foote, the Steelers are practically playing a home game. We know how Cowher's Steelers play in post-season home games. And I agree with the assessment that Hasselback will be the most underrated player on the field tonight.

But, really, I'm an AFC gal.

Polamalu's ankle is worth at least a field goal. If the Seahawk's o-line doesn't protect better than the Colt's o-line, we'll see Seneca Wallace, Hasselback's back-up. Watch Seattle's "uncovered" guards on passes. Do they "slide protect?" Or do they pull to try and get outside and block Joey Porter and friends? They will probably do a little of both to try and confuse the Steelers. Shaun Alexander is a lot tougher to tackle than Edgerin James (whose no slouch). It will be interesting to see how much LeBeau blitzes and how many he commits to it. No way LeBeau lets Shaun Alexander beat the Steelers. If the Steelers lose, it will be on Hasselback's arm. IMO Seahawks'D will do what everyone else does to Blitzburgh, make Big Ben and Heinz Ward (best athlete on the field?) beat you. Heinz is a faster reincarnation of Sterling Sharp, except that Sharp was a pain in the ass in the locker room, and Heinz isn't.
IMO the longer its close, the more "time of possession" favors the Seahawks, if they are winning that crucial battle. Tackling Shaun Alexander in the fourth quarter is a lot tougher than tackling him in the first.

Another modest prediction: For years to come, Steeler fans will be muttering about ankle tweaks.

John Casper

I agree with everything you say except about Polamalu's ankle. How bad is it? I mean, I can play on a tweaked ankle, and I have to do my own ankle wraps usually and I never get all those nice drugs shot into me.

One other thing, I think Hasselback (and the approach LeBeau will take) is closer to Plummer than Manning. With Manning, ALL you have to do is get him out of the pocket and he's a deer in the headlights. Hasselback is not AS mobile as Plummer (and he's actually better IN the pocket than Plummer). But I think you aim, first of all, to eliminate his ability to keep plays alive, by keeping him in the pocket as the play develops.

IIRC, Thursday's ankle report was "no tweak, just sore". Friday's report was "no problem, full speed".

If Seattle loses (Steelers could break a couple big plays somewhere along the line): no excuses.

Hey, Ron, did you see Polamalu after the refs took away what might have been his second legitimate interception agaisnt the Colts? Did you see him fussing, talking about how unjust it is? Did you see how the Steelers responded after Bettis fumbled?

Didn't see a whole lot of excuses there, in either case.

I'm not much of a pro football aficionado, because I grew up in a town without a pro football team; I grew up in Detroit. So I won't make predictions. But I'll state my preference for Pittsburg, for three reasons:

1. I'm from Detroit, and Pittsburg, Cleveland and Milwaukee are probably the three cities closest in character to Detroit. Sports wins mean more for people in those towns, because we get dumped on for so many other things.

2. As a child, I was taught to hate all of "America's teams." My Irish Catholic grandfather inculcated a hatred of Notre Dame that would match that found on the campus of Bob Jones University. I loved the Reds and the Red Sox because they had two of the best catchers in baseball--my primary position in baseball was catcher until I started pitching when I got older--but also because they were the two teams most likely to thwart the Yankees. (Sorry 'bout that Dem, just bein' honest.) And I loved the Steelers, because they spanked the Cowboys. I've remained a bit of a Steelers fan ever since.

3. Even though he spurned Michigan to go to college at Notre Dame, I gotta root for Bettis. And Larry Foote, while at Michigan, was a very underrated player. But Bettis, he's like a lot of other Detroiters who go on to stardom in other cities but never give up on their home town. If the Steelers win in his hometown, on what could be his final game, it would be great for him, for Steelers fans, and it will probably be the closest Detroiters will ever get to winning their own Super Bowl, at least as long as William Clay Ford owns the team.

So, sorry Ron, I'm rootin' for the Steelers.

Seattle seems to have something it's never had before: consistency. Good consistency, I mean. They do everything well, and don't put themselves in a position to need a last-minute, Hail Mary, somebody-saaave-me miracle.

the only times i've ever rooted for the afc team are the jets in '69 and the 3 pats winners, and that's because coach belichick and i were undergrads together at that football factory, wesleyan university.

but that said, it's my long-standing contention that those years in which there's two weeks between the conference championship games and the super bowl are the years in which the better team always wins (as opposed to the 1-week years, where the outcome is iffier).

and the better team - the one that plays the most solid, fundamental football - is the steelers.

i will say, though, that coach holmgren is the latest example of why any owner who allows a coach to be the gm too is insane. the seahawks when holmgren had both roles? iffy.

the seahawks with holmgren only coaching? very solid.

"DETROIT -- All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, the man who helps trigger the Steelers' aggressive defense, is injured.
Polamalu left practice early yesterday when his ankle was injured. Coach Bill Cowher told a pool reporter that Polamalu 'tweaked' his ankle and made him probable on the Steelers injury report.
'Probable,' by NFL edict, officially means a player has a 75 percent chance to play in that week's game."

No NFL coach wants to admit, ever, that one of his players is hurt. Cowher had to disclose the ankle under NFL rules. Part of it is Vegas' influence. If the coach doesn't disclose something like this, it gives which ever gamblers know about it, an advantage. However much the NFL hates gambling, and they do, this practice reduces the risk of gamblers trying to bribe trainers and other players to get inside information. (It's the kind of transparency we're missing in the WH.) Polamula's ankle is not a 100%. Polamula is a true safety, he is not a "cover safety," part corner, part safety. The Seahawks along with the rest of the league, want to make Polamula "cover" someone. Knowing he is "probable" will make Holmgren want to attack him even more. My guess, Polamula's injury will cause Holmgren to go with more 4 wide receiver sets. I don't know if Seattle actually has four wide receivers that Holmgren really thinks can play in a SB, but that is a formation that can be used to make a true safety cover someone. This is not a win win for Seattle. "4 wides" means they have to take Mack Strong their fullback, or Shaun Alexander, their offense, out. "4 wides" also puts more pressure on Seattle's o-line.
All NFL players carry a lot more weight than their bones are built for, because of the intensive, year round weight training. A "tweaked" ankle will hurt Polamula's speed and perhaps even more importantly, his ability to quickly change direction. He might still be the SB MVP, but he's not 100%. With that said, it's a COLLISION sport, for grown men. Even with two weeks off nobody is a 100%. They all pay a significant price for the rest of their lives.

Packer Insider
McGinn: Super QBs remain ticket to success
I took this from behind a firewall (Packer Plus) at the Milwaukee Journal. This article is by Bob McGinn, imo the best football writer in the nation, because most of his articles are informed by NFL scouts. He covered Bo Schembechler when he was a student at Michigan.

Detroit - Trent Dilfer, Jeff Hostetler and Brad Johnson remind us that Super Bowls can be won by teams without a great quarterback.

The 28 Super Bowls that have been won either by teams with quarterbacks already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or with quarterbacks destined for enshrinement demonstrate that having a great quarterback clearly is the easiest way to go.

When Mike Holmgren traded for Matt Hasselbeck in March 2001, he was three years into his reign in Seattle with Jon Kitna and headed nowhere but to the unemployment line.

When Bill Cowher drafted Ben Roethlisberger in April 2004, his teams in Pittsburgh had won just 53 of their last 100 games and his quarterback was Tommy Maddox. In other words, Cowher had no chance to overtake New England with Tom Brady or Indianapolis with Peyton Manning.

It might appear too simplistic to attribute the appearance of the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL to Hasselbeck and Roethlisberger. Fact is, it's only too true.

The Seahawks gambled on ex-Packers backup Matt Hasselbeck, trading for the QB in 2001.

Fate, courage and superior coaching brought Hasselbeck to where he is today, one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the NFC.

Fate and superior scouting brought Roethlisberger to where he is today, one of the top four or five quarterbacks in the AFC.

The edge, at this point, probably should go to Hasselbeck based on his eight years of pro experience compared to Roethlisberger's two. But Ron Wolf, the retired general manager who drafted Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks and Hasselbeck for the Packers besides trading for Brett Favre, doesn't see it that way.

"I don't think you can put that on Hasselbeck," Wolf said Friday night. "You can't say which one is better."

Wolf didn't hesitate when asked who was responsible for the selection of Hasselbeck in the sixth round in 1998. That was based on the strong presentation and recommendation from quarterbacks coach Andy Reid.

Hasselbeck had been a two-year starter at Boston College, finishing with 22 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. He was smart (29 on the 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test) and possessed ideal stature (6 feet 4 inches, 222 pounds), but some scouts dinged him for being slow (4.93 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and having only an average arm.

In that draft, my rankings showed Hasselbeck No. 13 at the position, behind Ryan Leaf, Manning, Brian Griese, Charlie Batch, John Dutton, Dan Gonzalez, Ron Powlus, Thad Busby, Jonathan Quinn, Dameyune Craig, Moses Moreno and Cory Sauter.

Hasselbeck was waived by Green Bay on the last cut and signed two days later to the practice squad. In 1999, after Doug Pederson left to join Reid in Philadelphia, he managed to fight off Brooks for the No. 2 job. With Brooks traded to New Orleans in July 2000, "Mr. August" had another terrific exhibition season.

In his only regular-season appearance of consequence, Hasselbeck replaced an injured Favre in November 2000 at Tampa Bay and struggled in a 20-15 defeat.

By the end of the '00 season, did the Packers think enough of Hasselbeck that they would have anointed him as their starter if something serious had befallen Favre?

"Probably, yes," Wolf said. "But that would have been hard because he had a bummer of a game down at Tampa. He kind of fell apart, but I attributed that to the speed of the game. He was superb in those pre-season games against the 2's and 3's."

Wolf stepped down in February 2001 but agreed to assist Mike Sherman through the draft. Together, they decided to deal Hasselbeck because, in another year, he would have become an unrestricted free agent.

On March 2, just after the start of the trading period, Wolf was wrapping up trade talks with Rick Spielman, then personnel director for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins were offering their first-round draft choice (No. 26) for Hasselbeck if the Packers agreed to switch second-round selections, dropping the Packers from the 47th to the 56th pick.

"We had a deal," Wolf said. "But then he (Spielman) said he had to go check with somebody and would call me back."

Wolf left to inform Sherman. When Wolf entered Sherman's office, he was on the phone with Holmgren. The Seahawks had increased the ante, offering their first-round pick (No. 10) plus their third-round choice (No. 72) for Green Bay's first (No. 17) and Hasselbeck.

"So we did it," Wolf said. "When he (Spielman) called back I said, 'Hey, it's too late.' There wasn't anything he could do. I'm sure he was (crestfallen)."

Miami coach Dave Wannstedt ended up playing Jay Fiedler, A.J. Feeley and Sage Rosenfels over the next few years, treaded water and eventually had to resign under pressure.

Not only did the Seahawks get a starting quarterback but they also used the 17th pick on Steve Hutchinson, now the best guard in football. The trade blew up in the Packers' face when they took Jamal Reynolds at No. 10 and Torrance Marshall at No. 72.

"I've thought over the years it might have been better with 17, 26 and 56," Wolf said. "But if we had picked Dan Morgan it wouldn't have mattered."

Holmgren couldn't have been in more desperate straits. His only other options were to sign free agents Elvis Grbac, Trent Green or Johnson.

He gambled on Hasselbeck, who came to bristle under Holmgren's short leash and eventually was benched for Dilfer.

"I handled it very, very poorly," Hasselbeck said at midweek. "I got upset. I took it personal or made excuses."

Hasselbeck followed Favre around like a puppy dog for three years, which was both good and bad. He learned what it took to be a pro and how to ad-lib. He also learned to take chances, and with less arm than Favre it didn't always work.

"What Matt and Brett have in common is the competitive fire, the stubbornness, the intellect it takes, the ability to lead," Holmgren said. "They are quite different in a lot of ways, but those are the things that would be very attractive to anybody that coaches them."

Hasselbeck's passer rating of 98.2 this season ranked fourth in the league. The only season in which Favre had a better mark was 1995 (99.5).

Six people were asked last week if Hasselbeck's level of play had climbed to Favre's level at the same age (30). Three Seahawks - vice president Mike Reinfeldt, wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell and defensive line coach Dwaine Board - either said it was very similar or equal. Three Steelers - defensive line coach John Mitchell, assistant secondary coach Ray Horton and safety Tyrone Carter - said it wasn't.

Said Reinfeldt: "I think his level of productivity is nearing Brett. He's a different guy than Brett, more of an efficient guy. He operates so well within the West Coast offense. . . the progressions, the right decisions, the right throws. It's interesting. It's Matt's fifth season here and it was Brett's fifth season in Green Bay when we won the Super Bowl."

Said Wolf: "I don't know because I haven't seen a lot of Hasselbeck. But I think you're talking about a different level here. Favre probably had three MVPs by that time."

In the weeks leading up to the '04 draft, Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple said the Steelers ranked Eli Manning first, Roethlisberger second and Philip Rivers third.

"Everybody knew that we didn't have a shot at Manning," Whipple said. "Roethlisberger was our target all the way."

There was much to like about Roethlisberger. He was big (6-5, 241), relatively fast (4.86) for his size, more than smart enough (25 on the Wonderlic) for the position and could make just about every throw.

The Steelers had one problem: They weren't picking until No. 11 and some mock drafts had Roethlisberger gone by No. 4.

San Diego and the New York Giants also wanted quarterbacks but preferred Manning and Rivers. Oakland and Arizona, which still don't have quarterbacks, took tackle Robert Gallery and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

Butch Davis signed his walking papers in Cleveland by signing Jeff Garcia to play quarterback and then trading up for tight end Kellen Winslow at No. 6. Still believing in Joey Harrington, Detroit President Matt Millen chose wide receiver Roy Williams at No. 7.

Atlanta, Jacksonville and Houston all had young quarterbacks and selected cornerback DeAngelo Hall, wide receiver Reggie Williams and cornerback Dunta Robinson, respectively. Pittsburgh, which feared Buffalo would trade up from No. 13 to take Roethlisberger, couldn't have been more exultant when the Bills stayed put.

After Maddox was injured in Week 3 of 2004, Roethlisberger had to play. His passer ratings have been 98.1 in 2004 (and 61.3 in the playoffs), 98.6 in 2005 (and 124.8 in the playoffs). He is the first quarterback since the merger in 1970 to make it to the conference championship game in his first two seasons. His record as a starter is 25-4.

"He's really good," said Wolf, who has seen much more of Roethlisberger than Hasselbeck. "He plays within himself. He has the ability to step around the rush and make a play. When they have to win, they put the ball in his hands and let him throw it."

Will Roethlisberger develop into one of the game's great quarterbacks?

"He sure looks like he will," Wolf said. "He looks like a more mobile Jim Kelly but not as pure a passer as Kelly. Not right now, anyway."

Either Hasselbeck or Roethlisberger will win a Super Bowl tonight. Don't be surprised if the victor goes on to become the 10th quarterback in Super Bowl history to capture more than one.

ew -- That why I said "Steelers fans".

DHinMI -- I, too, am so sorry that you are rootin' for the Steelers ... but those are the breaks.

Super Bowl, nothing. I just clicked across the "puppy bowl" (actually "puppy bowl II") on animal planet channel. About a dozen dogs in a football-field-shaped pen, playing with toys. for 3 hrs. take THAT, freedom-haters!

(or possibly I had too many nachos and it was all in my head. for the good of our democracy, I hope so.)

it must be halftime at the puppy bowl...

they've got KITTENS!

Well, I thought that was a pretty good game. Steeler big plays, and Seahawks clumsy in the 2-minute drills. In the matchup, I still like my team.

Defensive stars of the game: the officials.

1. Not a hold.
2. You can't cut block a ball carrier. By definition.

Not a good post-season for officiating. My favored team won, but they did get some help from the zebras.

"You can't cut block a ball carrier. By definition" Kagro X, you are correct, but I think the call was for Hasselback cut blocking the blocker ahead of the ball carrier, who he then legally tackled below the waste.

It looks to me like the replay shows no contact with either blocker. And the idea that the last tackler on the field would waste his efforts on cutting a blocker instead of trying to tackle the ball-carrier six inches to the blocker's right is absurd.

What state of affairs are we in, anyway, when two of the three most celebrated (or notorious) tackles of the post-season (the other being the take-down of Palmer) were made by QBs?

Oops. Two out of four of the most celebrated tackles. I forgot Ben Watson, whose takedown of Champ Bailey should never be forgotten.

KX -- Perhaps that call, like Scalia's opinion in Bush v Gore, was not intended to set a precedent? We live in an age of creative justicion.

But the Seahawks found other ways to cost themselves the game.

kudos to RonK for accepting reality: teams that give up 75-yard running touchdowns on the first play from scrimmage in the second half are not allowed - by the football gods, of course - to win the super bowl.

in addition, it wasn't the refs who: a.) allowed roethlisberger the time to complete the late in the first half pass play on third and long; b.) forced hasselback to throw the interception in the second half....

**ahem** -- howard -- You should know better.

Without the phantom holding call, it's Seattle first and goal at the 1. No 3rd-and-18, no interception, Seattle scores, and Steelers start the next series about 20 yards farther back. The reverse pass maybe isn't even called but if it is, it doesn't score. (Same proposition without the "cut block" call.)

R-burger threw to a tightly covered receiver on 3rd-and-22 from the 40 -- a "virtual punt" -- and lucked out. He knows it, even if you don't.

I counted on one breakaway run, given Seattle crowding the line of scrimmage and daring Rothlisberger to play quarterback. Seattle dominated, and Rothlisberger is an instant sports trivia item.

If we play up to par, we win. In a rematch, we win. Next year, we're in the hunt ... your team needs a long string of breaks to make the wild card slot.

Take what ya got, smile, and don't press your luck.

aw c'mon ronk, here i thought you were accepting defeat with grace (and you appear to be under the impression that i'm a steelers fan. i'm not - i'm an nfc guy. see my 14:52 comment yesterday. i did pick the steelers to win this).

look, surely you know better than to cite counterfactuals: who knows what would have happened if calls had gone the other way? there has been, in my very lengthy lifetime, only one game that i can cite without question as having been stolen by the refs: game 6, sacramento-lakers, in, was it 2002?

in close games, a handful of plays make the difference, and this was a close game. Within that handful of plays, some are going to be reffing judgement calls, and some of those calls may well be wrong (i personally don't think it was a "phantom" hold, for instance, not that it matters). Championship calibre teams accept that sometimes the calls go agin' 'em (look at pittsburgh-indy).

in termns of the plays that actually happened in the game, maybe you conceded a long run as the price for packing the line of scrimmage, but i guarantee you that mike holmgren didn't. i guarantee you that mike holmgren knows that surrendering a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half was a disaster.

as for the roethlisberger pass, please. he rolled left and had seconds on end to pass the ball: inexcusable. NFL quarterbacks are supposed to stick the ball in there when they have that kind of time to throw and he did. Of course he was lucky, but not because of the throw: he was lucky because there was no pressure on him to make him dump the ball off or throw it away. given a chance to make the play, he made the play: that's what we ask pro quarterbacks to do.

and whether you think the seahawks were robbed on the holding call or not, in the real game, hasselback committed an unforced error by throwing the interception. had he not - well, i'm not going to get into counterfactuals myself!

howard, I've seen your asshat commentary elsewhere on the net. It's not playing much better anywhere else, is it?

You claim "it wasn't the refs who ... forced hasselback to throw the interception". I point out that it was the refs: he doesn't throw the interception if he hands off on the 1. You say blah, blah, blah.

You say rberger stuck it in there. I point out it was a hail mary -- a 20% catch, better than a punt or FG try in that situation (even if intercepted, another 20% outcome). Blah,blah,blah.

You "guarantee" what Holmgren thinks. Yeah, right. Blah,blah. Blah,blah,blah. Arf,arf, blah,blah,blah.

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