Friday, November 19, 2004

A Loser Picking the Winners, Week 11

Getting here from there
After going 6-10 last season -- when Murphy's Law was seemingly in full effect -- I got to thinking about all the lucky things that have happened to the Steelers in the past few months that have led to their 8-1 start. Here's the list of things I could come up with (I'm almost sure it's incomplete, and probably not in chronological order, but here goes):

  1. In March of 2003 (OK, that's more than a few months ago, but I think it's pertinent enough to mention here, so bear with me), safety Dexter Jackson agreed to sign with the Steelers only to change his mind at the 11th hour and sign with the Cardinals. He's since been released by Arizona and is currently playing with his former team, the Bucs. Anyway, by Jackson leaving Cowher and Co. high and dry, they were forced to trade up in the 2003 draft to get Troy Polamalu with the 16th pick. And while there was much gnashing of teeth last season because of Polamalu's slow transition to the NFL, nary an unkind word has been spoken about him this season. In fact, he's quickly becoming one of the best defensive players on the team and maybe one of the best safeties in the AFC. I'm guessing if Dexter Jackson was here, things might be a little different.
  2. In the final game of the 2003 season, the Steelers and the Ravens played in a game that was meaningless except for two things. First, Jamal Lewis was trying to break the single-season rushing record. Second (and at the time less importantly), the outcome impacted the Steelers draft position the following April. It's been mentioned here before, but it bears repeating: if the Ravens hadn't become so preoccupied with beating the Steelers in that inconsequential final game of the season (the Steelers were going nowhere and the Ravens were bound for the playoffs either way), the Ravens would have been better rested the following week in their playoff matchup with the Titans. And more importantly if you're a Steelers fan, Pittsburgh may have won that game and not ended up with the 11th overall pick. Thanks Brian Billick.
  3. Speaking of the draft...In retrospect it seems almost impossible to believe that Ben Roethlisberger fell to the 11th pick. I'm sure if NFL teams knew then what they know today the Chargers might have taken Robert Gallery and Roethlisberger wouldn't have made it past the Giants with the 4th pick. As it stands, the Chargers and Giants battled over the other two QBs, the pitiful Browns passed on their QB of the future to get Kellen Winslow, and miraculously Roethlisberger fell to the Steelers. Thanks Butch Davis (by the way, this may be your legacy in Clevelend).
  4. Cowher and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis part ways during the offseason. At the time I didn't like the move and thought that maybe Cowher was looking for a scapegoat for all the defensive problems and decided to pin them on Lewis. This is one of the many reasons know one takes me seriously -- because I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Anyway, Dick LeBeau was (re)hired and in the span of a few months has put together one of the best defenses in the NFL.
  5. RG Kendall Simmons goes down in training camp and is lost for the season. This was one of those "here we go again" moments. Finally, everyone's healthy after an abysmal o-line performance in 2003, and this was seemingly the worse thing that could've happened. As it turns out, Keydrick Vincent and Oliver Ross have been so capable on the right side that there names are seldom mentioned, unless it's to heap praise on them. They are potentially one of the biggest parts of the success of this team to date.
  6. Do you realize that if Clark Haggans hadn't broken his hand during training camp a couple of things wouldn't have happened? First, Alonzo Jackson wouldn't have proclaimed that, "I'm now the starter and Haggans has to earn his job back" (of course, Haggans earned his job back simply due to Jackson's play). Also, the Steelers never would have signed James Harrison. Here's another example of a guy who was passed over by 32 teams, and as an afterthought was signed by the Steelers (after being cut from the Ravens' practice squad). Thanks again Brian Billick.
  7. Does anybody remember way back in week one when Ainsley Battles went down for the year? That injury resulted in more playing time for Russell Stuvaints, who to date has done a pretty good job (which includes a fumble return for a TD last week against the Browns).
  8. This will be a shock to no one, but I still have to mention it because it may be the turning point of the season. During week 2, the Ravens again have a hand in the Steelers success when they knock Tommy out of the game (and out of a job). Seven games later the Steelers are 8-1 behind the solid play of Ben Roethlisberger. In this instance the Steelers were the recipient of good karma. If you want to see an example of karma biting you in the ass, take another look at the Ravens. In the 2003 draft, Baltimore wanted Byron Leftwich, but when the Jags took him three picks ahead of the Ravens, they instead got Terrell Suggs (good pick) and then used their other first round pick to get Kyle Boller (bad pick). Thanks Brian Billick.
  9. After the Dallas game, guys like Chris Hoke, Willie Williams and Ike Taylor all played big roles in the defense's success when filling in for the injured Casey Hampton and Chad Scott. Ike had a pick against the Pats, Willie Williams blanketed T.O. during the Eagles game (and had a big sack against McNabb), and Hoke has pressured the ball for the three games he's played. If something like this had happened last season, things probably would have been a lot different.
  10. Perhaps the other big part to the Steelers success this season is the re-emergence of the Bus. The running game could have become nonexistent after Duce went down, but Jerome, Verron Haynes and Willie Parker have all been very successful picking up Staley's slack. In fact, there hasn't been a drop off at all; if anything, the running game has been as effective (if not more so during the Eagles game) in Duce's absence as it was at any point this the season.

Like I mentioned above, I'm sure there's a bunch of stuff I forgot or overlooked, but either way, these events have all played important parts in the resurgence of the Steelers in 2004. Oh, before I get to my woeful picks for this week I just want to say one last time, Thanks Brian Billick.

Now for the picks...

My lackluster attempts at picking games are so bad that embarrassing is a distant speck in the rearview mirror, pitiful is just out the window, and utterly pathetic is just ahead. Whatever the case, I did improve last week to 8-6, but am still "comfortably" in the red for the season. Despite these setbacks, I'll forge ahead. Here are the week 11 picks:

Season: 69 - 71 - 4
Last week: 8 - 6
Earnings to date: - $910

Week 1 picks Week 10 picks
Week 2 picks
Week 3 picks
Week 4 picks
Week 5 picks
Week 6 picks
Week 7 picks
Week 8 picks
Week 9 picks