Friday, January 14, 2005

A Loser Picking the Winners, Week 19

OK, instead of talking about my craptacular picks from week 18, I'm going to go in a completely different direction -- and I have Brian Bassett to thank. Bassett writes for NY Jets Blog and he emailed me earlier in the week to see if I wanted to do a little back-and-forth on Saturday's game. I readily agreed and here are my anwsers (in blue) to some of Bassett's questions:


Thanks for agreeing to have a dialogue about the game this weekend. I am excited to see what the "other half" thinks about the matchup, your team and of course, the story of the year, Big Ben.

To start, I heard a very interesting statement from a good Pittsburgh-native friend of mine who told me that "this Steelers team is the same one that went to the playoffs two years ago. Last year was an anomaly due to injuries to both sides of the ball." What a credit to the the Steelers organization, if something like last season happened in most other places, the coach would be out on the street and this year would have been a total wash as new coordinators install new systems.

As I think about it, the Jets have a similar story. With Penny's injury last year, it set the team in the wrong direction, and after a while, there was just no pulling out. As frustrating as last year was for both of our teams, it is great to see them back in the playoffs. Here are some thoughts about the game, let me know what you think.

1) From some message board trolling, I can see that Jets fans and Steelers fans are getting into border skirmishes all over... are Steelers fans a lightning rod like this every week, or is there something particular about Jets fans... like Browns fans that causes such ire on both sides?

Well, it depends. When I first started the blog, I spent a lot of time reading Steelers message boards just to get an idea of what people were saying. What I found was that there are a lot of fervent Steelers fans, but also a lot of people who like saying ridiculously inane stuff just to get people riled up. That said, there are some good Steelers message board out there and the trick is to find them ( is one I read a few times a week).

2) The last meeting of both teams was a disaster for the Jets, but they still managed to lose 17-6. Looking backwards, I feel like the game was somewhat of a perfect storm... too many things went wrong. The initial fumble, the picks, Abraham not playing, etc. Even with all that, to hold the Steelers to 17 was pretty amazing. That is what I think led to Ellis and Martin's statements about a rematch. Was there a sense of that in Steeler Nation, or was it just viewed as a total choke?

I don't think anyone in Pittsburgh thought the first meeting was a choke. Look, we realize that the Jets are a really good team -- and if we didn't know it before the game, we certainly knew it afterward. It's interesting that you mention that despite all the stuff that went wrong for the Jets (NY also had 12 penalties in the first half -- I know, I know, many of them were questionable), they were still able to hold the Steelers to 17 points. I think I read in one of the New York papers earlier this week that Pittsburgh actually was pretty banged up coming into that game and they were -- to borrow a Mike Vanderjagt phrase -- "ripe for the picking." Specifically, they'd come off a string of really tough games, they had lost a number of starters, and they were due for a letdown. Still, despite all that they were still able to squeak out a win.

Concerning the comments by Ellis and Martin, I think they were perfectly legitimate. When media guys bring up that tired "bulletin board material" stuff I always want to say, "Well what exactly should Martin and Ellis have said, 'yeah we lost a really close game today and I can't envision a scenario where we'll ever be able to beat this team'?" Not only that, but I'm sure they have all the faith in the world that they can win, and you have to respect that as a fan of the opposing team and I would guess you'd have to appreciate it as a Jets fan. Now if you could only get Abraham on the field...

3) From my understanding, based on the Steelers defense, where the linebackers play tight, the Jets would be wise to use double TEs and run sweeps and try to hook the backers. In the last game, the Steelers didn't see much of LaMont Jordan, the Jets' backup running back, but I think that there will be more plays where he is in the game this time, and possibly where both he and Martin are in at the same time.

For the past two years, this has been my personal Holy Grail. LaMont can be a big play back, and everyone knows about Martin, but with both in the game they could be pretty dangerous to another team. The problem has been Paul Hackett, who being a West Coast guy, isn't fond of that type of a set. This came to a head last week in the Chargers game, when Edwards was screaming at Bishop Harris the RB coach who is in charge of personnel. Even though Herm was yelling at the messenger, he was really upset with Hackett, for not having LaMont Jordan in the game. All this is to say, that Herm has wanted both players to play at once, and I think that behind closed doors this week he is leaning on Hackett to finally do what he says.

Dick LeBeau, the Steelers defensive coordinator might be the best offseason acquisition on the roster. He throws so many looks at an offense that they often have no idea whose coming from where. He runs a lot of stunts, zone blitzes and does an amazing job of mixing up coverages. Given that the Jets like to run the ball, I wouldn't be surprised to see them give it to Martin and Jordan a lot Saturday. The only problem is that the Steelers are unbelievably fast at the LB and in the defensive backfield, and couple that with some of the hardest hitters in the league and you end up with a unit that ranks first against the run. Of course I have no idea, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Steelers make Pennington beat them deep. They're still not convinced his arm is 100% and they might jump short routes, mix in some exotic looks to pressure him, and make him beat them down the field. From what I've seen (and heard) of Hackett, he seems to get more conservative with the play-calling the closer the game gets.

4) The Jets biggest problem is the secondary. With some injuries to players like Ray Mickens, the defense has had a tough time in the middle of the field all year, employing a bend-don't break style of defense. Early in the season, I saw Sean Salisbury say that eventually it was going to catch up with the Jets, and it did. In games like the loss to Buffalo and the Rams, the defense was picked apart for some big plays. There are some emerging players like S Erik Coleman, who had a great rookie season (88 TKL, 4 INT, 12 PD), but the secondary is still young. For the Jets, that this is their worst feature, could be beneficial against a team that only throws the ball about 25 times a game.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? OK, I'll start with the good stuff. Even with the ageless wonder, Terrell Buckley, the defensive backs did a solid job against the Steelers in their first meeting; in fact, it was better than solid because they picked Roethlisberger twice and held him to fewer than 150 passing yards for the day. The bad news is that Burress didn't play in the last game and he'll be close to 100% Saturday. And while the Steelers will look to establish the run early, if the Jets are stacking the box, expect Roethlisberger to check at the line of scrimmage in situations that favor Burress and Hines Ward. And what's important about having Burress back is that it benefits everyone offensively. It not only opens up running lanes for the backs, but it puts Ward and Antwaan Randle El in a lot of single coverage looks. Still, for the Jets to be successful, they'll need to stop the run early and then pressure Roethlisberger when he drops back. If I'm Donnie Henderson, I'm looking at the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati matchup where the Bengals sacked Big Ben seven times.

5) Ben Roethlisberger has been great all year. Winning the "other" R.O.Y. honors has defied critics, and done what his team has required of him, throwing for 17 TDs along the way. Although he did have his worst game of the season against the Jets, I don't expect him to only complete 9 passes again this time. So, even if Pennington plays better this game, I would expect Ben to do the same thing. When it is all said and done, I would be surprised if the running game doesn't determine the winner, like last time.

Yep, I agree. Like I mentioned above, I think Pittsburgh will look to run early, and mix in some passes with the matchups dictate it. If the Steelers get up early, look for them to run it 100 times if that's what it takes; and if New York gets up early, look for Pittsburgh to still run it. After going 6-10 last season while relying primarily on the passing game, Cowher and company are none to eager to get away from the gameplan that got them to this point.

Good stuff. Thanks again to Bassett for suggesting this. Here's the link to him answering some of my probing questions about the Jets heading into Saturday's game.

Also, Aaron Schatz has the Jets - Steelers preview up over at Football Outsiders.

With week 18 quickly behind us (I mean really, who wants to revisit that nightmare), here are my new and improved week 19 picks (and yes, that's a minus sign in front of my $4,100 season earnings):
Season: 129 - 121 - 8
Last week: 0 - 4
Earnings to date: - $4,100

Week 1 picks Week 10 picks
Week 2 picks Week 11 picks
Week 3 picks Week 12 picks
Week 4 picks Week 13 picks
Week 5 picks Week 14 picks
Week 6 picks Week 15 picks
Week 7 picks Week 16 picks
Week 8 picks Week 17 picks
Week 9 picks Week 18 picks