Wednesday, November 30, 2011
The Steelers (8-3) will try to duplicate their week ten effort against the Bengals (7-4) when they spoiled Cincinnati's comeback bid with a late interception from William Gay en route to a 24-17 win. After getting out to a quick 14-0 lead, the Steelers struggled to hang on against rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton. The second round pick from TCU was 15-30 for 170 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions as the Steelers improved to 12-1 against rookie quarterbacks in the Dick Lebeau era.
Since the week 10 loss, the Bengals have had mixed results in each of their last two weeks. In week 11, they lost a close game to the Baltimore Ravens on the road, and in week 12 they squeaked out a victory against the Cleveland Browns. Now, they are looking to hand the Steelers their third loss within the division which would put the Steelers in third place in the AFC North.
The Steelers are coming off a close win against the putrid Kansas City Chiefs after enjoying a rare, late, bye-week. Former Pitt quarterback, Tyler Palko, was one pass away from defeating his childhood team and capping off one of the bigger upsets this season but, Keenan Lewis's interception with under a minute remaining sealed Pittsburgh's fate and kept them in a first place tie with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite the win, the Steelers seemed unimpressed with their effort, vowing to make the necessary corrections over the course of this week.
Perhaps the Steelers are saving their best work for the biggest game which could be this upcoming week against the Bengals. A Steelers' victory this Sunday would keep Pittsburgh in the hunt for a division title while creating a two game cushion between them and the Bengals. A victory would also keep teams such as the Broncos, Jets and Titans from inching closer to a wild card spot. Most importantly, however, a win would keep the Steelers in the hunt for a division title and possible first round bye; a spot they have earned two of the last three seasons.
While the Texans are currently the top team in the conference, injuries to the quarterback position have forced them to rely on Jake Delhomme for the remainder of the season (unless he either gets hurt or throws an inordinate amount of interceptions). This weekend they have a tough test against the Atlanta Falcons before playing the Bengals on the road in week 14. Meanwhile, the Patriots continue to win pretty, beating up on terrible teams. Their last five games don't get any harder as they face the Colts (0-11), Redskins (4-7), Broncos (6-5), Dolphins (3-8), and Bills (5-6). Not exactly difficult but the Patriots have had issues on defense all year and a team that can move the ball on them can win. Still, if both the Steelers and Patriots manage to win out and the Steelers take the division, they will win the tie-breaker due to the Steelers beating the Patriots in week 8.
Other than a week 15 matchup against the 49ers on Monday Night Football, the Steelers have a cakewalk heading into the postseason. Among their five remaining games, Pittsburgh has to play the terrible St. Louis Rams and the horrible Cleveland Browns (twice). While there are no guarantees in today's NFL, you would be hard-pressed to find a more focused group of players heading into the final stretch of the season.
Still, they need to win.
All of the gaffs and mental breakdowns in last week's win against the Kansas City Chiefs need to be cleaned up before this divisional matchup. Other than the two touchdowns put up in the first few minutes of the game in week 10, the Bengals were able to go stride for stride with the Steelers by playing tough defense and establishing a decent running game. This is far from a "gimme" on the schedule, in fact, in should be viewed as a playoff game. The outcome of this game could set the playoff picture for the AFC and, depending on the result, the Steelers could be a top seed in the AFC, or on the outside looking in.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Penguins' head coach Dan Bylsma has a luxury unprecedented by the other 29 teams in the NHL. His first line center is arguably the best player in the world, his second line center possesses superstar talent unmatched by 98% of the league, and his third line center would be a top line player on most NHL teams.
At times, Bylsma will pair his top two centermen, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, on the same shift in hopes of sparking some offense. Bob Errey frequently uses the term "two-headed monster" as a nickname for Crosby and Malkin. However, with the emergence of Jordan Staal, the Penguins have a "three-headed monster", uncontested by anyone else in the NHL.
Through the first quarter of the regular season, Staal has 12 goals which is good enough for 6th in the league, while contributing 18 total points. Not bad for a guy who plays on the third line, typically a spot for strong defensive players with seldom scoring ability. Yet this 23 year old star has added a scoring touch and looks to be well on his way to passing his career high in goals (29) when he was a rookie. After struggling through injuries last season, Staal has come back looking more comfortable and confident in his abilities.
Over the first five years of his career, Staal has been heavily criticized due to how slow he appeared to be on the ice. His decision making, skating, shooting all seemed to take too long to develop during games. While his brother, Eric, was a Stanley Cup champion and elite-level centerman offensively and defensively, Jordan was viewed as a lesser player due to how uncoordinated he seemed to play. Crosby "flies" down the ice, Malkin "glides", while Staal "lumbers." His only value, it appeared, was killing penalties. Now, a more aggressive Jordan Staal is taking the league by force thanks to what would appear to be more confidence in his physical ability and size. At 6'4 220 pounds, he is extremely tough to knock off the puck combined with his unusually soft hands (24.5% shot percentage). While the offensive side of Staal's game has picked up, the defensive side is still as strong as ever. The Penguins continue to be one of the top 5 teams in the league in penalty killing thanks, large part, to Jordan Staal.
He may not be the most electrifying player, especially on a team with two of the most exciting players in the NHL, but Staal is the key ingredient to a Stanley Cup team. Opposing teams try to match their best defensive unit with Sidney Crosby's line while Evgeni Malkin usually receives a tough assignment against a playoff team's second defensive pairing. With only three defensive pairings on a standard NHL roster, that usually creates a mismatch between the Staal-Kennedy-Cooke line and the third defensive pairing sent out to stop them.
With the emergence of their third center, Jordan Staal, the Penguins may need to start adopting the nickname "three-headed monster." Then again, Dan Bylsma may have already beaten everyone to the punch as he used Crosby-Malkin-Staal as a line in Friday night's game against the Ottawa Senators. The talent the Penguins possess up the middle can be overwhelming and, at times, unstoppable. If all three players can stay healthy in the Spring, the Penguins could find themselves carving another roster into the Stanley Cup.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Under your new CBA, you and the MLBPA have agreed on terms that appear to be unfit for most markets in baseball's highest competitive league. While teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies have been allowed to spend astronomical amounts of money on free agent players at an unimpeded rate, it appears the Pirates, Brewers and Nationals will be forced to limit their spending on the only fathomable process for building a competitive team in their market: the draft.
How is taxing a team 100% of the money they spend on the draft AND removing a future first round pick a fair "punishment" if they spend 10-15% over the allowable amount? How is that going to level the playing field for all thirty teams in the league when teams like the Pirates need to spend on several players while teams like the Red Sox can afford to pour all their money into a few players? How is it fair to create a higher tax rate for spending in the draft (75-100%) than spending in free agency (20-40%? Remember, every team can afford an 18 year old high school phenom; only a handful of teams can afford Albert Pujols.
The truth of the matter, Mr. Selig: It's not fair.
Therefore, I have a new proposal for alignment. Since you were thinking about moving Houston to the American League (which, at this time is a done deal) let me convince you to move them somewhere else. Move them back to the NL Central with the Pirates. How will you balance the league? Simple. Take the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Angels and Cubs, and create your own "superleague". Allow the remaining teams to play under a hard cap which allows everyone to compete at the same level. While you're at it, create a cap floor to prevent the Pirates, Royals and Marlins from spending $10 million total at the major league level. While so many fans will enjoy watching the superleague compete with video game-type rosters, the other 24 markets will be excited knowing each and every season, their team has a chance.
Face it, Bud, as much as you try to talk up the "returning popularity" of baseball, the fact remains that the league's structure is an absolute joke. Under the rules you agreed upon, do you honestly ever expect the Orioles or Blue Jays to win a division title? What about the future of teams like the Rays, Reds and Brewers, whose success has been built upon over-slot spending in the amateur draft? Or do those teams not matter? It has become apparent that your willingness to protect the biggest markets while crushing the smallest ones, has been a decision based on money and greed. While other leagues have a hard salary cap to create parody every season, you continue to keep things the same, leaving most of the small-mid market teams unprotected for decades. Are you so afraid of the owners and union reps that you cannot speak for the little man?
Or maybe it's the fear of another strike.
Please, Mr. Selig, hear my cry. Create another league with baseball's largest markets. Let them spend hundreds of millions of dollars, let everyone have a designated hitter, and let them pay that player hundreds of millions more. I simply do not wish to have my city play in a league where the commissioner holds no power and allows the bullies of Major League Baseball call the shots without any resistance. Realign the teams and allow all markets the opportunity for something to root for. You will still get your revenue with high TV ratings and you could eliminate the luxury tax in the process. Let cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati get back to watching baseball out of love for the sport, not an auction.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Sidney Crosby will return to action tonight to face the New York Islanders in what should be the most excited crowd in Consol Energy Center's short history. While his return seems to be coming at the perfect time, considering the Penguins' scoring woes in the last few games, the bigger picture involves the best player in the NHL making his return.
Two hits, coming from David Steckel and Victor Hedman, in a five day span last season, sparked Crosby's concussion. From there, the Penguins' captain began to experience dizzy spells, nausea, and headaches. The symptoms progressed for months and Crosby was kept on the shelf for the rest of the 2010-2011 season. The injury came in the middle of a season in which Crosby was on pace to put up 60+ goals and 140+ points while the team enjoyed sitting on top of the Eastern conference. Two violent hits to the head turned everything upside down.
Sidney Crosby stuck to his normal workout routine over the summer and did not seem to face any set backs. Meanwhile, the media continued to perpetuate rumors of retirement and constantly prodded the Penguins, Agent Pat Brisson and Sidney Crosby for updates. In early September, Crosby held a press conference involving his physicians and GM Ray Shero with the intention of bringing the true situation out to the public. A few weeks later, Crosby showed up to practice with the same helmet color as his teammates indicating he was cleared for contact. Due to the Pens' strenuous schedule in October, the contact practices were far and few between. When November started, the Penguins were off for five straight days, allowing Crosby to receive more hits.
Every hit Crosby took was published to the world within five minutes of it happening. There was the Deryk Engelland hit in which Crosby went sliding across the ice. The video was played on ESPN and analyzed for a few minutes. Then, there was a practice in which Crosby lost an edge and crashed into the boards. His reaction? A smile. This was fun again.
The public waited anxiously for news on Crosby's return. The question was asked before every game: is this the one? Will he play against Dallas? Will he play against the Avalanche? What about the Canes? Will Crosby play in Florida? The excitement became anxiety as fans began to speculate that he had another setback.
The announcement of Crosby's return spread like a wildfire. Finally! He's coming back and ready to pick up where he left off. Granted, it may take a few games for Sid to get back on track, but for now fans of the Penguins, and hockey in general, should be happy that he's back. Then again, with his skill set and determination, don't be surprised if he has fireworks early on. Crosby possesses talent that has not been displayed in the this league for over ten years. Compound that with what his teammates are saying as well as the videos of his practices posted online, and I say Crosby could make an impact on his first shift tonight.
The only uneasiness with this news involves the first opponent Crosby will face: New York Islanders. This is the same team that called up goons from the AHL to try and bully the Penguins last February. Eric Tangradi received a mild concussion and was taunted by Trevor Gillies as Tangradi barely managed to stay upright on one knee. The game which featured 346 penalty minutes and several ejections was a disgrace to the sport of hockey and nearly led to Mario Lemieux's departure from the sport. Fast forward to today. The Islanders are still one of the Penguins' division rivals and they are in their usual spot of last place in the division, eight points back from fourth place New Jersey. What would they have to lose in taking a shot at Sidney Crosby? Remember, players respect the game, but they rarely respect each other on the ice. Any questions involving a possible lingering concussion issue with Sid could be answered in the first game. At the same time, if Crosby is medically cleared to take contact and participate in an NHL game, then he needs to go out and play. Remember, David Steckel's blindside hit on Crosby during the Winter Classic was a complete accident.
With the Penguins tied for most points in the Eastern conference with the hated Flyers, Crosby's return has the potential to push the Penguins on top. Despite numerous injuries and a very difficult schedule to start this season, the Pens continue to impress. Now, their captain returns as the other superstars, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, continue to dominate. With James Neal's added scoring touch and Kris Letang's solid play on the blue line, the Penguins are ready to show why they were picked as the Stanley Cup favorites before the start of the season.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Earlier this week, WEEI Boston reported the Boston Red Sox were interested in Joel Hanrahan as a potential closer to replace Jonathan Papelbon who recently signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
If I'm the Pirates, I name my price and go for it.
Now, before you show up on my lawn with torches and pitchforks, consider this:
Joel Hanrahan is 30 years old, coming off the best season of his career, and plays the most erratic/inconsistent position in baseball. The closer position requires the endurance to throw in consecutive games while possessing the arm strength to throw in the mid-to-high 90's on a consistent basis. The risk of blowing out their arms, or flaming out, appears to be so high that it is almost expected.
From 2002-2004, Eric Gagne had the greatest string of saves in the history of baseball. Since then, Gagne has had major reconstructive elbow surgery and back surgery and hasn't been an effective closer since. Now, at age 35, Gagne appears to be somewhat of a forgotten player. He has simply "flamed out" and now is nothing more than a middle reliever, at best. The same can be said for Fransisco Rodriguez who, three years ago, had 62 saves with the Angels. The following season he signed with the Mets for three years $37 million and hasn't had more than 35 saves since.
With Hanrahan, it is worth a risk to take a look at some offers from other teams.
The truth about closers and their value lies within the book, "Moneyball". Author, Michael Lewis, states Billy Beane discovered that poor teams were easily able to find closers for cheap while rich teams overspent. During the Oakland's run of four straight playoff appearances, the Athletics used Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch and Keith Foulke as their closers. Ironically, Koch was used to get Foulke who was, eventually, released in free agency. When the Red Sox signed Foulke in 2004, the A's received their first round pick. While the Red Sox paid $3.5 million for the closer, the A's received a free pick to help rebuild their farm system.
Again, the rich teams overspend.
Another example, Rafael Soriano is signed a contract worth $35 million over three years with the Yankees to be the team's setup man. While the Yankees have Mariano Rivera as their closer, the Red Sox have no one. If they're willing to give up a solid prospect for Hanrahan, or overpay, it is worth the trade. The Pirates' best seasons are still 2-3 years down the road and, while they wait for Cole, Taillon, Heredia, Grossman, Marte, etc. to develop, what would be Hanrahan's role on a team that is not ready to compete? With all of the investments in young, projectable pitching over the last few years, it may be time to move a major league-ready piece for someone that can help the team when it matters most: the future.
Did the team make significant strides last season? It has been argued by several fans and media members that they did. I am still skeptical and so far it has been pretty clear that upper management is not going to spend money to bring in a big free agent. With the subtractions of Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, the Pirates are slightly downgraded from last year. While the winter meetings have yet to take place, it hardly seems possible that the Pirates will improve their big league club from last year. I ask: what is the worth of a closer on a losing team? The answer: not as valuable as a potential impact bat or starting pitcher.
But it has to be worth the price. The Pirates cannot afford to receive Andy Laroche type players in return for one of the best closers in the league. Given the Red Sox organizational depth -they were ranked second by Baseball America- the Pirates may strike gold with a solid prospect. On the other hand, the organization has constantly tried to shake the perpetual stigma that they are a cheap team that could not care less about winning. Moving Hanrahan would probably result in severe backlash by the fan base. While this may look like a tight rope for the organization to walk, fans of keeping Hanrahan will be happy to know the Pirates only have one bobblehead giveaway this year.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
For the Steelers, 1983 marked the last season for the remaining players of the legendary "Steel Curtain" defense that dominated the 70's. Jack Lambert and Mel Blount were on their way to Canton as their careers came to an end. While Lambert was only 31 years old, his constant battle with turf toe ultimately led to a premature retirement in what was a brilliant career. Blount, at age 35, was simply too old to play at the same speed and physicality that defined his career for over a decade.
For the current Steelers, Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith all fit the same description.
Ward, age 35, has just 26 catches for 258 yards and 2 touchdowns in 8 games this season. The underdog of the NFL has made a hall of fame career out of his toughness. Not only has Ward made great catches over the middle while taking multiple hits, he has laid out several defensive backs and linebackers on running plays. Now, however, those characteristics seem to be nothing more than a memory. We haven't seen any of Ward's signature blocking and he certainly has been more prone to injuries on hits over the middle. Is this the last season for Hines Ward? That's up to him, but the numbers don't lie and the Steelers have already found three young, lightning fast receivers who are way ahead of the curve. Ward's contract expires at the end of the 2013 season and the 13-year veteran still believes he can play. The numbers, and cameras, suggest his time is coming to an end in this offense.
In a franchise rich with elite level defensive linemen, Aaron Smith was one of the greatest linemen in Steelers' history. He was also one of the most underrated defensive player in the NFL for the last ten years. Smith anchored the left side of Pittsburgh's stingy 3-4 defense since he was given the starting position in 2000. A fourth round pick out of Northern Colorado in the '99 draft, Smith's numbers suggest above average play. However, he constantly occupied two offensive linemen on running plays which allowed the linebackers behind him to make plays. What resulted was one of the most dominant, consistent rush defense in NFL history.
Unfortunately, Smith has been plagued by injuries over the last three seasons, including 2011. Since 2008, Smith has played in only 15 games due to injuries to his biceps, triceps and foot. When he started this season, the rushing defense struggled mightily and it was clear Smith was no longer the dominant force he once was. It would be very surprising if we saw Smith in a Steelers uniform next season.
A free agent signing in 2002, James Farrior has been the captain of the most dominant defense over the last decade. In 223 career games, Farrior has racked up 971 tackles, 11 ints and 35.5 sacks. The University of Virginia product actually played against Mike Tomlin when the head coach was a player at William and Mary. Farrior, 36, has been slow this year. To his credit, he looked slow two years ago only to have a great season last year. This season, Farrior, again, looks slow and his pulled calf may be a sign of breaking down. While the Steelers are still waiting for Stevenson Sylvester to learn the system, Farrior will be a free agent by the end of next season which gives Pittsburgh a small window to fill his position. While the Steelers need help with their offensive line, cornerbacks, and nose tackle, they would not pass up a top-tier inside linebacker in the first round of the draft if one was available.
The difference between these Steelers and the team in 1983 is their youth on offense. Their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is the second oldest player on the offense at age 29. Their youth allows GM Kevin Colbert to shift his focus on restocking the defense. Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, James Harrison, Casey Hampton and Ryan Clark are all over 30. While they still have a few years left in the tank, the replacement plan is already underway.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Those words, spoken by Pennsylvania's Attorney General, Linda Kelly, are the key to figuring out how a middle-aged man could sexually abuse nearly a dozen children, ranging from ages 8-15, for close to two decades.
Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State University defensive coordinator for over two decades, was indicted this past Saturday when a grand jury report presented 40 counts of sexual abuse, stemming from 8 under aged victims, which dated between 1994 and 2002. The victims came from a program started by Sandusky called "The Second Mile". The goal was to give underprivileged kids shelter from the harmful ways of the world. While there is little doubt Sandusky will be sentenced to a lengthy time in prison, the bigger question is surrounding the university who, reportedly, knew of allegations as early as 1998 but did little to investigate.
Penn State Athletic Director, Tim Curley, placed himself on administrative leave among speculation that he would be arraigned on perjury charges. University VP Gary Schultz has stepped down from his position upon hearing the same perjury charges doled out to him as well. According to the grand jury report, Michael Mcquerrey -then a graduate assistant and now an assistant to Joe Paterno at PSU- witnessed Jerry Sandusky performing a sexual act on a child "estimated to be 10 years old." Mcquerrey went to his father to explain what he had seen, then went to head coach, Joe Paterno. Paterno went to Curley and Schultz to describe what had happened, based on a report submitted by Mcquerrey the day before.
Unfortunately for, well everyone, neither Curley nor Schultz filed a police report. When brought under oath, they claimed that the charges were never believe to be serious, that the sexual acts by Sandusky were described as "just horsing around," and therefore, a report to the police was never filed. The final decision not to file a report was made by University President, Graham Spanier, who has managed to invent new levels of cowardice since the report was released on Saturday.
This is where the focus gets taken completely off the child-groping maniac, Sandusky, and, instead, gets placed on the other involved parties.
Why did Mcquerrey not go to the police? Why did Joe Paterno not go to the police? Why were Curley and Schultz trying to cover up what is seen in modern culture as one of the most despicable acts by a human being?
In response to hearing of these allegations in 2002, along with a police report stating there was sexual misconduct by Sandusky in 1998, Spanier banned Sandusky from bringing kids on the football facilities. Unfortunately, it was later admitted by Tim Curley that the ban was "unenforceable".
Was it unenforceable or was there just a careless attitude among the school officials to take these dangerous witness accounts under consideration? Or, was the school more worried that their football program would suffer child molestation charges from former employees on school grounds?
It appeared non-football employees at the university were hesitant to express their eyewitness accounts in fear that they would be fired. Jim Calhoun, a janitor, witnessed Sandusky performing a sexual act on a boy roughly 11-13 years of age. "In discussions held later that shift, the employees expressed concern that if they reported what Jim had seen, they'd loses their jobs" (page 22 of the report). The report goes on to say that Sandusky drove past the facility several times that night.
The lack of action starts with Mcquerrey. He should have gone to the police from the moment he witnessed the act, assuming he could not go into the shower and rescue the young child. Joe Paterno should have called the police and he should have never allowed Sandusky on his football field ever again. By allowing Sandusky to continue to bring young, underprivileged kids on school grounds, Paterno indirectly created a haven for Sandusky to sexually abuse kids. After all, it was reported Sandusky had been lifting weights in the team weight room as early as last week! Coach Paterno, is it safe to assume you are OK with your former employee's behavior?
And what about Spanier, Curley and Schultz? Three "high-ranking officials" whose inability to take their university from the hands of an 84 year old man will now sit result in hours of litigation, civil trials, lawsuits, NCAA sanctions. The football program that once defined Penn State will be gutted -by the fans, alumni, recruits, boosters if university officials do not act fast enough- while the rest of the university will live in embarrassment.
All because of indecision and a fear of upsetting a football program that brought $70 million in revenue last season.
Well now, the program is starting to collapse. One top recruit, Noah Spence (#1 Defensive End in the country), has already expressed his disinterest in the university on twitter: "Um psu might be a no no for me ewww." Several fans/alumni have expressed their anger and embarrassment over the situation with severe actions based on the condition of discipline the university hands to iconic head coach, Joe Paterno. Many have reported their relinquishing of future season tickets while some have trashed their Penn State gear. Yesterday, alumni dating back as early as the mid-70's publicly burned their PSU diplomas in front of Old Main. If the NCAA does not give Penn State football the death penalty, all signs point to fans, possible recruits, and alumni doing it for them.
I am not stating that the university officials are more to blame for these crimes than the criminal, himself. I am simply stating that these horrific allegations were improperly handled due to the influence and power that the football program had over the university. While the school profits most from their football team, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and among all others, Graham Spanier, should have put aside their monetarily influenced decisions to focus on making the correct decisions every human is morally and lawfully obligated to make. Now, due to their inconsiderate attitude towards these abused children, they will be forced to spend a significant time in prison while their once proud school is left in ruins.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
In any mythical setting, the best way to defeat the beast/monster/dragon is to cutoff the head. While Terrell Suggs has certainly provided enough mouth for Sunday's matchup, Ray Rice is the head on the Baltimore Ravens' shoulders.
In week one against the Steelers, Rice rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 4 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown in what resulted in a 35-7 blowout victory. In four of their five victories this season, Ray Rice has registered over 100 total yards. In their week two loss to the Titans, Rice totaled just 43 rushing yards in what was a lackluster effort by the Ravens. In week six, Rice had just 28 yards rushing against the Jacksonville Jaguars in one of the worst offensive performances in Ravens' history.
They ended up losing 12-7.
One reason the Ravens have had to rely heavily on Ray Rice is the terrible play from Joe Flacco this year. After a great start to the season, Flacco has thrown four interceptions and one touchdown in the last four weeks. While the Ravens' defense has played at a championship level all year, the offense has been a major concern. With Flacco's season heading into a downward spiral, you better believe the Steelers will be focused on stopping the run.
The fact that the defense was able to shut down one of the best offenses in the league using man to man coverage only opens the playbook for defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau. If the Steelers can use man to man against the Ravens (and they should), it allows for more players to stack the box and stop Rice. Make no mistake, Rice is the key to Baltimore's success. Terrell Suggs can talk all the trash he wants about how he owns Ben Roethlisberger and how he's public enemy number one in Pittsburgh, but the true enemy should be Ray Rice, because his output will determine whether the Steelers win or lose Sunday night.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
After playing more games (13) than any team in the NHL in October, the Penguins finally catch a break in November. The Penguins, not having played since Saturday, will play next on the road in San Jose. While the road trip is still cross-country, the Pens have a chance to give some of their banged up players, such as Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, a chance to recover.
Of course, the biggest story surrounds their captain, Sidney Crosby.
Crosby was finally able to take some physical contact yesterday when Deryk Engelland knocked the 24 year old superstar on his backside. While everyone waited with bated breath to see how he would respond, Crosby laughed as he went sliding across the ice at Southpointe. Although he still did not go through rigorous contact drills, the overall process seems to be moving in the right direction as the Penguins are finally able to schedule full practices. Meanwhile, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang were given the day off. Staal has been bothered by an "undisclosed lower body injury" which could be code for "pulled/sore muscle." Head coach, Dan Bylsma, iterated that Staal will travel with the team to California for their two game road trip against the Sharks and Kings.
Day-to-day in October could have meant missing 3-4 games given the Penguins tough schedule to start the season. The Pens started out in western Canada, playing against the Canucks, Flames and Oilers in a mere four day period. On top of that, they were facing each respective team on their opening nights which would give the team an emotional boost from the excitement of the crowd. Nevertheless, the Penguins went 2-0-1 on their road trip before coming home where they went 1-1-1. After one day off, the Penguins found themselves traveling to Manitoba to take on the Winnipeg Jets where they looked somewhat fatigued and lost 2-1. A rebound win the following night against Minnesota saved the mini road trip before they finished off the month with an impressive 4-1 record.
Since the season began, the Penguins never had more than two consecutive days off, with the "break" coming in the last week of the month (23rd and 24th). On the other hand, they had two separate occurrences where they played on consecutive days. In the end, the team had played 13 games in 24 days including road trips that spanned four time zones. And yet, the Pittsburgh Penguins still managed to finish 8-3-2 with a league leading 18 points. Now, with the team playing just two games in the next 12 days, the Penguins have a chance to reload and relax.
Evgeni Malkin, who has been dealing with some soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, took the Halloween holiday by force according to his twitter account. The Russian superstar posted pictures of himself with Sid in their costumes; Malkin went as mustache boy while Sid was a gladiator. The time at home after spending half of October on the road relaxes the mind along with the body. With Malkin now playing in consecutive games, the early season soreness may be dissipating. With one superstar back, it is only a matter of time until the other one returns as well.
Barring setbacks, it would be a surprise if Sidney Crosby is not playing by the end of the month. Several fans and media outlets have predicted a November 11th return. While it is impossible to tell exactly when he will return, at this point, Crosby will definitely have opportunities to test how his brain reacts to contact. If everything goes well, the best team in the league will get back the best player in the league. However, given the team's success there is hardly any pressure to rush him back. When Sid returns to the lineup, he will be completely healthy and he'll, once again, lead a team that is one of the best in the league. If we thought 8-3-2 was an impressive stretch, just wait until he comes back.