Thursday, September 27, 2007

A blast (some hate) from the past....

This post was originally written right after the Squealers and the Refs stole Super bowl 40

So, the Steelers won the super bowl, huh? Or the Seahawks lost it. Whatever. After letting my boiling blood cool for a day, I want to say a few things about the big game.

First off-a disclaimer: The Pittsburgh Steelers are a class organization, starting at the top with the Rooneys, all the way down through the coaching staff, most of the players (former and current), and I'm sure a large percentage of their inexplicably large fan base. I have no problem with Jerome Bettis. He played the game the way it should be played for his entire illustrius career, gave back to his community, and if anybody deserves a storybook ending like we saw yesterday, it is Jerome.

That being said-a couple things that anybody not plastered beyond belief on Iron City beer with their air supply being choked off by an unfortunate byproduct of too much malicious towel-waving should be able to see:

The Agenda of the NFL

Is there anybody left in this country (with even passing access to a television) who doesnt know what city Jerome Bettis is from? Make no mistake about it-the NFL is an ENTERTAINMENT company. They make their money from advertisers paying for airtime during NFL broadcasts and fans dishing out their hard earned dollars to be entertained by 250 lb steroid enhanced man-beasts. And so, in keeping in line with that, the powers that be at the NFL decided the best way to get more people to watch the culmination of their entertainment season was to pull at the heartstrings of the casual fan or even non-fan by giving them something to relate to-the story of a boy beating the odds to get out of his ghetto of a hometown, achieving national fame, and ultimately returning to that (still very ghettoish) hometown for the biggest game of his life. You can't write this stuff. However, Jerome Bettis was not the only player "going home." Hell, he wasn't even the only Steeler, nay, the only Steelers STARTER who was "going home." LB Larry Foote also calls the Motor City home. How many segments did we see about him? Bettis deserves a lot of credit for announcing his retirement right there on the field after the game too, taking the high road rather then the, "lets keep them in suspense" path that so many egotistical athletes display these days.

Also, in watching the game, I couldn't help but notice those commercials that showed a player or coach molesting the Lombardi trophy like something you'd hear in a Rolling Stones song and talking about how much it would mean for them to win it. After the 3rd one I saw during the first half featuring a Steelers player I mentioned something along the lines of, "what the fudge?" to my surrounding Seahawk fans du-jour. Somebody explained to me that they were doing the commercials with both teams. And sure enough, during the 3rd quarter, there was Matt Hasselbeck groping said trophy. Next commercial break, right back to the steelers. Eventually, a group of players representing both teams, the majority of which, of course, were Steelers. Am I implying that the NFL was pulling for the Steelers in this game? All I am saying is that they are a company, like any, in the business of making money. Do you really think they fail to notice the abundance of Steeler fans floating around this country? The fact that about 70% of the crowd at Ford field yesterday had testicle towels with them? It gets a little annoying to those of us not wearing black and gold. Thats all Im sayin.

The blind (or very well supplementally paid) Zebras

Ah, the officals. First off, realize that the collective headache enveloping the city of Pittsburgh today pales in comparison to the one being suffered over at the NFL head office. The day after the Super Bowl, and the majority of the country wants to talk about nothing but the referees. That doesn't bode well for them. Chat rooms, newspaper columns, shit nobody will read (like this), and even ESPN are adamant that the officials undoubtedly affected the outcome of the game. Theres plenty of reading material on that elsewhere, so I wont dwell too much here. However, I do want to point out that along with the phantom holding and pass interference calls, along with the mystery touchdown by Ben in the first half and the 15 yard penalty on Hasselbeck for tackling (tackling??) below the waist, there were also glaring No-calls. Joey Porter (in the one play he made all day) dragged Shawn Alexander down by the back of his collar. No penalty for the horsecollar. On the play of the holding call (unanimously NOT holding if you watch ESPN today), the Steelers were obviously offsides, with the hawks center later saying, "I thought they were offside [on the play Locklear was called for holding]," center Robbie Tobeck said. "I thought we had a free play on because they had two guys come across." Whatever, right. Here's the bottom line: The Seahawks didnt play well enough to win. Neither did the Steelers. Either team, with the right calls, could be wearing rings today.

Best Team

What can you really ask for out of a super bowl, or any game for that matter? That the best team win, right. Did the best team win Sunday? Let's look at it for a second. The Steelers got beat "up and down the field," in the first half according to Michael Irvin. I'd have to agree. Anybody watching that first half would have never guessed the score to be 7-3 Pittsburgh at the break. "Big Ben," reverted back to his "Baby Ben" days of last year's playoffs, looking rattled and out of sync. To his credit, he was the first to admit he had a bad game. Still, even the plays he did make could have easily gone the other way. His 3rd and 28 hail mary to Ward was a smart play, because even if it is intercepted, the end result is likely just as good or better than a punt. However, had the Seattle secondary not had a group brain-fart at the time, 'dem stillers never take that 7-3 lead. He had the lowest passer rating of any winning QB in super bowl history. When I expected him to be perfect on those 3rd and shorts as hes been all season, he overthrew his guys by feet, not inches. And when he did put the ball where it needed to be, the steelers receivers displayed hands of stone. Game "MVP" Hines Ward had at least 2 balls bounce right off his chest. His only real MVP moment in the game came when Andre Dyson injured himself tackling Ward out of bounds. Dysons replacement took a bad angle on Willie Parker's run and also bit hard on the fake reverse, allowing Ward to scamper open to the end zone. In Herndon's defense, he is also the one who picked off Ben's lame duck and returned it to the Steelers 20 (on a side note, it was great to see Ben get absolutely flattened on the INT return, after all that hoopla about his tackle in the Indy game). And the other unanimous pre-game MVP, Suck-a-pole-amalu, was nowhere to be found all game. Not to mention Joey Porter's play being much less visible than his midriff during warmups. Matt Hasselbeck, on the other hand, was money all day, even when he was being completely betrayed by the butterfingers of his teammates or the yellow flags raining down that might as well have had "terrible towel" written on them.

Dems da breaks

Through all that, the fact remains that the Seahawks shot themselves in the foot all night long. Dropping passes, missing field goals, and showing the worst two minute drill seen in the NFL since the last Super Bowl Holmgren tried to coach (Well, to anybody except us Ravens fans anyway). The Steelers took advantage of every opportunity given them, no matter how fairly it was given, and made just enough plays (3-no more no less) to earn the "one for the thumb." I'm sick of hearing about that too-there are 2 other NFL franchises with 5 Super Bowl wins, you dont hear them crowing about thumbs. So enjoy it Steelers fans, you earned it. And NFL glory in this new era is nothing if not fleeting. Take that ring, place it ever so deservingly on your thumbs, and shove those thumbs straight up your....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We could have used this logo....

for the Ravens/Browns game preview. However, we think the team's 41-90 record since rejoining the league is embarassing enough for you Clevelandites, without bringing the Keebler Elf into things.

But just for good measure, take another look at this:

Ravens @ Browns

The 2-1 Ravens travel to Cleveland this week to take on the 1-2 Browns. The Browns could easily be 2-1 themselves, were it not for some late-game trickery by coach Lane Kiffin and the Oakland Raiders (read about it here: The Ravens, on the other hand, head to Paul Brown stadium on a modest (if not wholly impressive) two game winning streak. The city of Cleveland still hates the Ravens as much as they did the day the franchise left, and the venomous wills of the masses there seem to manifest more often than not in the on-the-field performance of the purple and black. The Ravens needed a ridiculous late Charlie Frye interception along with a last second 52 yard Matt Stover field goal to escape the Forest City with a win last year, over a very inferior Browns team. In 2004 and 2005 the Browns beat the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium 20-3 and 20-16, respectively. The Browns are always hyped to play the Ravens, who don’t share the same sense of rivalry with their old namesakes. This week two B-More castoffs, Jamal Lewis and Derek Anderson, will certainly be looking to serve up some sweet revenge.

Despite all of these factors working against the Ravens, the Nest doesn’t see them adding up to much in the end. The Raven teams that traveled to Drew Carey’s home in 2004 and 2005 were not very good, being led by an inexperienced Kyle Boller at QB. Last year, it was just Steve McNair’s 2nd start as a Raven. So let’s put the history books down this time, and instead pick up the stat books.

Although the Browns are 6th in the NFL in scoring, at 27.3 ppg, this is largely due to the 51 points they dropped on Cincy in week 2, as they managed only 31 points combined in their other two games. The B-More D will respond to the week-long national criticisms of them as being washed-up and out of shape by putting forth a suffocating effort. Something nobody has mentioned is that the purple and black are now #1 in the NFL in rush defense, allowing only 61.7 ypg. Although this may be partly attributed to the large leads the Ravens have built in their past 2 games, forcing teams to pass, it is an important point nonetheless. They know exactly what they are getting with Jamal Lewis, and will have no trouble bottling him up at the line.

The Ravens offense has shown the ability to score points this season, averaging 22 per game, good for 14th in the league. Willis McGahee and Musa Smith will find holes all day, thanks to the combination of a quickly improving offensive line paired with a Browns defense that is next-to-last in the league in rushing defense, allowing 176 ypg. Expect 4 quarters of dominance (as opposed to the 3 we’ve seen the past 2 games), and a game that will have us Raven fans resting a bit easier, at least for a week.

Ravens 27 Browns 10

Monday, September 24, 2007

R.I.P. Baltimore Baseball

So Peter Angelos has succeeded in killing baseball in charm city. Just take a look at these sad, sad images from the Free the Birds 2 Rally. If you can bear to look....

Concession stand, 10 min prior to gametime

Lower concourse, 10 min prior to gametime

Is anybody coming?

Upper concourse, 5 min to gametime...

so no point in opening the upper level concession stands.

Ever been to a big league game and had your choice of urinal in the 6th inning?

How the fans feel....

And how the Bird feels.

Ravens 26 Cardinals 23 (The DÉJÀ VU Game)

Once is a fluke, twice is a pattern….

The Ravens were able to overcome a second straight 4th-quarter defensive collapse this week, as a 46 yard Matt Stover field goal with time expiring lifted the Ravens (2-1) over the visiting Arizona Cardinals (1-2).

For the second straight game, the purple and black dominated on both sides of the ball for 3 quarters, only to see a seemingly safe lead evaporate like sweat off a brow in the sizzling temperatures at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens offense did what they do, with Steve McNair and Willis McGahee nickel-and-diming the O down the field, chewing up massive amounts of game clock, and ultimately coming away with field goals on all but one of their three first half red zone trips. Rookie return man Yamon Figurs provided a spark to the team and fans with a 75 yard punt return TD in the 2nd quarter, which put the Ravens up 20-3 at halftime. On defense, the boys were swarming to the ball, pressuring Matt Leinart, and holding Edgerrin James in check, allowing only a 48 yard Neil Rackers field goal in the half. This field goal, however, was converted after a drive in which Kurt Warner, not Leinart, took the reins of the Cardinals offense, and moved the ball with a no-huddle scheme. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Playing without starting cornerback Samari Rolle, the Ravens secondary was made to look pedestrian at best, and disgusting at worst, by the Cards second string has-been QB. After relieving Leinart in the 2nd quarter for a single series, he replaced Leinart permanently in the 2nd half, continuing to dissect the Ravens D to the tune of 15-for-20 for 258 yards and 2 TD. The Ravens, as they historically do with double-digit halftime leads, phoned in the second half, scoring only once, on a Matt Stover 43 yard field goal, before the final play of the game. In their defense, a 17 point lead after 3 quarters has been as secure as a Halliburton suitcase during the Billick era in Baltimore. Sunday was the first time in 5 years the Ravens have allowed 17 points in the final period, but the second time in as many weeks they have made the home town fans sweat unnecessarily in the waning minutes of a game.

Is the defense out of shape? Old? Lackadaisical? Just plain bad? There are many possible explanations for the late collapses by the once vaunted Ravens defense, last years #1 overall unit. The Ravens controlled the clock yesterday in dominating fashion, holding the ball for 38 minutes to Arizona’s 22, so there should be NO excuse for the defense simply “running out of gas” in the 4th, no matter how hot it was down on the field yesterday. We at the Nest also find it quite hard to swallow that the errors of the past 2 weeks boil down to declining play by a veteran secondary, who, while not spring chickens, should still have several years of high level play in their tanks. We will settle, for now, on the excuse that Corey Ivy just plain cannot hang with the likes of an Anquan Boldin, and the Ravens really were “surprised” by the Card’s use of the no-huddle offense. However, this should be the last time this season the team gets “surprised” by this tactic. The Bengals do it to us every time. The Jets and Cardinals have now both used it effectively. Every team on the Ravens schedule, if they have any sense, will now be going no-huddle against the Birds. Until they show they can stop the hurry-up consistently, we should expect to see it week in and week out by opposing offenses. Rex Ryan, so far this season, is coaching himself right out of a head coaching position in 2008. If he is the defensive genius that we all believe he is, he needs to come up with a way to counter the no-huddle, and quick.

A win is a win, as they say, but we here at the Nest feel a bit shaky about the team so far. They need to continue to improve as the season goes on, as right now they are simply the best of the 2nd-tier teams in the NFL.

P.S. Another good performance by backup QB Kyle Boller, who thought he was just coming in for some 4th quarter mop-up duty, and ended up having to lead a game-winning drive in the final minute. There seems to be some conflicting stories coming out of the Ravens locker room as to why Steve McNair was pulled from the game in the first place, so keep an eye out for more developments on this front.