Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ryan Ludwick is headed to Pittsburgh

Neal Huntington pulled off a last minute deal with the San Diego Padres, acquiring outfielder Ryan Ludwick for a player to be named later.

Provided the player is not a high level prospect, I think the Pirates did a solid job of acquiring an experienced bat who should help provide an upgrade over some of the options we've seen in right field so far this season.

Ludwick is a career .262 hitter whose best year as a pro was in 2008 when he hit 37 homeruns and drove in 113 RBI.   He's spent the 2011 season playing many of his games in a pitcher's park, Petco Park, so it will be interesting to see if he gets back closer to his 2008 form.

Even if he's only solid, he still upgrades over Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz in right field.

This move and Derrek Lee's acquisition may not be the marquee moves that Pirates fans were hoping for, but I think Neal Huntington did a solid job of not overpaying for rental players and mortgaging the future.   In the end, all these moves cost you were Aaron Baker and a PTBNL, hardly a steep price at all.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Derrek Lee to the Buccos (UPDATE)

Rumors are picking up that the Pirates and Orioles are very close to finalizing a deal to send 1B Derrek Lee to Pittsburgh.  They especially got heated immediately following the announcement that Baltimore had acquired 1B Chris Davis from the Texas Rangers.

Lee is a career .281 hitter with 324 Homeruns and also provides solid defense at the position as well, bringing three Gold Glove Awards with him.

The deal would send a batter from one of the Pirates' Class A teams to Baltimore if the reports are accurate.  I am on the record as saying even a league average bat would upgrade first base.  Lee may not be as strong offensively as he used to be, but the key here is that the Pirates aren't giving up the farm for him.

I like the trade as it fits what the Pirates need to a tee.  Upgrading a position, keeping top prospects, and still making a push for the playoffs.  I'd also like to see them acquire a right fielder like Jeff Francoeur or Jason Kubel before the end of the deadline, but this is a step in the right direction.

Get it done Neal!

UPDATE:  Deal is done pending physicals.  Pirates would send Minor league 1B Aaron Baker over in the deal.

The Deadline Looms....

As the MLB non-waiver trade deadline approaches, many Pirates fans sit and wait in anticipation of whether our Buccos will actually make a move.

The two biggest outfield targets both found new homes.  Carlos Beltran went to the San Francisco Giants and Hunter Pence found his way to the team we face this weekend, the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Both deals came at a huge price in terms of prospects, and I can understand why Neal Huntington didn't pull the trigger on the deals as they would have taken a huge chunk out of our farm system.  It'll be interesting to see if any bargains pop up in the next day or so.

It wouldn't even take a huge deal to upgrade 1B and RF.  Even if you simply acquire "league average" players, you'd be improving the club.  Anyone watching last night's 10-3 loss can see how bad Garrett Jones plays right field, and Kevin Correia has more RBI's than Lyle Overbay over the past week or so. 


I also wouldn't mind seeing a trade for some starting pitching to help take the strain off our rotation.  Charlie Morton is showing signs of tailing off, and Kevin Correia might have 12 wins, but he too is coming back down to earth.

As I have stated before, it's just fun to be involved in the buyers discussion for the first time in 18 years.  I could get used to this if it somehow became a regular discussion.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pittsburgh Power Year End review.

The inaugural season for the Pittsburgh Power had some ups and some downs, and even though the team ultimately missed out on the playoffs, they did manage to provide some excitement for the fans at the Consol Energy Center. 

Injuries played a huge role for this team as five different starting quarterbacks saw action for the Power. 

The Power averaged 9197 fans per game, good for 6th overall in the AFL.  They did this despite going up against Pitt in the NCAA Tournament and several huge games for the resurgent Pittsburgh Pirates. 

The ownership group did a phenomenal job of marketing the team and getting the word out to the fans and I feel the season was successful in spite of missing the playoffs.

Coach Siegfried is definitely the man to lead Pittsburgh to AFL glory in the years to come, and he seems happy to be here.

One lowlight was the fact some players called out their teammates following the Arizona loss, and you can't have people giving less than 100% effort in this league.  I hope the team addresses this in the offseason and gets rid of those players not willing to give all out effort.

I have a few awards I want to give out, so let's get to it.

Offensive Player of the Year
Winner – Mike “The Joystick” Washington
Honorable Mention – Lonnell DeWalt, Bernard Morris

If you are looking for the most consistent performer for the Power on offense, it’s hard to argue with the Joystick.  He ended up leading the team with 114 catches, 1367 yards, and 30 TD’s.  He provided many of the big plays during the season. 

Lonnell DeWalt contributed quite a bit on offense despite being a two-way player, and his 21 TD’s included some of the best catches of the season. 

Bernard Morris had a solid year at quarterback, but it’s hard to give offensive player of the year to a guy who missed almost half of the Power’s games, and whose turnovers cost them big down the stretch.

Defensive Player of the Year
Winner – Carlos Campbell
Honorable Mention – Lonnell DeWalt

DeWalt again drew strong consideration for his four interceptions and overall strong play since moving to the jack linebacker position midway through the season, but there’s no question how strong of a player Carlos Campbell was, and the secondary was nowhere near as strong once Campbell went on injured reserve.  Despite missing most of the second half of the season, Campbell still finished as the leading tackler on the team.

Ironman of the Year
Winner – Lonnell Dewalt
Honorable Mention – Mick Walsh

The fact DeWalt was runner up for offensive and defensive player of the year (in my opinion that is) should tell you all you need to know.  There are some AFL experts who think DeWalt has a strong chance at winning the AFL Ironman of the Year award, and that’d be well deserved in my opinion.

I give Mick Walsh an honorable mention because he is the embodiment of courage and spirit, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to win. 

Game of the Year
Winner - Come from behind win over Spokane
Honorable Mention – 76-75 win over Dallas in Dallas, Comeback against San Jose

Anytime your team finishes 9-9 and in the playoff hunt until the end of the season, there’s bound to be some highlights.  You could argue the first game against Cleveland was exciting because of the close score and the fact it took a last second interception to decide it, but it wasn’t an exciting game overall.  Same with the last second win against Milwaukee.  It was like watching paint dry until the very last play. 

For excitement, it doesn’t get any better than the one point shootout against Dallas, but anytime you come from two touchdowns down at halftime against the defending champions, that says a lot.  I also give some value to this game as it was the game in which the Power granted Mick Walsh’s wish to become part of a professional football team.  Just a special night all around.

Highlight of the Year
Winner – Mike Washington’s one-handed catch against Spokane
Honorable Mention – Lonnell DeWalt’s Game tying catch against Milwaukee with Zero seconds left.

I was torn between these two plays as both were special in their own right.  Joystick’s catch was more impressive because it sparked the Power to a comeback win, and started them on a nice little winning streak.  Plus it was a one handed catch.  Not taking anything away from DeWalt’s over the wall grab, just more of a personal style choice.

Most Disappointing Player
Winner – Bernard Morris
Honorable Mention – Nick Zeck, Jerome Mathis, Paul Edinger

I include Zeck on here because of two reasons.  He became a turnstile in the second half of the season, and his fumble against Tampa Bay with the Power leading turned out to be a backbreaker. 

Mathis couldn’t stay healthy at all this year.  While he may have had some big games for the Power, he was hardly in the lineup to make an impact.

Edinger's extra point accuracy took a serious dive as the season progressed and even his kickoffs weren't as accurate in his attempts to cause bounces off the rebound nets.

Morris earned this win though because of the fact he became a turnover machine just when Pittsburgh needed him the most.

Four turnovers against Arizona, followed up by four more against Cleveland in a must win game cemented his victory in this column, not to mention he struggled to stay healthy all season.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Atlanta Series - What Could Have Been?

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates for earning a tough split from the Braves in Atlanta.  It easily could have been a sweep by the Pirates.  I won't rehash the Jerry Meals blown call, but I will focus on the Pirates offensive struggles.

This was supposed to be the week where we found out a lot if the Pirates were truly contenders.  I think the pitching has proven they are playoff caliber, especially the bullpen.  The team has also proven the offense is anything but.

It's a shame this team hasn't addressed the offense yet, continuing to trot Lyle Overbay out there at first base.  He was 2 for 16 in this series, with 3 walks and zero RBI.  When your pitcher Kevin Correia has more RBI in a series than your starting first baseman does, that's a problem.

Not only that but he didn't even try leaving the bag to grab that errant throw by Ronny Cedeno in tonight's game.  If not for a solid double play on the next at bat, that could have been a big inning for the Braves and we might be talking about a loss instead. 

I know there are people out there calling the Pirates a fluke, and perhaps they may be right, The fact remains though that the Pirates are winning games with solid defense, strong pitching, and less than timely hitting.  They need offensive help right now, even if it's more contact guys that can keep getting on base.

I wouldn't mind seeing them make a few moves.  First would be to finally admit the Overbay experiment is a failure and dump him.  He's not hitting and his defense is not at the level it should be either.  Try prying away a guy like Paul Konerko from the White Sox.  He's an older veteran who could boost the experience level in the clubhouse as well as add some much needed pop in the lineup. 

Consider bringing up some internal options.  Xavier Paul looked lost on defense at times tonight.  Maybe it's time to bring Gorkys Hernandez or John Bowker and see what they can do.  Let the calls for Matt Hague continue.  He couldn't be any worse than Overbay at this point.

I am well aware the trade market is rather thin, and I don't want the Pirates to grossly overpay, but there are some solid options that could be made to improve this team, and the fans deserve to see something after being extremely patient with the Pirates for 18 years of awful baseball.

The Bucs let at least one or two games slip away in Atlanta because of their offense.  Stop the bleeding and make something happen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

MLB Needs Instant Replay: Stop Being Dinosaurs And Get It Done!

Last night's epic 19-inning showdown between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves ended in disgraceful fashion, when home-plate umpire Jerry Meals missed an obvious tag and ruled Julio Lugo safe. The only person still trying to claim Lugo was safe is Lugo himself.

I don't understand why baseball purists continue to insist that instant replay is bad for the game.  It's only bad for the egos of the refs, who would now be powerless to "control" things the way they see fit.

Look at how close the NL Central race is right now.  It literally could come down to a single game in the standings. Imagine how unjust it would be if the Pirates missed the playoffs by this one game that was stolen from them.

It would have taken about 20 seconds last night for a replay crew to rule that Lugo was out, and the game could continue.  Unfortunately, under the archaic system we have in place now, there is no chance of that. The Pirates are left wondering what could have been.

Add an extra official to each game, and allow a few seconds on all close plays to ensure the call is correct.  Treat it like the NHL does on questionable goals.

For those who complain that the game takes too long as it is, then tell batters to stay in the batters box and tell pitchers they can only throw to first on a pick-off attempt twice per batter.
Limit the amount of mound visits from the catcher and pitching coach.  There are plenty of ways to speed up the game.

There may be 162 games in a baseball season, but that doesn't diminish the importance of a single game, nor does that mean it's okay for a team to get a win they didn't truly earn.

Both teams combined for almost 13-straight innings of scoreless baseball. There were spectacular defensive plays, well-hit balls and crafty pitching.  You had a few relievers go over five innings trying to win it for their teams.  In the end, none of it mattered, because the home-plate umpire decided it was time to end the game.

How can any league call themselves legit when they allow a team to play a game for over six hours and get screwed over like that?

Remove all doubt, get with the times and get instant replay!

Monday, July 25, 2011

When will the injury bug stop hitting the Pirates?

It's hard to believe the Pittsburgh Pirates are finally in contention after 18 years of losing baseball.  Not only are they above .500 but they are also leading the NL Central at the time of this posting. 

What makes this story even more incredible is the fact the Pirates are doing it in spite of a rash of injuries to key contributors.  2010 All-Star Evan meek has missed quite a bit of time this year and has recently moved to the 60 Day DL. 

Pedro Alvarez, who blasted 16 HR's in the latter half of the year in 2010 is finally ready to make a return to Pittsburgh. 

Both the top two catchers on the roster from spring training, Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit, have been hurt, and even normal third stringer Jason Jaramillo has also been hurt. 

Ronny Cedeno may not be an upper tier offensive talent, but the loss of him defensively put a lot of pressure on the rookies to produce, and we've seen some good web gems out of Chase d'Arnaud and Brandon Wood.

Jose Tabata continues to be plagued by his quad injury and there is no set timetable for his return.

Even Steve Pearce, the local Pirate legend, has been hurt this year, stunting an otherwise obvious march to Cooperstown.

How long can the Pirates continue to work magic in the win column with this much talent coming in and out of the lineup.  There's been a lot of debate about whether to buy or sell at the deadline, and I'm not sure there's a right or wrong answer at this point. 

Over the weekend my heart as a Pirate fan tells me to go for it as they may never be at this point again.  At the same time, my brain is telling me the Pirates pitching staff is due for a serious regression in the second half, and there's no way the offense, even with one or two additions, can compete for a division title if that happens.

Neil Huntington does deserve some credit for the talent he's brought in off waivers this year.  Xavier Paul made a huge play to steal the last game of the Cardinals series tonight, and Brandon Wood can at least contribute at several positions.

I actually think the Pirates are better off staying away from rental players.  Given the run of injuries this year, those players might likely get hurt for the playoff stretch and then the Pirates would truly have nothing left to show for it. 

Try going after veteran players that have a bit left in the tank and are having career years.  Try targeting players blocked in the minor leagues, someone like Chris Davis would be a strong choice, even if he did just get called up to Texas.

You have to make some moves if you are in contention, and Jason Grilli is not enough of a move in my opinion. 

One week to get it done.  A lot of Pirates fans new and old are counting on you Neil.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Could The Steeler's Legal Problems Really Be a Marketing Ploy? (SATIRE)

This is a satire article so please don't take it seriously. 

There are a lot of perks that go with being one of the NFL's most successful franchises, and that includes a high amount of merchandise sales. I'm talking specifically about the sale of jerseys.

If you look around Pittsburgh during the fall, you are sure to see a lot of people clad in a Steelers jersey. They'll usually be some of the team's top players. A few popular choices after a Super Bowl 43 victory were the three heroes of that game: James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes.

Harrison was a strong seller prior to that game, but several Steelers fans may have opted for a different jersey after Harrison was involved in a domestic-abuse altercation. They may have chosen Roethlisberger following that game.

Imagine how they must have felt when Roethlisberger was accused twice of sexual assault and Holmes was involved in several marijuana busts. Perhaps they turned their attention towards an up-and-coming first round pick, Rashard Mendenhall. Safe bet for a jersey right?

Mendenhall was recently caught up in controversy after he made some comments on Twitter about Osama Bin Laden.

By this point, you'd think Steelers fans would want to invest in someone safe, someone who couldn't possibly do wrong. A veteran presence that was beloved all around town, they likely invested in a Hines Ward jersey. This looked even better after Ward claimed the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing With The Stars.  Of course a few weeks ago, Ward was pulled over for suspicion of DUI and now faces legal issues in Georgia.

What if this was all a ploy to sell jerseys? It'd be genius on some level, as I am sure many fans have owned at least one, if not more, of these jerseys.

The whole plot only works when you are a popular team, and the Steelers consistently rank in the top five in NFL merchandising.

Sure it'd come at the expense of the team's reputation, but the players have all gotten off the hook so far, so in the end, what is the big deal?

It's all about the money!

I don't buy popular player jerseys, I opt for a personalized jersey. Less hassle this way, as I know I won't be traded away from the Steelers.

What do you all think? Is it just crazy enough to be true? Could this all be intentional on the Steelers' part?

I remind you this article is a satire, so please don't think I seriously believe the Steelers would get into legal trouble to sell some jerseys.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Let The Debate Begin

The MLB Trading Deadline is fast approaching, and for the first time in about 18 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates are potential buyers instead of sellers.  The debate on TribLive Radio, 93.7 The Fan, and 970 ESPN is centered around whether the Pirates should give up top prospects like Starling Marte, Brad Lincoln, Tony Sanchez or even Jose Tabata to go after guys like Carlos Beltran, Carlos Pena, Hunter Pence or any other host of available players.

Pittsburgh is still rebuilding the team after the 18 year losing streak, so they have to be careful not to mortgage too much of the future trying to chase glory this year.  The team's offense has not been very impressive, but they've also been without slugging third baseman Pedro Alvarez for much of the year.  If he gets completely healthy and produces anywhere near the level he did last September, he could be enough of an addition to this anemic offense.

Pence of the Astros is a two time All-Star who is not only a strong addition offensively, but one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.   I'd rather see them go after a guy who they would still have some control over after the season instead of Beltran who would walk after the season.  Beltran also has some history of being injured, the last thing you can afford to have happen if you trade away key prospects.

Some people question why the Bucs would be going after relief pitching, but you can never have a strong enough bullpen.  Acquiring some more veterans for the pen could be invaluable down the stretch.  Someone like Heath Bell could also have a lot of value if, god forbid, something happened to Joel Hanrahan.

In addition to the names discussed above, you might also be able to go after AAA players who are stuck behind major league talent.  Someone like say Chris Davis, who could man 1st base and perhaps provide a huge boost in power.  He's a risk though as he has struggled in the majors, but perhaps a change of scenery might be just what the doctor ordered.  I'm not as high on this scenario, but given the Pirates budget concerns long term, this might be a better option for trying to add talent without giving up too much.

Some people suggest the Pirates should just stay still and rely on the chemistry that's gotten them to the top of the NL Central Division.  Maybe that is the best option after all, but you'd also be banking on the fact that teams like Milwaukee and St. Louis will continue to play below their talent level.  I'm not convinced that will continue.

No matter what though, this has already been a season of joy for the Pirates and their fans.  Pirate Fever is spreading like wildfire through an old baseball town that has been starving for a contender for almost two decades. 

Enjoy the ride Pirates fans!  I know I will.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Not Ready For Primetime

Not ready for Primetime.

That one phrase sums up the Pittsburgh Power season, as the Power (8-9) fell on the road to the Cleveland Gladiators 67-55.

This was the third time this season Pittsburgh was playing as the AFL Game of the Week on the NFL Network.  This was also the third time the team lost, the other two being a 54-48 overtime loss to Philadelphia, and a 62-54 loss to Orlando.  Ironically the Power had leads in all three games but couldn't find a way to win.

This time the Power battled back from an early 32-14 hole to take the lead, but back to back fumbles by Bernard Morris blew the game open as Cleveland (10-7) cashed in repeatedly on his mistakes. 

Maybe Morris saw Rudi (Gladiator Mascot) fumble the plate of DiBella's Subs during a promotion and felt sorry for him.  Fumbling food at a game is one thing, fumbling the division title and a spot in the playoffs is another. 

Morris finished the game 28 of 41 for 318 yards, 7 TD's, as well as 23 yards rushing and a score, but it will be his mistakes that will mark his performance in this one.

Pittsburgh lost five of six games down the homestretch and will spend the entire offseason wondering what might have been.

Jason Willis awoke from his recent funk to lead the Power in receiving with nine catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns.  His juggling catch off the wall for the first Power touchdown looked like an early omen that things might go Pittsburgh's way.  His drop of a fourth down touchdown pass on the next drive was not as exciting.

The Power defense failed to record a defensive stop in the first half, but came alive a bit in the second.  Unfortunately they could not stop Cleveland after the Morris fumbles.  The secondary continued to struggle to contain to contain opposing receivers and missed several opportunities for game changing interceptions.

Cleveland's Kurt Rocco finished the day 25 of 35 for 297 yards and 8 TD's.  Dominick Goodman did most of the damage on the night with 12 catches for 130 yards and 2 TD's.

Hats off to the Power fans who made the bus trip to Cleveland.  They were loud and rowdy throughout the game, trying to will the Power to victory.  Hopefully this is a sign of a strong rivalry for years to come in the AFL. 

Pittsburgh will close out the regular season Friday night in Philadelphia (6-11)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pittsburgh Power @ Cleveland Gladiators Preview

Friday July 15th, 2011 - 7:30 PM
Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
TV: NFL Network
Radio: 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh), 850 ESPN (Cleveland)
Twitter: SteelCityVoice

I think the line Michael Richards utters as Stanley Spadowski pretty much sums up the Power's attempts to claim the Eastern Division Title.  I wrote an article earlier in the week about the many missed opportunities the Power have had to lock up the division but now this is their last chance. 

A loss to Cleveland would officially eliminate Pittsburgh from the AFL Playoff chase.  A victory puts Pittsburgh back in the drivers seat and they would only need to win next week or see Cleveland lose to Utah to win the division.

Both teams are coming off ugly losses last week.  Cleveland fell on the road 49-21 to division rival Philadelphia, and the Power got crushed at home by the Arizona Rattlers 68-34.   Both teams will be motivated to show they are better than their performances a week ago.

Bernard Morris fumbled twice and threw an interception .  He finished 19 of 35 for 181 yards, 4 TD's and the aforementioned fumble.  He will have to play better but he will be up against the league's top scoring defense so points will be at a premium. 

JLS Ironman of the Week Mike Washington needs to repeat his amazing performance against Arizona.  He had 6 catches for 63 yards and three touchdowns but his biggest impact was the nine kickoff returns for 228 yards and a touchdown.  Lonnell DeWalt made an appearance on the score sheet with five catches for 47 yards and a score.  The rest of the Power offense didn't even bother dressing for the game. 

Morris is the X factor with his mobility, it doesn't force him to make throws against a strong Gladiator secondary.  He's also the only major rushing threat in the lineup with the release of Joshua Rue.

Kurt Rocco has had an up and down season, and the Gladiators hope he will bounce back from last week.  19 of 33 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, plus a rushing touchdown.  he will look to target his trio of 1000 yard receivers. 

Troy Bergeron's presence was missed in the first game between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, so it'll be interesting to see how well the Power secondary matches up with him now that they are missing Carlos Campbell who helped seal the victory last time with a goal line interception with about a minute to play.  Bergeron’s stats on the season are 71 catches for 1043 yards and 28 TD’s. 

Robert Redd is the other big threat in the Gladiator offense.  He has 89 catches for 1084 yards and 24 touchdowns.  The four year AFL vet out of Bowling Green had 6 catches for 49 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting with Pittsburgh.

Dominick Goodman is the third option Rocco will be looking at as the Gladiators try to pass on the Power secondary.  He has 96 catches for 1028 yards and 7 TD’s.  He isn’t the first option at the goal line, but his ability to make plays in the open field make him a valuable part of the Cleveland offense.  He posted 12 catches for 97 yards in the last game against the Power. 

Levy Brown leads the Gladiator defense with 118 total tackles, 10 passes blocked, 2 fumbles forced and recovered, and he has 4 interceptions.  Joe Phinisee is second on the team in tackles with 79.5 and also has 4 interceptions on the year.  Demarcus Robinson and Mike Bragg also round out a strong secondary with 5 interceptions each.

Linebacker Tim Cheatwood generates a lot of pressure up front as evidenced by his 10.5 sacks, but his 6’4” 270 pound frame also makes it hard for receivers to make plays over the middle.  Cheatwood has forced 3 fumbles so far this season.  Defensive lineman Anthony Hoke also generates a strong pass rush and has 7.5 sacks on the season.

Pittsburgh needs the recent run of strong play to continue for Josh Lay and Lonnell DeWalt.  DeWalt could be a huge presence at the goal line on both offense and defense as he is capable of the big play at any moment of the game. 

Both kickers have been pretty bad on the season in terms of extra point percentage, with Pittsburgh's Paul Edinger having a slight edge in his accuracy.  The last game saw Matt Denny of Cleveland miss three extra points which coincidentally was the difference in the final score.

The biggest key to this game will be how well Neil Purvis, Terrance Taylor and Terrance Carter generate a pass rush up front.  They also need to remain focused and stay onsides.  This group gave Arizona way too many free first downs last week.

Overall the teams matchup well, although both teams have been glaringly inconsistent this season.  One week they look like Arena Bowl contenders, the next they are getting crushed.

If Bernard Morris can limit the turnovers on offense it should give the Power a chance to establish a rhythm.  If he doesn't, momentum should easily go the way of the home team.

Pittsburgh's pass rush did a good job forcing Rocco to make some errant throws and he was a bit careless with the ball as he scrambled.  There are opportunities here for the Power defense.

I've avoided the homer pick all season, but I think Coach Siegfried is going to light a fire under the Power after their recent struggles, and I think the extra Power fans making the trip to Cleveland could provide a bit of a boost. 

The Voice Says....PITTSBURGH 46, CLEVELAND 45

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Missed Opportunities Leave The Power With No Margin For Error

This season may likely be remembered for the many missed opportunities the Power have had to grab the Eastern Division.
The season opener saw the Power blow leads of 21-7, and 27-14 before losing in overtime to a Philadelphia Soul team that sits at 6-11 on the season. 

Against a then-winless Tulsa Talons team, the Power fell behind 14-0, tied it up, then went scoreless in the third quarter to let Tulsa steal a game at home.  Pittsburgh's offense only managed 22 points in that contest, going scoreless in two of the four quarters.

Pittsburgh lost two crucial fumbles and Bernard Morris threw a bad interception on the road to allow a sub .500 Tampa Bay Storm team to defeat the Power.  Pittsburgh actually had a 48-46 lead going into the fourth quarter of that game before only scoring once in the final frame.

Against the Orlando Predators, Pittsburgh jumped out to a 14-0 lead, then gave up a kickoff return touchdown by Josh Bell.  They recovered enough to rebuild a 40-20 lead before giving up four unanswered scores, the final two being net recovery touchdowns and the Power fell on the road against the Orlando Predators.

Flash forward to this past weekend.  With the Cleveland Gladiators loss on Friday night, the Power had a chance to regain first place by defeating the Arizona Rattlers.  Unfortunately, four turnovers by the Power offense, (five if you include the one on downs), doomed any chance the Power had of pulling off the upset.

Even winning ONE of those games would have all but locked up the division title for the Power but the margin of error for that quest is now down to zero. 

The playoff scenario is simple for Pittsburgh.  Win this week or a once promising season with playoff dreams will be over.  Even then, the Power will have to win the season finale against division rival Philadelphia or leave it to chance that an injury depleted Utah Blaze squad will be able to take out the Cleveland Gladiators.

I guess the most frustrating part about all of this was seeing some Power players flat out calling out some of their teammates following the 68-34 beatdown at the hands of the Arizona Rattlers.  Gary Butler said he wanted to look at game film to be sure, but that it felt like not everyone was out fighting.  Butler felt some players were just collecting a paycheck.

Early in the season, you couldn't fault the Power for lack of effort as they fought through injuries to so many key parts of this team, but still were in position to make the playoffs.  This past week though, with just about everyone active and starting, the difference in talent and possibly desire was quite apparent.

Let's start with the mental toughness of the Power.  I've never played the game on a professional level, and I don't pretend to possess anything remotely resembling athletic talent, but I do know it takes focus to play this game.  Bernard Morris' second pass of the game was a woefully under thrown pass that was picked off by Virgil Gray.  It kind of set the tone early for what was to come.

Second drive of the game saw Jason Willis fail to secure the ball after a catch and Virgil Gray gladly relieved Willis of his duties as ball carrier on the play, and Arizona quickly scored again.

Morris would come under pressure and basically just tossed the ball forward for the third turnover of the game, and a fumbled snap rounded out the turnover parade.

The mistakes didn't stop there.   Neil Purvis and Terrance Carter were jumping offsides on defense the entire game, and overall the Power gave 10 first downs to Arizona off of penalties. 

Paul Edinger continued his inaccurate kicking, missing a field goal and officially missed two extra points in the game.  He actually got a second chance to convert one of them and missed anyways. 

Not only did Willis fumble the ball on the second drive, he also was very slow to react to a ball on the ground on a kickoff, reminiscent of last week when he failed to play two kicks both of which resulted in Orlando touchdowns.  His head is clearly not in the game right now, and it may be time for Coach Siegfried to sit him down for a while.  There's too much on the line this week in Cleveland.

The fact remains that in spite of all of these problems and mistakes, the Power still control their destiny for a playoff spot, and all that matters is winning the last two games and securing a home playoff game.  Do that, and most of what I've said will be forgotten.

It's going to be interesting to see if the Power can do it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Arizona Rattlers @ Pittsburgh Power Preview

Sunday July 9th, 2011 - 7:30 PM
TV:  The CW (Pittsburgh), AFL Live APP (
Radio:  93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh), 101 AM KXXT (Arizona)
Twitter:  SteelCityVoice

To be the best, you have to beat the best.

That cliche has been used for a long time when describing sports, and the Pittsburgh Power hope to do it this Sunday night when the league's top team, the Arizona Rattlers, comes to the Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh remains in the thick of the East Division title hunt and control their own destiny.  A win this week over Arizona means the Power could clinch the title next week in Cleveland.  Things got a little easier for the Power by virtue of the stunning win by the Philadelphia Soul Friday night over the Cleveland Gladiators.

Pittsburgh saw their own Friday Night heartache last week in a 62-54 loss to the Orlando Predators.  Pittsburgh saw a 40-20 lead evaporate thanks to four unanswered touchdowns by Orlando, two of which were an AFL record two consecutive net recovery touchdowns on special teams.

Bernard Morris returned to the lineup and provided a spark to the Power offense and he will need to be on top of his game as the Power take on the 3rd best scoring defense in the AFL.

The Power offense continues to spread the ball around a group of talented receivers rather than focus on one of two primary targets.  No Power receiver ranks near the top of any of the receiving categories.  Mike "Joystick" Washington has been quiet the past few weeks, but this has allowed players like DJ Hall, Lonnell DeWalt and Irving Campbell to step up and perform well.

Arizona is not only strong on defense, they are also the second ranked scoring offense in the league. 

Nick Davila is a strong MVP candidate, ranking in the top five in passing yardage (4449), touchdowns (101 TD), QB rating (127.88), and completion percentage (71.1%).  He's also thrown just 10 interceptions on the season, the lowest amongst full time starters this year.

The Rattlers feature NFL level receiver Rod Windsor who has been terrorizing AFL secondaries all season.  He has 151 catches for 1800 yards and 34 TD's.  They also hope to get Trandon Harvey back from injured reserve this week.  He's caught 95 catches for 1156 yards and 29 TD's despite missing a month of the season. 

If their receiving corps weren't deep enough, it was announced this week that Arizona had signed AFL legend Chris Jackson who is nine catches short of 1000 for his career.  The 10 year AFL vet has 13206 yards and 318 TD's in his career.

The Rattler defense features two defensive backs in the top 10 in interceptions.  Marquis Floyd (9 INT) and Vince Hill (8 INT) make it very difficult for opposing offenses to develop a rhythm.  They are also a big part of why Arizona leads the league in turnover margin (+28)

Arizona has a decided advantage on special teams, with Virgil Gray ranked 4th in return yards with 1393 yards and he has run six kickoffs back for touchdowns, tops in the league.  They also have the leagues best extra point kicker in Fabrizio Scaccia who is converting at a 90.3% clip. 

Pittsburgh's best return man Jerome Mathis remains on IR, and his replacement Jason Willis had trouble fielding the kicks last week that doomed the Power.  Look for changes in who lines up deep for the Power.  Paul Edinger continues to struggle making his extrra points and any losgt points against the Rattlers could prove fatal.

Overall, the Power have been playing better ball the last two weeks on defense, but this matchup will be very difficult for them.  Josh lay needs to continue his strong play of late (2 interceptions in the last two games) and Lonnell DeWalt's strong Ironman play is a necessity on both sides of the ball.

This is a golden opportunity for the Power to grab the division reigns again, unfortunately I think the Rattlers have too much firepower.

I hope I am wrong.

The Voice Says....ARIZONA 70, Pittsburgh 56

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Immaculate Deflections Cost Power In 62-54 Loss To Orlando

The Pittsburgh Steelers had the Immaculate Reception turn them into a playoff powerhouse, The Immaculate Deflections could cost the Power their shot at glory this year.

The Pittsburgh Power fell to the Orlando Predators mostly because of three special teams breakdowns. The first was a 54 yard kickoff return by Josh Bush. Pittsburgh had just taken a 14-0 lead and was looking good. Bush took it to the house to put Orlando on the board.

The later turn of events was the dagger in the hearts of the Power faithful. Orlando scored early in the second half when backup turned starter Collin Drafts found TT Toliver for a six yard touchdown pass to make it 40-34 Orlando. On the ensuing kickoff the bounce took a nice deflection off the rebound nets and Pittsburgh could not recover the ball in time as it fell into the waiting arms of Chris Duvalt for a stunning Orlando touchdown. If this wasn't bad enough, the next play saw the same thing happen. Another ridiculous bounce, another Duvalt touchdown.

Pittsburgh had now seen four unanswered Orlando touchdowns in the span of about seven minutes of game time. Needless to say it would have been easy to fold under that kind of pressure, but give the Power some credit, as they battled all the way to the end.

Bernard Morris returned from two weeks off and showed why he is the right choice to lead the Power on offense. He finished the day 18 for 31, for 237 yards, 7 TD's and one interception. He also added 59 yards rushing to his totals. The one interception was a killer though as he forced the ball on the potential game-tying drive into double coverage where it was intercepted by Orlando's Travis Coleman.

Orlando's Collin Drafts, filling in for Nick Hill, finished the day 23 for 34, with 264 yards, 5 passing touchdowns, one interception, and his mobility on the ground netted 26 more yards and a score.

I'll admit this matchup didn't look very good for Pittsburgh but the defense did a great job containing the trio of 1000 yard receivers for the Predators.   Josh Lay had an interception for the second week in a row, and Lonnell DeWalt continued his strong Ironman football, forcing and recovering a football, and adding two touchdowns on offense.

Kudos to DJ Hall for having a strong game in his return to the lineup. He ended up leading Pittsburgh with eight catches for 81 yards and three touchdowns.

Pittsburgh also had some success avoiding the interception with Orlando having three of the top ten pass thieves in the league. Unfortunately the Orlando secondary struck in the final seconds of the game.

This loss is a big blow to the Power's playoff chances as Cleveland beat Milwaukee with three seconds to go to take sole possession of first place.

Pittsburgh has also now lost to the two potential wild card teams out of the Southern Division, so winning the division is now of paramount importance to the Power if they expect to make the American Conference playoffs.

Pittsburgh returns home this week to take on the Arizona Rattlers, who are tied for the best record in the AFL. Power faithful, we need you to show up to the Consol Energy Center to support the team because this is a MUST WIN GAME!