Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Blog - Hines Ward, A Second Look

This is a first for this blog.  A guest blogger!  Please welcome Steve Folmar to the fold.  He operates a blog dedicated to politics and some sports.  He is the former head coach of the Erie RiverRats indoor football team, and an all around cool cat. 


First of all I want to think Dom Errico for giving me this great opportunity to cross over and hopefully, the first of many opportunities, to share my blogs with the “The Voice Says…”

This is a sad day in Pittsburgh, akin to when the great Casey struck out. Hines Ward has been released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The four-time All-Pro, All-Time Steeler Leader in receptions (1000), receiving yards (12,083), and receiving touchdowns (85), is the victim of an opponent none of us gets to beat forever, time. His diminished skills over the past season, along with the emergence of a young receiver corps that is quickly proving itself to be among the league’s most talented has left no room at the inn for the hall-of-famer. Sad, but no one can stay in their prime forever.

I guess what I find sad is all the negative responses to the Pittsburgh Steeler organization for the way he has been treated. I think this has been about as good as it can get for both sides. You look at the Montana’s, the Rice’s, even the Emmitt Smith’s. C’mon folks, have you all forgotten Franco Harris’ stint with the Seahawks already?  Is there a better way that this can go? No, I don’t think so. 

The Steelers are doing everything they can to hold onto Mike Wallace, probably the present and future for the Steelers. No team can hold on long to the past, something you are going to see proven again soon with Peyton Manning. It is arguable if Hines is even the 4th best receiver on the team, a position that usually is kept for a special-teamer as well. This is a business decision pure and simple. 

I see a lot of people complaining about what life will be like without Hines. But I also no darn well that if the resigned him, the first time the Steelers got behind or have a special teams gaff, the excuse “well, we had to keep Hines in so we are short a guy” isn’t gonna cut it. Many don’t remember the sad parting of Terry Bradshaw, when he was boo’d off the field in the early 80’s. This from a guy who had won 4 Super Bowls for the team just a few years before. It was actually a decade or more before he would even return to Pittsburgh. Now he is as close to a Saint as you can probably become in Pittsburgh, deservedly so for what he did over his career.

Lastly, there was a lot of opinions concerning what the Steeler organization “let slip”. I don’t know if I believe that. In this day and age our media will do ANYTHING to outscoop the next guy. I believe that some clown though he was gonna get his name on the tagline about being able to “hear it here first” for something that anyone with a good balance of sentimentality and football sense already knew was inevitable. Don’t expect the truth until it comes from the horses mouth. And even then, consider the horse. And let’s be honest, the Steelers have made Hines a very rich man for his services.

This is what I believe happens. Hines goes on to play two more years with a team as a locker room leader and maybe 3rd to 4th wide receiver. Something he has certainly earned the right to do. He then signs a one day contract so that he can retire a Steeler, be given the hero’s welcome he deserves, takes an in-house position with the Steeler organization (if he so chooses) or on to television and goes in the Hall of Fame on the 2nd ballot in a Steelers uniform. (“2nd ballot you say?!” Yes, there are a lot of people out there that love hating on the Steeler’s success, and Jerome Bettis didn’t get in on the first ballot and at one time he was the 3rd leading rusher in NFL history!)

I will keep my memories of Hines Ward as the greatest Steeler receiver of all time, team leader, and Dancing with the Stars Champion (though I must admit I didn’t really watch that much.) But I also understand it’s a business, and I don’t blame either side, the Steelers from wanting to place Ward’s salary on a little more talent, or Hines for wanting to play a few more years. Retirement is all too often (unless you are Brett Farve), final. Thanks for the memories Hines and good luck in the future! (Just not against the Steelers….)

End of an era. Goodbye Hines Ward

Even though there had been a lot of speculation about the Steelers parting ways with Hines Ward, that doesn't change the impact of the news when it became official.

Hines Ward has long been one of my favorite Steelers, mostly because he was a fearless blocker and all around tough, physical player.  He plays the game the way it was meant to be played.  

Hines Ward scores the winning
touchdown in Super Bowl XL
As we all look back on a Hall of Fame career, I'm sure many of us have a few moments of his that really stand out amongst the rest.

I was there in person in Cincinnati a few years ago when he threw a devastating block which broke the jaw of Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers.   Cincy fans were chiming in on how physical and legal that hit was.  A few even went on to wish that Ward played for them.

I remember Ward's leap into the end zone after hauling in Antwan Randle-El's pass in Super Bowl XL, the play that sealed the deal for the Steelers. 

Most of all, I'll never forget how he could take some of the most vicious hits in the game and get right up and smile. 

There are too many times to mention how he'd catch the ball a few yards short of the end zone and fight his way in like a bull to score.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a guy with such grit and determination play this game, and it's been a blessing to know he's been on our side.
Hines Ward and "The Voice" on the set of Steelers Huddle

A few years ago when I was a guest host on Steelers Huddle with Ward, he was nothing but gracious towards me.  I remember him joking about how he always wanted a "Members Only" jacket.  I wonder if he ever got one?

Many fans are upset about the Steelers releasing such a long time stalwart, but it is a business, and I think that Hines understands that.  He still wants to play and I will be one of the many Steeler fans who wish him nothing but the best as he finishes out a great career.    I also think Hines has the perfect amount of charisma and speaking skills to excel should he choose to pursue a job in broadcasting.

So long number 86, it's been one hell of a ride, and thank you for the great memories.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Remember When? The Pittsburgh Spirit

The wife and I were looking at a house in Lower Burrell for sale yesterday.  We had already ruled it out as a possibility about halfway through but felt we should at least look at everything in the house.  We went into a sports themed room and to my utter surprise I saw a fan pennant for the Pittsburgh Spirit. 

I thought I was the only one who still had a Spirit pennant in Pittsburgh.  Needless to say it was kind of neat to see, and got me thinking about the former teams we've had here in Pittsburgh.

I'm going to write a few more posts in this series, but I figured after seeing the pennant yesterday I should start with the Spirit.

I remember going to a Spirit game when I was a kid.  Mind you my sports priorities at the time went Pirates, Steelers and Penguins in that order.  Even still, I loved watching any kind of sport and it was a fun afternoon with my dad. 

The team was founded in 1978 and was one of the original six members of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL).  The first season (1978-79) saw head coach Bruno Schwarz oversee a 6-18 season.   There wasn't much to be proud about as they oversaw a group of inexperienced players try to find their way in a league that had imported talent from the North American Soccer League (NASL).  Sid Nolan was the leading scorer for the Spirit with 44 points (21 goals, 13 assists)

The 1979-80 saw the Spirit start 5-10 under head coach Alex Pringle.  They relieved Pringle of his duties and hired Len Bilous who promptly lead the Spirit to a record 13-game winning streak.  The team finished second in their division with an 18-14 record and defeated The Buffalo Stallions 5-3 in the first round of the MISL Playoffs.  They would fall in round two to the eventual MISL champion New York Arrows.  Bilous was named co-coach of the year for his efforts, the only Spirit coach to ever win the award.

Stan "The Man" Terlecki
1981-82 MISL Co-MVP
The Spirit took a season off before returning for the 1981-82 season.  It was a great return for the Spirit as the team went 31-13 and finished in second place in the Eastern Division.  The team would get upset by the Baltimore Blast in round one of the playoffs.  Leading scorer Stan "The Man" Terlecki finished second in MISL scoring with 117 points (74 goals, 43 assists) and would earn co-MVP honors.  He would also earn a spot on the All-MISL team.

1982-83 was a step backwards for the Spirit, as they finished 24-24 and in 5th place in the Eastern division.  They failed to qualify for the playoffs.  Terlecki had another strong season, finishing 4th in the league in scoring with 105 points (65 goals, 40 assists)

The 1983-84 squad rebounded nicely, posting a 32-16 record and once again filling the role of bridesmaid (second place) in the Eastern division.  They would lose to the Cleveland Force in the first round of the playoffs.  Midfielder Kevin Maher was named the MISL Rookie of the Year.

1984-85 was a major disappointment for the Spirit.  Stan Terlecki returned to the team after one season with the Golden Bay Earthquakes, but he was not able to help the team have much success on the field.  He still managed to lead the team in scoring with 71 points (39 goals, 32 assists).  This would mark the final season for head coach John Kowalski.

1985-86 would prove to be the final season for the Spirit.  Although they finished in last place in the Eastern division, they only finished four games out of first place in an extremely tight Eastern division.  Goaltender David Brcic would finish the year by being named to the All-MISL team, the second and final Spirit player to earn that honor in franchise history. 

The team folded after the season and became a footnote in Pittsburgh sports history.

Gone but not completely forgotten.   Do you have any memories to share of this team?  Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ryan Braun wins appeal of 50 game suspension for positive drug test.

Ryan Braun has won his appeal of a 50-game suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.  He is the first player to ever successfully appeal a drug related suspension.

The arbitration panel ruled that policy was not followed in the collection of the sample.  The collector admitted he took the urine sample home with him rather than ship it via FedEx to the testing lab in accordance with MLB policy. 

While the elevated levels would point to Braun being guilty, I have to agree with this decision.  There are a lot of steps in place to ensure there is no "foul play" in the drug testing program.  Who knows what this collector did with the sample that night.  Maybe he was a Cardinals fan with an axe to grind. 

Brewers fans and supporters of Ryan Braun are now claiming he is completely innocent.  How can we ever truly know?  Maybe he just got completely lucky on a technicality.  Criminals go free because police crime labs don't cross their T's and dot their I's.  Murderers walk out of holding cells because cops don't wait for search warrants.  

It certainly appears as though Braun dodged a huge bullet.  Testosterone levels as high as what Braun tested for can only come from a synthetic source.   There's no mistaking the fact that there was something in that sample, but again, there's no way to be sure the sample wasn't tampered with.

It remains to be seen what the damage to Braun's reputation will be as a result of this.   Many opposing fans are sure to give Braun a bunch of crap when he visits their stadium.  People will view his MVP season as tainted.

For the record, Braun did pass the second test immediately once it was discovered protocol was not followed.  He has also passed every other test given in his career, including the minor leagues.   That doesn't change the fact that we'll never know for sure. 

The drug policy failed today.  Plain and simple.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A new way to watch your Pittsburgh Power!

There's a new way to watch arena football this season if you're on the road

The AFL and UStream announced a partnership that will provide online streaming coverage of AFL Football for the next two years.  Ustream will replace Nifty TV which provided coverage last year.

The biggest upgrades you'll notice immediately is the ability to download the Ustream app to your Android or iOS smartphone.  You'll be able to watch AFL football anywhere you can get a data signal, which is pretty amazing. 

Along with that, UStream also provides interactive chat rooms to all watchers so you can chat with your fellow fans and fans of the other team during the game.  It really adds a lot of atmosphere to the broadcast and makes it fun to talk a little smack to the other team's fans. 

In terms of the Power, there's now a few ways to watch or listen to the game.  TribLive Radio will provide radio broadcasts of all Power games and will likely serve as the audio feed for all UStream games.  You will also have HD television coverage for a lot of the games provided by Pittsburgh's CW station. 

Plus of course, you can also go to the home games and experience the madness yourself.  It's going to be a great season for the Power.

Another step in the right direction for the Pirates

After several days of reports and speculation of a deal, the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees finally agreed on a trade that will send starting pitcher A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh in exchange for relief pitcher Diego Moreno and outfielder Exicardo Cayones.  The Yankees also agreed to pay all but $13 million dollars of Burnett's $31.1 million dollar salary remaining over the next two seasons.

The only thing keeping this from being a completed deal is that the deal needs commissioner approval because of the money involved.  I will say this.  If Bud Selig vetoes this deal and screws the Pirates over, we'll know for sure that he hates small market baseball. 

This is a great deal for the Pirates.  I know Burnett has had his struggles the last few years but a lot of scouts agree he still has top tier pitching talent and think a move out of the A.L. East division and especially out of New York might boost his stats greatly.  Burnett wouldn't be the first pitcher hurt by the bright lights of New York. 

I know there are haters and doubters out there who will always question what the Pirates are doing, but this is the kind of deal they need to make to get better.  Burnett has the potential to be the top of the rotation ace this team has been missing for a long time.  Pair him up with free agent signing Erik Bedard, and you can have a strong 1-2 punch on this Pirate staff. 

This should help take off a lot of pressure on the younger arms who are showing good signs of development.  Charlie Morton and James McDonald and even Jeff Karstens shouldn't feel as much pressure to carry the the team anymore.  That will go a long way in carrying this team towards the Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon era. 

I don't think anyone can deny that Burnett and Bedard provide a big time upgrade over Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf.  The only question will be Bedard's ability to stay healthy.  Neither of these moves cost the Pirates much outside of salary, so the risk is minimal.

Imagine if the Pirates had also been able to secure Edwin Jackson?   

There's still a lot of question marks surrounding the Pirates but the division has gotten a lot easier with the defections of Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and the 50-game suspension of Ryan Braun.  This could be the year the Pirates break their streak of losing seasons.  Lord knows the Pirates fans can't wait for that day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Q&A with Pittsburgh Power wide receiver P.J. "Superman" Berry

This will be the first of what I hope becomes a recurring feature here on "The Voice Says...." blog.  I want to give you guys a chance to get to know some of the players who are part of our sports teams here in Pittsburgh. 

My first victim, errr, volunteer is a superstar in the Arena Football league and will suit up for our Pittsburgh Power in the 2012 season.  His name is P.J. Berry, but you'll learn to love him as "Superman." 

Last year in his rookie season in the Arena Football league he broke the single season record for total yards, and was named the JLS Ironman of the Year, First team All-AFL as a kick returner, and also earned a spot as one of five men on the All-Ironman team.

Q. What do you like most about the game of Arena Football?
A. I like the fans definitely. Also the fact I can do just about any end zone celebration! (laughs)

Q. What led to your decision to leave New Orleans and come to play for the Power?
A. I just felt like it was time to go. I'm thankful to New Orleans and hated to leave, but it was time for something new. I still love all the fans but sometimes change is good. Along with that, coming to Pittsburgh was a long time in the making. Coach Siegfried (Power head coach) wanted me to play for him for a while but the timing just wasn't right. Now that he's along with my good friend Coach Sting (Power defensive coordinator Derek Stingley) the timing is definitely good now.

Q. How many teams showed interest in you?
A. Every team - it's kinda funny. For the past three years I've had high numbers in the league and every offseason it feels like colleges are recruiting me out of high school again. It's funny and I'm grateful for it but at the same time it's also stressful.

Q. What are your thoughts of the Steel City so far?
A. It's cool but very different. Somewhat of a slower pace from what I'm used to. Steelers fans are crazy (laughs). But it's an all around cool city.

Q. What do you think of your coaches and fellow teammates so far?
A. Like I said earlier I think highly of coach Siegfried and always wanted to play for him. Coach Sting is a close friend and a mentor. He's the only coach I've ever played for. As far as my teammates, they're cool. A few are here and we're bonding everyday. We really need that chemistry.

Q. How did you get your "Superman" nickname?
A. The nickname started in college. People knew my name because it would get called out all the time during the game. They didn't know my face off the field. When the professor would call my name in class the students would say, "You're P.J. Berry? Man you're great! All I hear is your name at the games!" My teammates would say, "You do some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on the field. You're like Clark Kent off the field, but Superman on!" So the name stuck!

Q. Do you have any superstitions before playing a game?
A. I know I should because I used to play baseball. I guess I just have rituals more so than superstitions. I have to have 3 to 4 bottles of one liter smart water. I always have to take a hot shower before the game. Always have to take two laps around the field before I start stretching. And I don't put my Superman shirt on until after pregame warmups.

Q. What's the greatest moment of your football career?
A. I don't think I've had it yet. I've had some great individual moments. But I think in football it's a team game, and I haven't won a championship yet. Being an All-American in college, being first team AFL, breaking records, and being Ironman of the Year are all great feats, but it's not a championship.

Q. Who is the best player you've faced in the Arena Football league?
A. Haven't met him yet (laughs). But if I had to pick one, a good opponent would have to be Micheaux Robinson.

Q. If you found a magic lamp and got three wishes from a Genie, what would they be?
A. First - unlimited wishes. Second - world peace. For example there would be no such thing as racism. Third - I wish I could play football forever.

Q. Tell me something about yourself that would surprise a lot of people.
A. I read books often and I sing a lot, especially in the shower.

Q. Do you have any predictions for the 2012 season?
A. Win a championship and break the kickoff return TD record.

Q. What would you like to say to the fans of Pittsburgh?
A. I'm happy to be here, I appreciate it. My goal is to bring a championship to the city, I mean it is the City of Champions. I'm going to bring excitement to the game and the city. I'm a character, trust me you will love me. And I'm going to have fun. That's what I'm here to do, to put on a show.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's not personal, it's business. Unless we make it personal.

There's some sort of disconnect in the Pittsburgh Steelers organization these days. 

First of all this offseason we had head coach Mike Tomlin come out and say all the coaches would be returning, only for him to turn around a short time later and announce that Bruce Arians was "retiring."

We saw how legitimate that "retirement" was when Arians quickly pounced on the open offensive coordinator position with the Indianapolis Colts.

Now today we are hearing Hines Ward might not be back with the Steelers next season.  According to NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora, the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to sever ties with the all-time leader in just about every receiving category in franchise history. 

For what it's worth, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers have not yet made a decision concerning Ward.

Hines Ward looks back on a fine NFL career
I can see both sides of the debate about whether to keep Hines Ward around even at the veteran minimum.   He's slipped down to the point where he is at best a 5th wide receiver, a position usually reserved for guys who can also play special teams.  The only time we've seen Ward do that recently was in his role in the upcoming Batman movie. 

I don't understand how someone in the Steelers organization could let it slip to the media that the team was planning to cut Hines Ward.  A player should hear about it from the team first, not the media.

Even though the NFL is a game of football, it's still a game played at the professional level.  Players get cut all the time.  It's not personal, it's business.  However, if you let news like this slip to the media first I think you've crossed the line and made it personal. 

This isn't how you should handle the possible departure of a player who has been at the very core of the teams recent run of success.  This isn't how you treat a potential hall-of-famer.  

If you're going to cut a guy, tell him to his face.  This guy has given his heart and soul to the black and gold for his entire 14-year NFL career.  At the very least, he deserves that courtesy.

I grew up hearing about how the Steelers did things the right way.  Lately, it seems as though the Steelers might be losing their way a bit.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Todd Haley will take the reigns of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

Halley's Comet appears visible to the Earth once every 75-76 years.  Todd Haley's hiring as offensive coordinator is another strange occurrence for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It has been a long time since the Steelers hired an outsider to run the offense.  You have to go back to 1999 (Kevin Gilbride) to find the last offensive coordinator that was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers from outside the organization's coaching staff.  That's a long time in the NFL. 

New Steelers Offensive Coordinator
Todd Haley
Haley served as the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals for the later part of the 2007 season and full time for their run to the Super Bowl in 2008.  That season saw the Arizona Cardinals put up a franchise record 427 points and averaged 365.8 Yards per game, good for fourth in the NFL.  They nearly pulled off a stunning upset in Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers.

He became the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and removed Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator, preferring to call his own plays.  We saw a complete shift in offensive style to a rushing based attack.  To me this shows Haley is willing to adapt his offensive gameplans to utilize the weapons he has at his disposal. 

The main reason he wasn't as successful in Kansas City is because he had Matt Cassel instead of Kurt Warner, Dwayne Bowe instead of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.  He did have Jamaal Charles, which was a big reason for focusing on the run.

He brings a fiery attitude that might seem like a direct contrast to the calm, cool and collected manner in which head coach Mike Tomlin operates, but I think that could be a good thing for this team. 

I see a ton of similarities between the talent the Steelers have on offense and the pieces Haley had to work with in that magical 2008 season. 

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can do a lot of the same things Kurt Warner could do, plus Big Ben is more mobile and a lot harder to bring down.  The Steelers have two Pro-Bowl caliber wide receivers in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, just like that 2008 squad had with Boldin and Fitzgerald.   I'm also convinced Rashard Mendenhall has a lot more talent that Edgerrin James did by that point of his career, and Tim Hightower isn't exactly a superstar.

The biggest thing I expect Haley to bring will be balance to the way the Steelers attack opposing defenses.  I don't think the Steelers will start flinging it 65% of the time, and I don't think Mendenhall will suddenly become the focal point of the offense.  The final numbers should land somewhere in the middle, and that's a good thing.

The Steelers were good under Bruce Arians, but I also think Todd Haley is just the right guy to make them great.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Eli Manning proves he is a better "Big Game" quarterback than his brother Peyton.

Super Bowl XLVI is in the books, and once again Eli Manning drove the Giants downfield on a game-winning touchdown drive in the last few minutes of the Super Bowl. 

Eli now has two Super Bowl rings compared to the one Peyton has.  Eli has a winning record in the playoffs, Peyton does not. 

Eli has also won two Super Bowl MVP's to Peyton's one. 

Eli has beaten arguably the best coach and best quarterback in the NFL twice.  Peyton beat Lovie Smith and Rex Grossman, and also threw a pick-six to lose a Super Bowl to the Saints.

You can't take anything away from Peyton Manning's regular season stats.  He dominates just about every other quarterback that ever played the game in that regards.  Last I checked though, no one ever gives you a title for winning in the regular season.  I'm talking to you Baltimore. 

For all the well deserved accolades Peyton receives in his career, he has gone one and done in the playoffs EIGHT times.  Twice now, Eli Manning has taken his team from the wild card round to the top of the NFL world. 

Everyone always says if you want to accurately predict who will win a playoff game, just look at who has the better quarterback.  How many playoff games have the Colts played in with Peyton at QB and lost to inferior quarterbacks?  I know, Peyton's stats haven't been horrible in the postseason, but even still, the truly great quarterbacks find a way to lead their team to glory. 

If we're talking about the regular season then Peyton is your guy although Eli threw for 4933 yards this season.  That's a better total than Peyton's best year of 4700 yards.  Maybe Eli is ready to take over for Peyton in regular season domination as well.

Almost makes you wish you could be there for the next Manning Thanksgiving dinner.  We all know Peyton is still better at shouting "Cut that meat."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Preview

Just a few years ago the New York Giants stunned the football world by knocking off the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.  Here we are four years later and the two teams will square off in a rematch for the Lombardi trophy.

Last time out the Patriots were undefeated and had the highest scoring offense in NFL history.   The Giants were a wild card team from the NFC that no one outside of New York thought had much chance of winning.  .Plaxico Burress famously predicted the Patriots wouldn't score more than 17 points which drew laughter from Tom Brady.  It turned out Plaxico was right. 

The Patriots once again come into this Super Bowl as the favorites to win.  While I would never rule out victory by a team led by Tom Brady, this should be a close matchup just like we saw four years ago.

We could see some history if the Patriots win.  A victory would mean that Bill Belicheck would be tied with Chuck Noll for most Super Bowl titles by one head coach.  It would also put Tom Brady up with Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four rings.  I'm sure a lot of Steeler fans out there will be hoping this does not happen.

Brady ended the regular season with the second highest amounst of passing yardage in NFL history.  He'd own the record except Drew Brees happened to throw for more yardage this year.  Even still, 5235 yards passing is an amazing total.  Brady completed over 65% of his passes and upped the ante in crunch time, connecting on 68.6% in the playoffs. 

Eli Manning is more than capable of producing a lot of offense against a Patriot secondary that ranks amongst the worst in the league this year. Manning threw for almost 5000 yards (4933) this year. He completed 61% of his passes and has been just as good in the postseason, throwing for 923 yards through 3 games plus 8 touchdowns against just one interception. 

Both teams are more than capable at the quarterback position, but their rushing attacks leave a lot to be desired.  The Giants ranked dead last in that category this year, averaging just 89.2 yards per game.   Ahmad Bradshaw leads the Giants in rushing this year but did not reach the 700 yard mark.  New England's rushing attack ended up ranked 20th in the league, at 110.3 YPG.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis also failed to break the 700 yard mark on the season. 

The bread and butter of both offenses remains their passing attacks.  New York had two receivers eclipse the 1000 yard mark this year.  Victor Cruz (1536 yards) and Hakeem Nicks (1192 yards) both have had fantastic seasons for the Giants, plus Mario Manningham provides a great third option for Eli Manning. 

The Patriots feature Wes Welker, who has been one of the most productive wide receivers in the league the past few seasons.  This year he caught 122 passes for 1569 yards.  Rob Gronkowski also destroyed the 1000 yard mark by totalling 1327 yards and 17 TD's.  He's been hampered by a high ankle sprain, so that might limit his playmaking ability in the Super Bowl.  If not, look for the Patriots' other tight end, Aaron Hernandez to try and fill some of that void. 

Defensively, the gameplan for the Giants will be to attack Tom Brady via the blitz and try to limit the amount of time he has to make throws downfield.  Jason Pierre Paul (16.5 sacks), Justin Tuck, and also Osi Umenyiora must get to Tom Brady early and often to try and disrupt his timing. 

The Patriots will give up a lot of yards in this one, but their ability to win the game will come down to forcing some turnovers by the Giants.  Baltimore dominated just about every category in the AFC championship but lost because of some poorly timed mistakes.  Eli Manning has been solid in the postseason by limiting his mistakes.  He is exactly the kind of quarterback you want going up against the Patriots in this matchup.

Overall this game will come down to how well the Giants are able to play defensively against Tom Brady.   If they can contain him as well as the Baltimore Ravens did in the AFC Championship, I think the Giants offense will be able to produce enough points to claim victory.  If this becomes a shootout game, I think you then have to favor the better quarterback, which is Tom Brady.

If Rob Gronkowski plays and is effective he could be a huge difference maker.  It's very tough to defend the two tight end look that the Patriots throw at you, along with Wes Welker.  All reports indicate he should be ready to go.

On paper, just about every major stat seems to indicate a Patriots victory, and you never want to bet against Tom Brady.  Having said that, there's some irony in the fact the Giants are once again standing in the way of the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  I think the Giants have almost as good of an offense, and they have the better defense. 

It could be wishful thinking on my part but I'm taking the upset pick and going with the Giants.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Upon Further Review, AFL Makes Changes for Officiating Crews And Replay for 2012

The AFL announced they will be adding a sixth member to all officiating crews, and will now have replay and challenge capabilities for all AFL games, not just the NFL Network game of the week.

This is a huge step in the right direction for the league.  Many fans, myself included, wondered why only one game per week had the ability to overturn blown calls on the field.  

If you check out the message boards on ArenaFan and AFLFanZone, you hear all kinds of stories about how officials miss routine plays like field goals, and spot the ball wrong on touchbacks.  These kind of mistakes greatly undermine the credibility of the league.

This qualified as "Down by contact" last year.
In a game that brags about how actually getting a defensive stop can make a huge difference, it's just not fair to miss turnovers because an official ruled it an incomplete pass on the field.

One game in particular last season saw the Cleveland Gladiators get 19 points off drives that should have ended differently if the officials had gotten it right.  That's a huge swing in this league. 

Replay rules are expected to mirror NFL challenge rules, except that an AFL team MUST have a timeout remaining to use a challenge.  

I asked Chris Siegfried, head coach of the Pittsburgh Power, what he thought about the new rules and additions to the officiating crew.  He stressed that the officiating in the league is tough to do, and feels this is a positive change for the league.  He also is looking forward to the ability to challenge plays. 

In the end, as long as they get it right, that's all that should really matter.