Monthly Archives: December 2013

Steelers 2013: Bad Start, Better Finish

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Steelers finished 2013 like Steelers. Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com

The Steelers 2013 season was definitely a roller coaster. There was a four game losing streak, two three game winning streaks, key injuries to Pro Bowl performers and several good and bad records broken. Pittsburgh ended the 2013 without a trip to the playoffs–if the Refs were paying attention in that KC-SD game, they would be–but finished in a fashion the faithful in Steeler Nation are used to.

In their last 4 games they went 3-1, a far cry from the 0-4 start to the season. The offense moved the ball gaining an average 337.5 total yards per game–251.1 via the pass for 12th in the NFL–and finished with an average of 23.7 Points a game. Nearly a two touchdown improvement on the 10.6 they begin the season with.

Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell proved he could carry the load as the teams featured runner. After missing the first three games of the season, he gained 1,259 yards from scrimmage–860 of them on the ground–breaking the rookie record once held by Hall Of Famer Franco Harris.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked more and more like the guy who has two Super Bowl rings and pretty much all of the franchises passing records. For the season, Big Ben passed for 4,261 yards, 28 touchdowns on a 64.2 percent completion rate. More importantly he played and started in all 16 games. The last time he did that was during the 2008 season when Pittsburgh went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.

The defense even stepped up down the stretch to finish with the 11th ranked overall defense, 8th in the pass. Not bad for an aging defense, but still not enough to contend for Super Bowls. They allowed an average of 23.1 points per game and 337.2 yards per game on the season. In three of their last four games, they gave up 34, 31 and 20 points.

Back to my point about they should be in the playoffs. Kansas City Chief kicker Ryan Succup missed a 41 yard field goal with 6 seconds left in the 4th quarter that could have beaten the San Diego Chargers and propelled the Steelers into the 6th seed.

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Chargers should’ve been flagged for illegal formation. Photo Courtesy: USA Today

On the play, the Chargers lined up 7 guys on the right side of the center, which is an illegal formation. Kansas City should’ve been given another chance to kick and possibly win the game. Then in Overtime, the Kansas City Defense stopped Eric Weddle on a fake punt and returned it for a touchdown, which should’ve given the Chiefs the victory. But, the Refs said Weddle’s forward progress was stopped, thus the play was dead.

In the end, had Pittsburgh taken care of their business during the regular season, they wouldn’t have been in position to fall victim to the Refs mistakes in the Chief-Charger game. Message now received. The way the Steelers ended the season, I expect them to come back strong in 2014. Management has some big decision to make, I’ll have more on that later this week.

One Spot, Four Teams. Steelers Have Great Shot

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Everything is falling into place for the Steelers to clinch the final AFC playoff spot.

I never thought I would have said that after the first four games when they went 0-4. Heck, I didn’t even think I’d be saying that after the loss to the Miami Dolphins 3 weeks ago. But of all the teams vying for that final spot, you would rather be Pittsburgh this weekend.

The Steelers have caught the breaks the last couple of weeks. They played the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers and play at home this Sunday against the lowly Cleveland Browns (4-11).

The three other teams in contention for the sixth seed have tougher roads. The San Diego Chargers (8-7) play against a Kansas City Chief (11-4) team locked into their position as the fifth seed, but wanting to go into the playoffs on a better note after losing 23-7 last Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins (8-7) will play against a renewed and inspired New York Jet team fighting for their beloved coach’s job and the Baltimore Ravens (8-7) are reeling after an embarrassing 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots, and playing at a Cincinnati Bengal (11-4) team that is 7-0 on the season at Paul Brown Stadium and still playing for a first round bye.

So you see, there’s a strong possibility the Black and Gold will avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year, and the third missed post season in the Mike Tomlin area.

Another caveat for the Steelers, they are 11-2 in week 17 games since 2000. Tied for the best record in the NFL in that time span with the Green Bay Packers. All that’s left now is to play the games and scoreboard watch. One the second season begins, throw the records out, anything can happen. Everyone is 0-0.

Resilient Steelers Pushing Towards Playoffs

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Defense saves the day. Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com

It’s hard to say the Defense was played big, especially when the final score of a game is 38-31. But, the Steelers D deserves plenty of credit for making several big plays to lead to victory.

After Le’Veon Bell’s fumble on the Steelers three yard line up 17 to 14 in the third quarter, the Defense rose up and kept Green Bay out of the end zone on three downs, then blocked the field goal attempt by Mason Crosby before being robbed on the non possession/batting call.

The D stepped up again—after a quick TD by Ben Roethlisberger to Matt Spaeth—when Cortez Allen picked off Packer QB Matt Flynn and took it in for a touchdown. In all they had 3 sacks, an interception and a fumble that set up the game winning touchdown by Bell.

The Special teams deserves a game ball. For the second week in a row the third unit made a huge plays to keep the Steelers playoff hopes alive. The fake punt pass for 30 yards was a momentum swinging play that helped spur the offense, then the blocked field goal.

Give a game ball also to Le’Veon Bell, who even after his fumble, came back and rushed for 124 yards—his first career 100 yard game and the Steelers first in 23 games.

One word describes this team: RESILIENT. Coach Mike Tomlin will not let this team quit. I have to admit, i buried this team after the debacle in New England, and again after the slim loss in Baltimore. But, If they keep playing this way in all three phases of the game and make the playoffs, they will be a tough out. This is a different team than the one taking the field before Thanksgiving night.

Next week STEELER fans will have to root for the opponents of the Chargers, Ravens and Dolphins. Losses by San Diego, Baltimore and Miami will give the Black & Gold the 6th seed. Plenty has to happen and already has for Pittsburgh to have this opportunity. But, after an 0-4 start to the 2013 Season, who would’ve believed the Steelers still have a chance to play in the second season?

Resurrected Buckeye

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Photo Courtesy: ESPN/Twitter.com: @ReeseClarett13

I have three favorite Buckeye Football players in my life as a fan, and they’re all running backs. Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Maurice Clarett. Clarett is the only one that doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy—he does have a National Championship Ring—but that’s okay, what he’s doing now is more valuable.

After spending three years and eleven months behind bars, Clarett has emerged to share his inspiring testimony that has not only captivated Buckeye Nation, but the Country. His ESPN 30 for 30 film, “Youngstown Boys”, aired on December 14th to rave reviews.  The documentary allowed a world of people, inside the mind of the young man with so much promise, who in his own words said, he threw it all away. For a decade many followers of Buckeye Nation despised him, calling him a sell out, accusing him of trying to take down their beloved Buckeye Football program as he faltered. But after the film, many were so highly impressed with his humility and turnaround, that he doubled his twitter followers that night. He’s now at 55 thousand.

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Maurice was kind enough to sign my Clarett jersey from the 2002 National Championship season. It’s going up next to my autograph Archie and Eddie.

He is currently in the midst of a Meet & Greet tour around the Columbus area, and it’s a long wait to meet the former Buckeye. That would never have been the case three or four years ago when he was first released from prison. Several fans still held a grudge against him. I went on the third day of the tour and he’s already sold out of his inspiring book. Those same people who sneered at him and made him the punch line of their jokes, now cheer and support him again as if he’s still breaking 50 yard runs in the Shoe after running over a couple of linebackers. It really is the best redemption story I’ve ever seen. You could even call it a resurrection of sorts. Clarett has always hoped to inspire and help people. It was something his former Head Coach Jim Tressel mentioned at length in the documentary.

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Get a copy of “My Life, My Story, My Redemption” from mauriceclarettonline.com

I just ordered his book “My Life, My Story, My Redemption”  from his website (mauriceclarettonline.com) and plan to start reading page by page as soon as it arrives. What I do know already about his story, is that what he has learned, and is now sharing, couldn’t have been learned at the height of his success as a star at Ohio State. Sometimes in life our greatest lessons are learned in defeat. It is clear Maurice has grasped the lessons he needs to continue to be successful in this new chapter.

10 years ago he inspired an entire fan base with his play on the field, 10 years later, he’s doing the same with his life off the field. Buckeye Nation should be more proud of him now, than they were when he scored that game winning touchdown, late that January Arizona night in 2003.

Had Clarett never been suspended for his sophomore season, he would have been the front runner for the Heisman. I’m confident in saying, with the talent surrounding him at OSU and the promotion from the athletic department, he would have won the bronze statue at some point in his career. But it’s clear, what he’s giving back now is worth more than the Heisman. I’m proud and all of Buckeye Nation should be proud to call him one of our own.

P.S. If you go out and meet him at one of his events or cross paths with him out and about, make sure to give kudos to his mother and his girlfriend. It took strong, faithful, devoted, caring women to help Maurice get to this point and they deserve plenty of praise for their roles in the resurrection of his dreams of inspiring people.

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Maurice with his team. Mother, Girlfriend & Daughter. Photo Courtesy: twitter.com @ReeseClarett13

The Magic Follow the San Antonio–Oklahoma City Model to Success

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Magic hoping to become the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Orlando Magic got a close up look at their possible future Sunday night. The Magic fell short 98-101 in Oklahoma City to the Thunder, but In defeat they saw what General Manager Rob Hennigan hopes and plans to turn them into.

The Magic’s rebuilding project is ahead of schedule, even though they are currently 7-17 and in 13th place out of 15 in the Eastern Conference. Orlando fans can thank the San Antonio Spurs & Thunder for that. Orlando has plenty of young talent with a nice mix of seasoned veterans, but it probably still won’t be enough to keep them from having one of the bottom three worst records this season, and that’s okay. That means they have a higher chance of earning one of the top three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.

The 2014 Draft Class is projected to be loaded with franchise building and cornerstone players. Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart to name a few. The Magic want to build a consistent championship contender thru the draft like fellow small market franchises, the Oklahoma City and San Antonio. The Thunder built their championship contending team based on the model of the San Antonio Spurs, where GM Sam Presti began his career. Presti was Magic GM Rob Hennigan’s tutor in OKC. Hennigan has already laid the down the Spurs/Thunder model in Orlando.

He first signed a former back up point guard and a former highly respected league veteran, to his first head coaching job in Jacque Vaughn. Presti did the same when he hired Scott Brooks, another former back up point guard with a championship pedigree from his time with the Hakeem Olajuwon led Houston Rockets.

Then he cut ties to the old regime by trading away Dwight Howard and using that trade to bring in young talent in Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, and a seasoned veteran in Aaron Afflalo. Later, he traded away fan favorite and free agent to be JJ Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris, which may be his shrewdest move yet. Presti did the same in Seattle with the Sonics—before the move to OKC—when he traded franchise Star Ray Allen to Boston for the draft rights to Jeff Green and let Rashard Lewis walk and sign as a free agent with Orlando.

Then Hennigan added his first cornerstone piece in Victor Oladipo with the 2nd pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. In 2007, Presti helped his fortunes and the Sonic/Tunder franchise when he drafted Kevin Durant 2nd. Now I’m not saying Oladipo is the Magic’s Durant, but early in his rookie campaign he’s showing that he is prime to lead a revival of a franchise that was just competing for a World Title only four years ago.

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Oladipo will lead the Magic’s resurgence into becoming one of the NBA’s elite.

In the coming years, Hennigan will be looking for a Russell Westbrook and James Harden to pair up with Oladipo. The 2014 NBA Draft will probably be his best bet to do so. It’s too early to say what additions the Magic are looking to make via the draft. Afflalo has been a pleasant surprise as a combo shooting guard/small forward. You have to guess he’s in the future plans. Plus you have Mo Harkless and Tobias Harris steadily improving at those positions, therefore do you need Wiggins or Parker? You don’t want a log jam at wing positions.

Word is the Magic brass want Oladipo to be more of a point guard in the mold of a Russell Westbrook. So does that rule out Marcus Smart? Julius Randle would be a nice power forward compliment to Vucevic. That selection would make great sense. Then, there is always the possibility Orlando misses out on a top pick by sliding into the 8th seed of the playoffs in an Eastern Conference where half the playoff teams could have losing records.

The next two years will be telling for the Magic. Here’s where patience will need to be a virtue. The Thunder were bad enough that they were able to draft Russell Westbrook going into Durant’s second season and then were futile enough to draft James Harden number three overall the following year. In the 2010 playoffs, the Thunder surprised many by pushing the defending Champion L.A. Lakers in the first round of the playoffs to six games. Three years is all it took. The Magic are technically in year two of rebuilding a team that was just in the NBA Championship race two season ago.

Magic fans should take a Que from the OKC fans and support this team now to give them the same “all in this together” feel Thunder players felt from their crowds. It’s only a matter of time before the Magic Kingdom is the center of the basketball universe again, then the stain of another goofy, misguided, arrogant 7 foot superstar will be wiped away.

Throwback Steelers, for One Night at Least

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Steelers beat up on Cincinnati like it was the late 90s and 2000s. Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com

Is it 2008? You know, when the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XLIII after going 13-3 behind a historically stifling defense and a well balanced offense. It sure looked like it on Sunday Night.

The moment the Steelers tackled Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber at the two yard line after he fumbled the snap, Steeler Nation had to assume it was going to be a good night. As the Black and Gold continues to fight and cling to their slim playoff hopes, it just makes you wonder in agony what could’ve been.

The offense is clicking. Ben Roethlisberger started the game hitting on his first 11 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown to Antonio Brown to rush out to a 24 point first half lead. The offensive line is protecting Roethlisberger better. He was sacked only once. Heck, even Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley looked like a play calling genius.

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Antonio Brown’s punt return for a TD gave the Steelers a 21-0 1st quarter lead. Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com

The defense had a throwback Steel Curtain-like night, holding the Bengals to 4-14 on third down and only 57 yards rushing. They looked REAL good throughout the first three quarters before taking their foot off the gas pedal in the fourth, allowing Cincinnati to get within two possessions of tying the game.

The Key to the win over Cincy was special teams, who busted the game open with Antonio Brown’s punt return for a touchdown and a 21-0 first quarter lead.

Now in addition to rooting for Pittsburgh, Steeler fans have to become adopted fans of the opponents of the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers in the next two weeks. Those teams losing are the only shot Steeler fans have at avoiding a second season ending after 16 games.

If they make the playoffs, I don’t think Pittsburgh has any shot of going on a historic sixth seeded run like they did in 2006 and winning a Super Bowl. But, after the way the season began and how it’s shaping up, it would be nice to see them get a shot.

Although, the fact they haven’t quit is enough for me. It proves this organization is exactly who they say they are. The Standard. Most teams that start 0-4, fall farther into abyss and turn into 2-14 or 3-13 teams that earn top three draft picks. Not the Steelers, they don’t quit. That’s why they have a record, six Vince Lombardi trophies.

All the teams who want to be consistently mentioned amongst the NFLs elite—Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, New York Giants I’m talking to you—take note, this is how you finish a season when you’ve been riddled with early season setbacks.

There will Never be Another Two Time Heisman Winner

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Photo Courtesy: Heisman.com

Ohio State Legendary Running Back Archie Griffin is the first and last college football player to win the Heisman Trophy twice and it looks more and more like he will be the only one.

Saturday night, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel came in 5th place–to Florida State’s Jameis Winston–in his bid to win sports most prestigious trophy. Which is an atrocity If you look at his 2013 season. Manziel isn’t the first defending Heisman Trophy winner to well fall short of repeating, which only proves, those that have a say in whether or not another player accomplishes the feat again, won’t.

Griffin is still the only two-time winner in the history of the award.

Since 1975, when Archie Griffin won his second Heisman after his senior season, seven defending Heisman winners returned to school the following season. Only Florida Gator Quarterback Tim Tebow, in 2008 came close to repeating. He was 151 points behind eventually winner, Oklahoma Sooner Quarterback Sam Bradford, but had the most first place votes–309 to Bradford’s 300. Even still, Tebow finish third overall in the total vote.

Since then, the returning winners have only fallen farther and farther away from hoisting the twenty five pound bronzed statue a second time. Even harder to fathom, is why defending winners are doing worse in the final vote. Since Tim Tebow’s third trip to New York in 2009–when he came in fifth place–the two following returning winners, Oklahoma’s Bradford and Alabama’s Mark Ingram (2009 winner) didn’t even place.

In 2008, Tim Tebow led his Florida Gators to a 13-1 record, a second BCS National Title in three years while throwing for 2,747 yards and 30 touchdowns, ran for 673 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was the season he finished third. He followed that Season with better stats, a career high 70.1 completion rate with 2,895 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, while running for another 14 touchdowns and a career high 910 yards. Yet he came in fifth place.

In 2013, Manziel threw for career highs in touchdowns with 33 and yards 3,732 yards–he threw for 3,706 in 2012–with a bowl game to add to his total. His rushing yards of 686 are well below his 1,410 from 2012, but he has had several signature moments in 2013 and was considered a front runner before the loss to LSU. And don’t give me the argument he lost the Trophy because his team lost four games, so did the Tebow led Gators the season he won the “bronze stiff arm.” So you tell me what’s going on. It’s becoming more clear that the trusted (sarcasm) Heisman voters don’t even want there to be a close call a player wins the award twice.

I’m not saying Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t deserved to win. When you take in to account individual and team success, he was the clear cut best player in College Football. I’m just saying Manziel and other defending winners deserved a better showing and respect from voters. You won’t find a Heisman voter to come out and say they don’t want to see another two time winner, but the evidence clearly shows they don’t.

I understand the Heisman is a prestigious honor. As a native of Columbus, I’ve seen first hand how Archie Griffin is highly regarded as the “Only Two Time Heisman Winner.” He and The Ohio State University has great pride in it, so does majority of central Ohio. Maybe the voters prefer to keep it like that on a historic level as well, and only want to bestow that honor to one man. As new, younger voters are included in the vote, maybe there will eventually be another to join Griffin’s exclusive room in the Heisman house. Winston will have his chance in the next two seasons, but based on what I’ve seen, I  highly doubt he will. Just like I don’t think we will ever see another defensive player like Charles Woodson win the award, but that’s another story.