Thursday, February 02, 2006


PITTSBURGH STEELERS: With a dominant D-line, an athletic corps of Linebackers, and a Super-Human Safety, Pitt' has perhaps one weakness... iffy Cornerbacks. If I were a bettin' man, which I am not, I'd wager that the new "Steel Curtain" slams down upon 'Hawk back Shaun Alexander and renders the Seattle O 1-dimensional. But ya' know what? That dimension is actually a strength for coach Mike Holmgren's flock of Seahawks. QB Matt Hasselbeck gets little love, but he IS the starting 'slinger for the NFC in the upcoming Pro Bowl.
The 'Hawks have been playing the "we get no respect" and the "nobody expects us to do nuthin'" cards. And, while such MIGHT have been the case during Weeks 1-6... by the time this group was sporting an 8-2 record, people knew precisely how good Seattle was. In addition, you can bet that opposing D-Coordinators had certainly become acquainted with their upcoming opponents.
The 'C-Hawk defense, led by rookie 'backer Lofa Tatupu (it seems like I was just watching his daddy, Patriot RB Mosi Tatupu), is stout against the run (surrendering fewer than 95 rushing YPG), iffy against the pass, and has a "bend but don't break" style. The unit, ranked 7th league-wide, allowed a total of 271 total points (16.9 PPG) this season.
The Steeler D, led by "Human-Hairy-Heat-Seeking-Missile" Safety Troy Polamalu and LB Joey Porter, allowed a a scant 86 rushing YPG (ranked 3rd) and fewer than 200 passing yards per game. That total is somewhat misleading, however, as is the Steeler Secondary's rep'; Pittsburgh's D-backfield CAN be beaten. The CBs either young and inexperienced such as Ricardo Colclough and Bryant McFadden, or old and slow ala' DeShea Townsend. LCB Ike Taylor is excellent in run support duty as the aforementioned S Troy Polamalu, but neither excel at pass defense. However, rest-assured that a unit that surrendered 258 total points (16.1 PPG) is no pushover.
The Steelers stunt, disguise coverages, can bring pressure from virtually any place on the field, and are masters of deception.
Most impressive, perhaps, is the athletic and playmaking 'backer unit. LBs Larry Foote, Joey Porter, Clark Haggans and James Farrior can clog the running lanes or drop back into pass coverage. There's a reason this team became the 1st 6-seed in league history to make it to the SuperBowl!

***NOTE: As if the Steelers didn't have enough motivation (Jerome Bettis' impending retirement, for one), 'Hawk TE Jerramy Stevens stated that "Bettis and the rest of the Steelers would leave Detroit unhappy." Clearly, Stevens was sticking, stabbing, and prodding a sleeping giant.

As for the Seahawk offense, look for the Steelers stout run D to see a steady diet of RB Shaun Alexander. The league-leading and record-setting back goes through yards and scores like a bulemic monkey on a banana binge! Still, the run game could prove to be more ruse then reality. The 'Hawks didn't go 13-3 by playing blind Football, and coach Mike Holmgren is a fine strategist. Look for Shaun-A' to set up the pass, and keep an eye on the capable pass catching contingent. At roughly 90% following mid-season knee surgery, vertical threat Darrell Jackson and QB Matt Hasselbeck used the last 2 (of 3) regular season games and 2 Post-C' games to rediscover their rapport. 15 post-season catches for 218 yards and 2 TDs attests to the fact that indeed, receiver and Signal Caller are on the same page. In addition to D-Jax', WRs Bobby Engram and Joe Jurevicius and TE Jerramy Stevens WILL give the suspect Steeler Secondary fits. Stevens, in particular, could prove to be a real thorn in Cowhers' side.

The Steelers also boast a run-heavy offensive style, and RBs Jerome "The Bus" Bettis and "Fast Willie" Parker are an ideal "thunder and Lightning" Running Back duo. Bettis is startlingly nimble for such a big man; possessing quick feet and ... um, great bulk, Bettis is a Red-Zone nightmare. Like a giant Sequoia coming down, the dude always topples forward.
Fast Willie, on the other hand, is capable of taking a quick pitch or little screen pass... and going the distance. And yet despite his build, Parker can also take the mail between the Tackles... just not the Steeler Tackles!
As for QB Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game, both improved demonstrably as the season wore on. "Big Ben" was throwing strikes and kept his team alive; he was a true leader and proved to be the very definition of a Field General. With WRs Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El, and TE Heath "Big Money" Miller on the receiving end of Ben's bullets and bombs, the air attack is not one to be trifled with or taken lightly. The Seahawk Secondary will have a hard time containing Ward and Miller.. and the smart money says that Heath Miller snares a 6'.

When the final gun sounds at around 10:30 PM EST on Sunday, and SuperBowl XL is over... I've a feeling we'll all have seen a remarkable game. While either team could post a 3 score W'... I don't think that will happen. The Steelers have gone through quite a bit to get here, they appreciate their opportunity, and to a man... they have a sense of destiny. The Seahawks, on the other hand, were outstanding ALL season long. "Alexander the Great" put up eye-popping numbers almost every week, and QB Matt Hasselbeck was a quiet... yet confident leader; a "Steady-Eddie" QB. It was, somewhat surprisingly, the defense that made a 'Bowl berth possible, and the 'Hawks have no intention of blowing THEIR chance at hoisting the Lombardi trophy.

So what am I saying? While both teams are deserving... only one can win, unfortunately. Look for the Seahawks to eke out a 3 point W, with a final score approximating 27-24.


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