Thursday, January 20, 2005

Neil Simon and Chevy Chase

The Ninth would like to know if now, finally, people get what’s going on in Indy. Next winter, when inevitably they find themselves in another playoff game at Gillette, are we at last going to accept that they don’t have a chance? Or is it going to be the same old nonsense about a high-powered offense, an improving defense, and what can Belichick possibly dream up this time? Guys, he always dreams something up, and it’s always smarter than you expected. And Payton Manning’s hands always end up in the air. It’s physics. Until the Colts spend more than 30% of their salary on the defensive side of the ball, they’re not gonna win. And until Tony Dungy, who put up the single worst coaching performance of these playoffs, figures out how to adjust away from what DOESN’T WORK, they’re also not gonna win. How long can you allow your quarterback to audible hot routes against blitzes that never come? I guess for Dungy that answer is 60 minutes. How many times did New England blitz this weekend? According to TMQ, once, and I bet he’s right. How many times did Manning react as if a blitz was coming? Five hundred million. And nobody thought this was a problem. That’s why Indy’s longest completion was 18 yards, because the receivers kept breaking off routes to counter New England blitzes. Oh and how it would’ve worked were they actually blitzing. The Ninth can understand Payton buying the encroaching linebacker bit for maybe a quarter, but he should’ve wised up. As the old saying goes: fool me once, shame on you, fool me all game, fire my coach. Last week I said the Colts were the Red Sox, forever trying to overcome their more skilled rival, but they’re not. Even when Butch Hobson was managing. They’re the late 90’s Texas Rangers. Love hitting the long ball in the temperate June weather, but when it comes to the playoffs, they’ve still gotta throw Aaron Sele and Rick Helling out there and hope for the best. Honestly, it’s a little pathetic.

Ok. That’s done with. Now, on to this weekend. The Ninth’s initial reaction after watching Pittsburgh this weekend was pee-yoo what stinks? Oh right, it’s the Steelers. But that may have been hasty. To be sure, they looked awful against New Jersey, and remember that the Jets backed their way into the playoffs and got Schottenheimered into the second round, so that’s quite a thing. But their defense did not give up a touchdown, and for a good portion of the season they were the best team in football, so we shouldn’t write them off. But here’s the thing, I just don’t see how they’ll score points. Ben Roethlisberger is worse than you think. In fact, he’s worse than everyone thinks. Pittsburgh was second to last in the AFC in passing yards this year. Baltimore was last, and I think they spent most of the season with Walter Matthau at quarterback. Now I will grant that the Steelers were also last in attempts, so the average is ok, but don’t you think there’s a reason Big Ben was asked to do his job less than any other QB? Is it because he’s so good? Roethlisberger gets a lot of pub for being well-poised, and that’s fair. New England had such trouble with him in Week 8 because he was able to calmly side-step blitzes, stay on his feet, and make a big pass. Actually, in terms of pocket presence, he’s an optimized combination of Brady and Bledsoe: great footwork and awareness as well as tremendous size. Sending extra men after him is a mistake, but sitting back and forcing him to hit the open guy – that’s where the money is. (Do not gamble). In the last 4 games, including the NJJ, Benny Picks has thrown 7 interceptions. Yikes. And anyone who watched last Saturday’s game could plainly see that accuracy is a bit of an issue. Is he hurt? Maybe, but frankly, who cares? The fact is there is no way Pittsburgh can be confident about his ability to orchestrate a drive. “But”, you say, “what about the running game”? (It’s weird that you said that right as I typed it). Well sure, the Steelers can run. #2 yards team on the ground in the NFL. But Belichick can take it away. You know he can. He’s the master of selecting one thing he wishes his opponent not to do, and making sure they don’t do it. And he’s got a good running start, as since Week 9 the Patriots have allowed only two 100 yard rushers. And he’s got Ted Johnson, who has consistently been kryptonite to Jerome Bettis’ Superman. Pittsburgh is not going to be allowed to run excessively, and Roethlisberger is going to have to win the game. I’m not sure how he’s going to do that.

But how will New England score? Well, not that easily, to be honest. The Steeler run defense is Capital G Great, allowing the least yards in football, and the Patriots have quietly become a rush-first football team. In fact, only four teams sent their backs more often in ’04. But their passing game should be sufficient, if the offensive line can buy the time. In Week 8, Pitt’s d-line and blitzing backers looked so quick and strong that Barry Bonds was asking where they got their flax seed oil. Brady was sacked some, rushed often, and generally didn’t have much of a chance. But both of his tackles were hurt and Dillon was unavailable. So things should be different. And consider this: New England scored less than 20 points only once this season (Week 7, NJJ), while Pittsburgh did it 6 times. If Dillon can be effective enough to sell the play action, the Pats should be able to score 17-20 points. That’ll be enough to win.

Seems like old times, doesn’t it?

And a quick programming note: The Ninth will be on air Friday in the Boston, and well, anywhere with internet. The boys at Further Review, on 1510 The Zone, are having me over for drinks and sandwiches, so tune in. The plan is around 3 pm. For web stream, go to www.1510thezone.com.
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