Saturday, October 29, 2011

#227: The New England Conundrum

---SSL Broadcast #65---

The New England Patriots were built to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If recent history is any indication, on Sunday the Pats will cruise to a big lead early, then allow some big plays toward the end when Pittsburgh has no choice.

A friend of mine polled me shortly after the Steelers/Cardinals game last week as to what I thought the betting line should be (the spread, if you will) for NE-PIT. I told him Patriots by 10. He told me that two other people, including an expert from Yahoo! Sports, had said the same thing. However, Las Vegas has the line at Patriots -2.5, and it's been there all week.

Now, if there's one thing I've learned over the past few years, it's that Vegas knows what it's doing, else there would be more parking lots than hotels in Sin City. If other folks out there have handicapped the match-up at closer to -10, then the casual gambler would be putting a signficant sum on that Patriots to win by at least a field goal.

I don't think the Steelers can keep up with the Patriots. Brady will start by dinking and dunking, primarily to slot receiver Wes Welker, who will draw coverage mainly from linebackers (who can't cover). When the secondary comes up to assist, Brady will hit a big gainer to one of his deep threats or big tight ends. And if Brady sees a formation that doesn't seem to favor either option, he'll turn running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis loose who will gash Pittsburgh for first down yardage. With run-stopping defensive end Aaron Smith's career likely over, the Steelers will be more vulnerable to the rush on the left side of the defensive front. And with Stevenson Sylvester likely spelling inside linebacker James Farrior, that only weakens the D even more.

Pittsburgh's offense will score, but they go to the "deep ball to Mike Wallace" well far too often. Also, I think the Steelers won't pull out all the stops this week. Any tricks they want to execute, they will save for an even more imporant rivalry game next week vs. Baltimore.

So something has to break. Either my analysis of the Patriot offense vs. the Steeler defense is completely wrong, or Vegas thinks New England -2.5 will balance their book.

On today's show:

- 2011 World Series best in a decade.

- Penguins take a 5-game winning streak into Toronto. More importantly, they're still in the positive in Shots-on-Goal Differential.

- West Virginia moves to the Big 12 conference.

- Mike goes 0-2 in his NFL picks (5-9 overall) and the World Series pick falls one strike short...just a bad week for picks....


Saturday, October 22, 2011

#226: Raw Deal (for Oakland)

---SSL Broadcast #64---

I thought that with the passing of longtime Oakland Radiers owner Al Davis a couple of weeks ago that his team would begin to emerge from the morrass of a decade of futility.

Apparently, Davis is busy continuing to curse the team from the grave.

The Raiders - who are a very game 4-2 so far this year - completed a trade this week with Cincinnati for overrated quarterback Carson Palmer, who has voluntarily stayed off the field and away from the black and orange until he was traded.

Some feel that the trade was warranted due to the recent injury to starting quarterback Jason Campbell, who will be out of action for a minimum of six weeks. Kyle Boller (he of the rocket arm strength, but drunken stupor accuracy) is the backup. Given that, picking up a disgruntled quarterback who is not being used (and whose team was doing just fine without him, thankyouverymuch) seemed to be sensible.

Potentially giving up two first round picks in the next two years to take a former first round pick who has never won a postseason game, shies away from hits, and has a very average 7.1 yards per pass attempt average (with weapons like Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Chris Henry, and Terrell Owens) is what makes the move asinine.
I would think that Raider Nation would have been excited by the prospect of having a first round draft choice that didn't make them want to throw a brick through their televisions. It appears that, even in the post-Davis era, the Oakland faithful will have to wait for that day and suffer the frustrations of California's native son that fans in southwest Ohio have had to endure for nearly a decade prior.

On today's show:

- Pitt "high octane" bottoms out after 26-14 loss to Utah.

- Steelers narrowly avoid one let down, now must try to avoid another in the week leading up to a showdown with the Patriots.

- Gerritt Cole gets his first win as a professional pitcher.

- Mike once again goes 1-1 in his NFL picks (5-7 overall). His World Series winner stays alive, though his projected National League opponent was eliminated.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

#225: High Octane Burnout

---SSL Broadcast #63---

After getting pasted in Piscataway, New Jersey, by the Rutgers Scarlet Knights last Saturday, it's probably time to give Pitt Head Coach Todd Graham's touted "high octane" offense a rest.

Hopes were high entering the season, as Pitt finally pulled an "out with the old, in with the new" when they let go of comfy alumnus Dave Wannestedt for the unknown Graham. Many believed that converting to more of a passing offense was what the team needed to step up and be noticed among other Division I-A schools..

Now it's clear that the engine (recruits) that was built by Wannestedt only processes low-octane fuel, as evidenced by the success on the ground of running back Ray Graham (I feel obligated to point out that he and the coach are not related...) and the sputtering of the air attack.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri has thrown for only five touchdowns, been picked off seven times, and is completing passes at an anemic 6.24 yards per attempt entering today's tilt with Utah. Freshman backup Trey Anderson's numbers are actually worse, but he's had limited playing time.

Graham needs to play the hand he's been dealt if he wants to be successful in 2011 and 2012, before his own recruits begin to take root with the high-scoring output system he desires. More Graham, more strategic use of Sunseri. Otherwise, it's like filling a diesel engine with regular unleaded.

Also on today's show:

- Sidney Crosby cleared for contact drills.

- Steelers try to keep momentum when Jacksonville comes to town.

- Pirates celebrate 1960 World Series.

- Mike goes 1-1 in his NFL picks (4-6 overall).  His World Series matchup (TEX over MIL) is in a bit of trouble, though after the Brewers are pushed to the brink.


Saturday, October 08, 2011

#224: Taunt Me Not

---SSL Broadcast #62---

"Act like you've been there before.".

The Pittsburgh Steelers, by all rights, should have been blown out of Reliant Stadium in Houston last Sunday by the Texans, but were fortunate to absorb a respectable 7-point road loss.

The problems the Steelers face are many.  The most obvious failing is an offensive line that has trouble picking up a three-man rush.  And even the best players on that line (including center Maurkice Pouncey) are banged up.

Their defensive front seven seems to be getting blown off the ball at the snap, and unable to produce an effective pass rush, or maintain gap control against the better running backs in the league.

The last thing the Steelers need is an inate ability to draw 15-yard penalties for easily avoidable flags.

Last week, star receiver Mike Wallace was penalized 15 yards for taunting the Houston sideline after a long gainer, negating most of the yardage.

I was under the impression that Wallace was paid good money to catch balls, move chains, and score points.

Another young speedster, Antonio Brown, was penalized in the preseason for a taunt, as well.

Head coach Mike Tomlin needs to get the message through that the Steelers are not going to have quite the offensive output as last year, and that having to drive extra yardage is not a recipe for success in 2011.

Also on the show:

- Penguins open with a shootout win.

- Pitt looks to avoid a letdown in Piscataway, New Jersey, against the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers..

- Pirates get a TV ratings boost from last season..

- Power signs former Arena Bowl MVP Quarterback as 2012 schedule is released.

- Mike goes 2-0 in his NFL picks for the first time this year (3-5 overall).  He also goes 3 out of 4 in Baseball series prediction.  However, his World Series matchup remains intact.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

#223: Pirates Post-Mortem 2011

---SSL Broadcast #61---

While the beginning of the Pittsburgh Pirates season was unlike anything fans were used to, the end of the season was all too familiar.

Despite my bold prediction before the season even started that the Pirates would finish in the top 10 offense in batting average after the All-Star Break, nothing could have been further from the truth.

The Pirates were tied for second-worst in the National League (with defending champion San Francisco) at .241. The pitching didn't help matters after the break, either, tied for the worst WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched) in all of baseball after the break (with the Minnesota Twins) at 1.53. And the ERA suffered for it, being 2nd worst in the National League at 4.78. The only worse ERA in the NL was Colorado, but they also play at a higher elevation, humidor or no.

Now, the questions for 2012 include: Who will the Pirates keep with an overflow in the outfield? Specifically, what will become of Garrett Jones. Is there any reason to keep Ryan Ludwick around? Any chance that Derrek Lee will stay (many reports have said absolutely not)? What about Ryan Doumit, Paul Maholm, or Ross Ohlendorff? Who, if anyone, will be ready to come to the major leagues next season?

And, perhaps the biggest question of all: Was last season a complete fluke, or was the early season success a glimpse of what's to come? It should come as no surprise that I suspect the latter.

Tim Neverett of the Pirates Baseball Network joins me on the first segment of the program with some final thoughts regarding the 2011 Buccos.

Also on the show:

- Penguins still unbeaten in preseason.

- Steelers fortunate to escape Indy with a win, tall task awaits in Houston.

- Pitt finally plays well, but only after the schedule pits them against fellow Big East teams.

- Mike sucks at making picks (1-5 overall), but that won't stop him from trying. He'll even try to predict the Major League Baseball playoffs.