Wednesday Apple Pie

Please exhale. I know Saturday's game, of which I didn't watch a single snap, was a slap in the face, a sucker-punch in the gut, the coffee shower on your drunken debauchery. But when did preseason ever, I repeat, EVER get this intense?<br><br> Easy answer: It hasn't.

But, the national media will make you think it does. The television networks send their number-announcing tandems into stadiums this August to call the game like it's Week 12. Personally, I don't see the enjoyment in listening to Al Michaels and John Madden talk about rookie free agents for the Green Bay Packers that will be cut in two weeks. That's why I was so thankful that the Hall of Fame Game, the one preseason game that I do make time to watch, lasted only 3 quarters.

In what must have been a boring preseason flavored match, the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals were heading into the final quarter of their contest with the Green over the Orange 7 – 0. The hawks must've been starving for some sort of difference-maker to add a spark to an otherwise forgettable scrimmage.

Next thing you know, the press starts having a field day because Carson Palmer throws two interceptions in the 4th quarter - I repeat, the 4th quarter - and the Bengals are already being pre-labeled busts. "Oh, those Bengals, nothing changes," they seem to say. Witness the SI headline on their front NFL webpage: "Same ol' Bungles".

That's just not fair. Not even to the Bengals.

All of which brings me to the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Detroit Lions in the first of four preseason games for the Black n' Gold. As, I've already stated, I didn't watch the game. So sue me. The only reason I watched ESPN Sportscenter that night was to catch the injury list. No major injuries? No problem.

Injuries are about the only reason I care about preseason games in the first place. Injuries can decimate a team before the season even starts. What about other trivial info? Don't really care. I already know what I need to know by studying training camp reports from all the various sources.

The Steelers have problems with the right side of their offensive line. I didn't need a preseason game to tell me that. With problems on the line comes the inability to run. Didn't need a preseason game to tell me that either. Kendrell Bell is struggling at end. I knew that too. What was a preseason game going to tell me that I already didn't know? Not much unless I'm invested in the career of Lamar Slade.

Yet, some people have said to me, "But they lost to the Lions. If it were the Falcons or the Raiders, I'd understand, but the Lions suck. So that must mean that the Steelers aren't very good at all."

Not so fast Jimmy. These are two different teams in two completely different scenarios. The Steelers are a veteran team that knows how to win. This isn't a team with many new faces. This team doesn't have a new coach or a new "system". They're not trying to win back fans. No, this Steelers team is getting ready for a 16-game season.

The Lions are in a completely different ballpark. They have a young team, new head coach, and no winning tradition. Steve Mariucci is trying to instill a mindset of winning into his young players who are sure to be overmatched quite often this season. It's no wonder then that the Lions won the game - especially when the Lions kept their starters in the game much longer than any could have expected.

I remember catching bits and pieces of the Steelers' loss last year to Steve Spurrier and his Redskins in preseason. That game interested me because Kendrell Bell and Kordell Stewart fell to injuries. Yet, Spurrier aired it out and brought his first team back in the game to come from behind in the 4th quarter. And it didn't mean jack.

I won't watch game two of the intense preseason football fare, but I will catch game three. If there is any indication of a team's ability, it will be in the first two quarters of game three. And even then, there won't be that much enthralling football.

The sad thing is that the Pro Bowl gets less media coverage than the preseason. The game where the best and brightest of the NFL line up for some pitch and catch can't find an audience, but a meaningless game in August, where legitimate football players spend 10 minutes on the field and then hit the showers, gets scrutinized with a microscope.

There will be problems for sure. As far as I'm concerned, any team that leaves a meaningless game with zero major injuries, solid first-team defensive performance, and an 87-yard scoring drive with their first team offense is doing pretty okay.

I just don't get it. If the game doesn't count, then the mistakes don't count either. It's not the interceptions or the touchdowns or the time of possession that matter in preseason, but rather the consistency and continuity of play, and injuries.

For example, just two years ago the Minnesota Vikings went 4 – 0 in preseason, riding a wave of emotion over the death of Korey Stringer. You would have thought they were the favorites to win the Super Bowl with the hype they received. Not surprisingly, the Vikings fell flat, going 5 – 11 and missing the playoffs.

Anyone want to bet that if the Lions go 4 – 0 they won't make the playoffs either? I'd wager good money on it.

So please exhale. Try this for starters. Don't watch any preseason football until the Steelers line up against Dallas on August 21. And even then, only watch until the first team defense and offense leave the field. And even then, believe only half of what you see and nothing of what you hear.

Fruits of Labor (Stock is Rising)

Rotten Produce (Stock is Falling)

  • RT Oliver Ross Cowher would gladly give Ross to the Browns for a Coke and a bag of chips.

Bites

  • Green Bay, this week, suffered season-ending injuries to defensive starters Gilbert Brown and Bryant Westbrook. That's some mighty big depth problems up in the great white north.
  • 12 Practices left in Jacksonville's training camp and Byron Leftwich is still holding out. Anyone else thinking Ryan Leaf-type bust in the making?
  • In other Jacksonville news, Fred Taylor has sat out 9 straight practices with a bone bruise in his knee. I'd love to see who is more fragile, Fu or Fred. It could be like the next "Dan and Dave" Reebok campaign. "Fu or Fred? The China-Doll Challenge brought to you by Reebok!"
  • Speaking of injuries, Frank Sanders and Travis Taylor of the Baltimore Ravens missed practice on Monday. That's the starting wide receiver corps, folks. Todd Heap was also held out due to back spasms. None of these are serious, but they are still injuries. And I like them injuries!
  • The Colts are having injury problems at running back and it's not Edgerrin James. Dominic Rhodes, James Mungro, and Ricky "The Lesser" Williams have all been sidelined.

Ready for Picking

Philadelphia at Pittsburgh
Heinz Field – 7:30pm, August 16

Will the "Plaxico Needs Contacts" List grow after this game? Is Levon Kirkland tipping 350 yet? Can we abduct Hank Fraley when no one's watching? These are the questions that need answered.

Oakland at San Francisco
Candlestick Park (THAT'S THE NAME DAMMIT) – 8:00pm, August 14

It's the Preseason Battle of the Bay! Da-Da-Da-Daaaaa! It's a preseason meeting of two possible Super Bowl teams! Rice vs. Owens! What's not to like? If you don't know the answer, please re-read the first half of the column.

Post of the Week

88Unbeatable82 comments on scrimmages and the preseason in this great post! Congrats 88Unbeatable82, your imaginary prize is in the mail!

None of those things you just mentioned, though, disprove the fact that preseason games are scrimmages. So what the initial post is saying is that there should be scrimmages to prepare for scrimmages. Wait... listen... and I'll say it again - there should be scrimmages to prepare for scrimmages. Now, anyone who seriously wants to chime in support of that notion, feel free to permanently mark your reputation thusly.

John Biles
SteelCitySports.com


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