Wednesday Apple Pie

Is there anything more boring than watching pre-season football? I'm sitting at the computer while trying to stay focused as the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins call signals, throw footballs, kick footballs and make tackles all in the name of shaking off rust and getting in shape. It's enough to make even the most passionate fan consider another channel (Summerland anyone?).

And in five days the Pittsburgh Steelers begin informal huddling and tackling scenarios against the Philadelphia Eagles. I say informal because there are two rules about preseason games. The first is rule is "Don't get hurt" and the second is "Don't show too much." Now, purists will look at this game as a way to watch the underdogs steal possible roster spots. While the overly paranoid will watch the first team attempt a few drives that incorporate vanilla defense and offense, and try to gauge whether the offense looks good, the defense looks bad or if Jerome Bettis can still hit a hole.

I urge you, however, to disregard the paranoid view and engage the purist angle, but add a twist. Watch how seriously the players on the field take the game. During the 1995 pre-season, Rod Woodson verbally criticized the coaching staff for not blitzing more during a home contest against the Packers. That was also the game when Greg Lloyd tried to plant Bret Favre into the Three Rivers turf. The coaching staff was correct in not revealing too many defensive nuances just as Lloyd was wrong for hitting Favre after the fact, however the defense that day proved that it was hungry enough to treat the game like the real thing. It's no coincidence that squad reached the Super Bowl.

I'm not saying that Joey Porter needs to break Donovan McNabb's leg, nor am I asking Dick LeBeau to run too many corner blitzes against the Tra Thomas-less Eagles offensive line, but if this team is as spirited as these early camp practices have indicated, then regardless of injuries, this team should have the vigor, energy and blood lust to push them into the season and beyond the bye week.

And though there are many other issues to worry about, a lack of want and discipline after a 15 - 1 mega-season should first and foremost be the concern to cause even the most optimistic Steeler fan to sweat into their Iron City.


It's time now however to take a break from the enthralling Hall Of Fame Game festivities and take a look at the rest of the NFL in Mini-Bite preview style.

NFC West Mini-Bites

Seattle Seahawks - The Seahawks fell not once, not twice, but three times to those pesky St. Louis Rams. The Rams needed a late win against the NY Jets in Week 17 to make the playoffs and then walked into Seattle and gladly took the wild-card weekend game. Does this mean the Rams were a better team than the Seahawks? No, I don't think. It just means that the NFC West was the most average division in football last year. While others believe that Seattle are perennially underachieves, I'd rather like to think this team is the recipient of too much respect. Shaun Alexander gives the team a top-tier running back, but the wide receiving situation leaves much to be desired. While Darryl Jackson drops passes, Koren Robinson gets admitted into rehab. And what of Matt Hasselbeck? Eh. Not much more to say about this team.

St. Louis Rams - When will people learn that Mike Martz is not a good head coach, and that Marc Bulger is an overrated quarterback? This team still has offensive power, but Steven Jackson will never be in the same league as Marshall Faulk. Lucky for him, Martz will under-use the talented running back as much as he did his legendary predecessor. This team was lucky to make the playoffs last year. They won't be as lucky this season.

San Francisco 49ers - It's bad when the most decorated player in franchise history has lost touch with his former team. Joe Montana would rather follow the Kansas City Cheifs or his childhood favorite Pittsburgh Steelers. Alex Smith was drafted as the gunslinger of the future, but his story will be overshadowed this year because this team is utterly pathetic.

Arizona Cardinals - And the Mr. Yuck Division wouldn't be complete without a quick visit to our friends in the desert. Denny Green should be able to charm this team into at best a .500 season and at worst a seven-win campaign. With a talented corp of wide receivers has-been signal caller Kurt Warner and Josh McCown should be able to generate enough points to steal a few games at home and even win a few on the road (at the hands of San Francisco).

Predictions
Seattle:10 - 6
St. Louis:8 - 8
Arizona:8 - 8
San Francisco:3 - 13


NFC South Mini-Bites

Atlanta Falcons - If there was any team that was not nearly as good as their record indicated, that team would be the Atlanta Falcons, or as I like to call them the Michael Vicks. The Vicks, named after their main offensive weapon, must rely on their namesake to stay healthy. It's this simple: if Michael Vick stays healthy, this team will contend for the division and a first round bye. But if he doesn't, this team will go absolutely no where. On a fantasy note, Warrick Dunn gets touchdowns and yards, but don't use him as your primary running back.

Carolina Panthers - No non-playoff team finished hotter than the Panthers. After losing seven of their first eight, the Panthers won six games in the second half of the season, almost making the playoffs. Late Michael Vick heroics in Week 15 nailed the coffin shut for this bunch, but in effect injuries depleted this team early. Steve Smith missed almost the full season, Stephen Davis acted his age, forcing the running back duties into the arms of former Pitt Panther Nick Goings. Goings proved to be a capable utility back, but this team will need more than Goings and a healthy Smith to make the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This is how last season was for the Buccaneers: First, QB Brad Johnson goes down. Then, QB Chris Simms, the prodigy who never won the big games for the Texas Longhorns, gets hurt and in walks Brian Griese. Remember him? Griese? The guy with the mental instability. The guy that got run out of Denver for Jake Plummer. JAKE PLUMMER.

New Orleans Saints - Could there be a franchise that I have less respect for than the Saints? Not only does the front office refuse to fire Jim Haslett, when the man can't get his squad to stop under-achieving, but they continue to rely on Joe Horn and Aaron Brooks, two of the most inconsistent performers in recent history, to put them in a position to win games. But they'll be better than the Buccaneers. That's got to count for something. Right?

Predictions
Carolina:10 - 6
Atlanta:11 - 5
New Orleans:7 - 9
Tampa Bay:5 - 11


Bites
  • Duce Staley is out a month. Forgive me if I don't jump off a bridge. If anything, a healthy, fresh Duce at the end of the season sounds much nicer than a banged up Duce all season.
  • Of course Staley being banged up all season is of high probability.
  • Does this mean the Steelers keep 6 running backs?
  • Or do the Steelers try to trade one of them?
  • One of the nicest surprises of camp has to be Cedrick Wilson. I think the Niners will be mighty sorry they let him go in the off-season.
  • Could the next few years in Pittsburgh sports be more exciting? First Big Ben, next Zach Duke and now Sidney Crosby.
  • Plaxico who? A wide receiving unit of Ward, Wilson, Randle El and Young is looking very attractive right now.
  • There are a few other holdouts to note. The biggest one could be Antonio Gates. And the case could be made that Gates is equally important to the Chargers as Ward is to Pittsburgh
  • "I'll take that bet Yuk and raise you all-in"

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