Wednesday Apple Pie

Once upon a time during my senior year of high school, my varsity soccer team, the Shaler Titans, was playing the North Allegheny Tigers. Before I go any farther, I played soccer in high school, commence with whatever jokes you want. I've heard them all before.<p>

Anyway, this was a pivotal match-up of the season. A win would keep us in the hunt for a section championship. A loss would dig the hole a little deeper. Our top player was a 6' 3" behemoth named Matt. He was also the heart and soul of the team.

During the 3rd quarter, with the NA up 1 - 0, we began to put repeated pressure on their goal. The play we used to put pressure was a throw in from the corner with Matt streaking headfirst into the play. The idea was for Matt to get his head on the ball and redirect it into the back of the goal. It had worked before and after getting repeated chances, I was certain it would work again.

Then something went horribly wrong. Instead of Matt redirecting the ball with his cranium, his cranium missed the ball entirely and smacked directly into the solid, metal goal post. 20 minutes later, our leader, our heart and soul, was being driven to the local hospital in an ambulance.

Our coach pulled us aside and told us to "keep our heads in the game". While we were valiant to the end, we lost that match 1 - 0. We never recovered after that game and a magical season turned sour.

In a similar way, the Steelers suffered the same loss this past weekend. The problem is that this team's mental toughness may be it's biggest weakness. Consider the facts:

  • Kordell Stewart is a 7-year veteran who loses his confidence disastrously quick.
  • Todd Peterson is a 13-year veteran who can't hit the 30-yard field goals any longer.
  • Chad Scott is a 5-year veteran whose confidence is at an all time low as reported on this site.

These aren't rookies. These are full-fledged veterans that have seen highs and lows before yet don't have the mental toughness to recover.

The overall team psyche also seems completely suspect. Consider the mood during training camp, one of complacency. There were no hardships to overcome. No battles to be won. We all just thought, "They're saving it for the regular season."

But, what has happened since? The New England game exposed the problems this team would have on the psychological side of the game. The complete breakdowns in the second half against both Oakland the Pats have proven to be fateful. At halftime this past week, the Steelers were down only 14 - 7. Cowher said that missing makeable field goals hurts a team's psyche. I would argue that if the team is mentally tough, they find a way to win. We've seen it before from Steeler teams. Does anyone remember the come-from-behind victory in New England in 1997? Or how about the upset win over the Raiders in 2000? Sure, those teams had moments of mental lapse, but none of those teams had the upside of this current Steelers team.

This team is just not taking care of business, when it counts. How else do you explain:

  • The defense seems hexed on third down. All phases, including the coaching, seem liable to break down at any time.
  • Every kickoff and field goal attempt is an adventure. Again, we wonder where the lapse will occur this time.
  • Fumbles from the snap inside the 5.
  • Large leads being squandered in the second half.
  • Poor tackling.

I could go on, but my point is that Coach Cowher teams aren't known for throwing in the towel. I don't want to hear that Kordell Stewart almost led them back because the Titans were in an obvious prevent.

The fact that Tommy Maddox is out hurts the Steeler's offensive gel, but the mental toughness of this team will inevitably determine the destiny. If what we've seen is any indication, a sour ending to a once magical season will be the future.

Apple Six-Pack Review

  1. Oakland 27 New England 20 - The Raiders denied Tom Brady a touchdown pass, and that's the first time that's happened this season. A little redemption goes a long way for a team many thought may have lost its magic after a 4-game losing streak. The Raiders now have two huge wins and have the leg-up on the AFC West race. The Patriots, although losing the match, will still be in the hunt in the East for a while to come.
  2. St. Louis 21 Chicago 16 - Oh woe are the Bears. If they only had an offense to speak of, perhaps they could pull out these close games. As it is the Bears drop another close call - their 5th straight on the road and 8th overall. The Rams will get Kurt Warner back next week and it's only right that he return. But, Mike Martz will be sure to keep him on a short leash.
  3. San Diego 20 San Francisco 17 (OT) - The Chargers shake off the disappointing loss last week to the Rams with a come from behind of their own. I don't get this Niner team very well. Some weeks they look incredible and others they make the Giants look like a Super Bowl contender.
  4. Kansas City 17 Buffalo 16 - The Chiefs strike again. This time an interception with just over 3 minutes left seals the fate for the Bills. It's too bad that Bledsoe won't win the MVP award this year. But, his career has been revived in a way that I haven't seen since Randall Cunningham in Minnesota.
  5. Miami 26 Baltimore 7 - Miami does Pittsburgh a favor and keeps Baltimore 1 ½ games behind. Don't let this game fool you though. The Dolphins aren't going anywhere with Ray Lucas. Once Jay Fiedler comes back we'll have better idea where the team will end up in the race.
  6. New Giants 19 Washington 17 - Big win for the Giants is two-fold. One they get farther away from the Redskins, and two they stay closer to the McNabb-less Eagles. I never thought I'd say this, but the Giants may steal the division now that McNabb is out for the rest of the regular season.

Power Core Rankings Week 12

  1. Tampa Bay - The Bucs looked great last week, but the defense still carries the team too much.
  2. Denver - Didn't look that impressive in a win, but still are the best in the AFC.
  3. Green Bay - Every team has a bad game now and then.
  4. Atlanta - The Falcons didn't look tired, Coach Cowher.
  5. Oakland - Held Brady to no touchdown pass - the first time all year.
  6. Philadelphia - Who is the backup? Koy Detmer? No, seriously.
  7. Miami - Clicking their heels hoping Fiedler comes back soon.
  8. Tennessee - Even I didn't see that thrashing coming.
  9. San Francisco - 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
  10. New Orleans - Mike Vick is the bane of their existence.
  11. San Diego - St. Louis - So Mike, how short is the leash on Warner?
  12. Pittsburgh - Here comes Kordell to the rescue.

Missed Prime Opportunity (MPO) Score

Pittsburgh 6 Tennessee 3

An MPO is when a team fails to score while in scoring range or doesn't take advantage of major swings in momentum (i.e. major penalties/turnovers/settling for field goals in successive series/inability to seal a game with first downs). These are killers because a team only gets so many opportunities.

An MPO Score is like golf: It's best to score low. When a team score's low, it usually wins the game. It's remarkable how accurate it can be.

Pittsburgh's 2002 - 03 Regular Season MPO record: 5 - 5

Week 12 Mini - Preview: Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati

As I told Jason "the Bronco Fan", thank the maker Cincinnati comes to town. The Steelers should be able to disperse with this fodder quite easily. Remember, I said "should."

5 Keys to the Game

  1. Stop the Run: Without James Farrior, the Steelers will call on Mike Jones and John Fiala to help contain Corey Dillon.
  2. Rhythm Nation: Kordell needs to get into an early rhythm.
  3. Get Bettis Involved: Can we please give the ball back to Jerome? It was fun Amos, but now it's done.
  4. Build Early Lead: An early 17 - 21 point lead would be beautiful.
  5. 3rd Down: Please get off the field on third and long with some consistency. Is that possible anymore?

Outlook: The Steelers winning by 10 is just what the doctor ordered.

Apple Six-Pack: Week 12

  1. St. Louis at Washington: Game of the Week. This game looked sexier at the beginning of the season. But Steve Spurrier should get an education of the anatomy of an NFL offense.
  2. Philadelphia at San Francisco: This game could well determine the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a bye in the playoffs. As we've learned in the past, bye weeks are very helpful.
  3. Green Bay at Tampa Bay: After this week we'll have to wait 4 more years to see Sapp vs. Favre. But, if recent talk is any indication, this may be the last regular season meeting between the two superstars, ever. That's the reality of realignment.
  4. Oakland at Arizona: Last year, the Cardinals went into the Black Hole and gave the Raiders a huge upset at home. David Boston had a huge day. Too bad history won't repeat itself.
  5. Indianapolis at Denver: The Broncos have played their worst football this season on prime time. I don't see them making it 0 - 4 under the lights.
  6. Buffalo at NY Jets: Both teams try to keep the dream alive. One team will be knocked out of the AFC East race in this one.

Apple Playoff Watch

Just Plain In:

AFC Division Leaders (in order of seeding): Denver, Miami, Tennessee, Pittsburgh
NFC Division Leaders (in order of seeding): Green Bay, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Philadelphia
AFC Wild Cards: San Diego, Oakland
NFC Wild Cards: New Orleans, Atlanta

Could Be In:

AFC: Buffalo, New England, Indianapolis
NFC: NY Giants, St. Louis

Probably Won't Be In:

AFC: Baltimore, Houston, Cincinnati
NFC: Washington, Arizona

Definitely Not In:

AFC: Baltimore, Houston, Cincinnati
NFC: Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Seattle

--The Steel Apple

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