Wednesday Apple Pie

While sitting at Shula's Steak 2 in Cleveland this Sunday, I witnessed the second coming of a Pittsburgh sports savior. His name is Jeff Reed. And after I saw the 50-yard field goal attempt split the uprights, I looked at the Steeler Fan Club around me and pronounced: We finally have a kicker.<p>

Reed sure looked solid and unfazed. Tom Coughlin sure thought the kid would choke on such an important kick. And to Coughlin's hilarious dismay, Reed proved that Bill Cowher need not think twice about kicking between the 25 – 35 yard lines again.

But, can anyone be happy with the defense? Sure, leading into the final 5 minutes they had only allowed 201 total yards, but they lack that killer instinct. What should have been the final offensive play for the Jags on 4th down turned into a touchdown after both Lee Flowers and Kendrell Bell decided to blitz when one of them was supposed to be covering Kyle Brady. Flowers seemed to know early after the hike that something was amiss because he hesitated for an instant before deciding to commit to the quarterback.

I'm not going to pin the close win entirely on the defense though, because Kordell Stewart's shortcomings at quarterback were quite evident. His problem last year, as this year, is his red zone inefficiency. The Steelers again squandered multiple opportunities early in the game and could have been leading 14 – 0 rather than 6 – 0. Sure, Kordell's legs earned one touchdown, but Tommy Maddox's quick release and quicker thought process would have precluded Jeff Reed having to make 6 of 6 field goals, 4 coming after the Steelers entered the red zone. For the day, the Steelers scored 0 touchdowns on 4 trips to the red zone even when two of those trips had first and goal situations.

The Steelers won the game decidedly on the field, but once again were unable to put the complete game together. If this trend continues, and nothing they have done proves that it won't, the Steelers exit stage right from the playoffs.

Apple Six-Pack Review

  1. Philadelphia 10 St. Louis 3 - Reason No. 1 Why I Love The NFL. Is there a more inspired team than the Eagles right now? To win back-to-back games with their second and third string quarterbacks is one thing. To dominate the Niners and shut down the Rams is something else entirely. If you're keeping track of the Rams' playoff chances, here is the lowdown. For the Rams to make the playoffs, they must first win out. Then, two other things must happen: the Giants must go at least 1 – 3 and the Saints must go 0 – 4 in the final quarter of the season. It's going to be a long winter in St. Louis.
  2. New Orleans 23 Tampa Bay 20 - Reason No. 2 Why I Love The NFL. The Saints have now swept the Bucs. The Falcons have swept the Saints. The Bucs can complete a sweep of the Falcons this weekend in Tampa. Possible 3-way tie right? Not with Atlanta sitting on a tie. If the Falcons lose this weekend, their chances at the division go south in a hurry, where the Saints would still be sitting pretty to win the title. All because of that wacky tie.
  3. Tennessee 32 NY Giants 29 - Reason No. 3 Why I Love The NFL. Apparently a 12-point lead in the 4th quarter isn't safe anywhere in the NFL. The Titans may have helped hand Jim Fassel his walking papers with this loss. More amazing than the comeback was the Titan's classic goal line stand late in the game.
  4. Oakland 26 NY Jets 20 - Jets fans can take solace in the fact that while they may not make the playoffs, they have found their quarterback for the near and far future. Chad Pennington is playing better than anyone imagined and he almost lead the Jets to a winning final-minute drive. What I don't understand is why, with just over a minute left, the Jets didn't try one pass over the middle? They attempted that pass with less that half a minute left and it took too much time. Maybe the reason is that Paul Hackett couldn't cut it in Pitt, Kansas City, Miami, and now can't cut it in NY.
  5. San Diego 27 Denver 24 (OT) - Jason The Bronco Fan thinks he's cursed: Two overtimes, two losses. But he explained the loss perfectly. The Broncos forgot about Clinton Portis in overtime. They attempted passes to Dewayne Carswell to open both drives in the overtime period. He and I both want to know why Portis didn't see the ball in the overtime. Why, Mr. Shanahan?
  6. Buffalo 38 Miami 21 - Okay, this game is just prolonging the inevitable for Buffalo, but they certainly showed why they've got to be considered an early favorite for the AFC East title next year. I still want to know how Ricky Williams can run for over 200 yards and be on the losing team.

Power Core Rankings Week 14

  1. Philadelphia - They have the heart to go all the way, but they still need a healthy McNabb.
  2. Atlanta - Let's see if teams figure out Michael Vick next year, ‘cause it's not going to happen this year.
  3. Oakland - This team looks ready to go deep. If the Viagra holds up…no pun intended.
  4. Green Bay - They win the division (yawn). But can they beat the top teams in the NFC?
  5. Tampa Bay - The defense started strong but couldn't get the ball back to the offense late in the game.
  6. Pittsburgh - The defense scares only small children and puppies.
  7. Indianapolis - Suddenly the hottest team in the AFC.
  8. New England - Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy win on Thanksgiving. Did I mention it was a sloppy win?
  9. San Diego - LaDainian Tomlinson tore apart the No. 2 rushing defense in the league. I should have picked him in my roto league when I had the chance. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
  10. San Francisco - Another good team wins a sloppy game, although Garrison Hearst had a career day in touchdowns.
  11. New Orleans - Amazingly they can still win the division even though they haven't beaten the Falcons.
  12. Denver - Sorry Titan fans. They're a better team…on paper.

Missed Prime Opportunity (MPO) Score

Pittsburgh 5 Jacksonville 6

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: 6 – 5 – 1

Week 14 Mini - Preview: Pittsburgh vs. Houston

The Houston franchise returns to Pittsburgh for the first time since 1996. The Texans aren't close to the old Oilers, but if the Steelers aren't careful Houston will make it too close for comfort.

5 Keys to the Game

  1. Stop the Run: James Allen is an average back. The Steelers can't afford to make him look like an all-star.
  2. Pressure David Carr: The Steelers need to hit him early and often.
  3. Bettis Often, Bettis Early: Jerome is running better each week. This could be his breakout game.
  4. Red Zone: With Tommy Maddox back under center, the Steelers should score more in the red zone.
  5. Establish A Defensive Identity: The defense should see this as a golden opportunity to get their strut back together.

Outlook: I like the Steelers to win comfortably by 13. But it's still nice to have a Houston team back in the NFL.

Apple Six-Pack: Week 14

  1. Indianapolis at Tennessee: Game of the Week. Because it's the final quarter of the season, the Game of the Week is now officially picked weekly rather than sticking to my pre-season choices. This game qualifies because it should determine the winner of the AFC South.
  2. Atlanta at Tampa Bay: The winner of this game gets the leg up on the division title. Matchup of the week: Mr. Vick versus Mr. Brooks.
  3. Tennessee at NY Giants: Both teams suffered jarring losses at the wrong time. The Giants are now two games behind Philly and Tennessee fell a 1/2 game behind Indy. The winner stays on the track to the playoffs.
  4. Denver at NY Jets: Both teams are fighting for their playoff lives. The Broncos get Brian Griese and Shannon Sharpe back. The Jets get a chance to stay in the playoff hunt. A loss here to the Jets may break the Broncos' back.
  5. Oakland at San Diego: Okay, so here is the AFC West situation in the simplest terms possible. If the Chargers win out or go 3 – 1, they will win the division unless they lose is to the Raiders and the Raiders go 4 – 0. If the Raiders go 4 – 0, they will win the division. If the Broncos go 4 – 0 and the Raiders don't win out and the Chargers go 2 – 2 with both losses coming in their two remaining division matchups, then the Broncos win the division no matter. And ladies and gentlemen, that's just the beginning of the AFC West scenario.
  6. Buffalo at New England: I won't begin to attempt to explain the AFC East race. But it's easy to remember that the Patriots, having lost to the Chargers, Raiders, and Broncos, need to win out and hope that they can overtake the Dolphins for the division. That, my friends, may be the only way the Patriots make the playoffs.

Apple Playoff Watch

Becks (Just Plain In):

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

Yuengling (Could Be In):

AFC: NY Jets, New England, Denver, Cleveland
NFC: NY Giants

Coors Light (Probably Won't Be In):

NFC: Washington, St. Louis
AFC: Kansas City, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Baltimore

Natty Lite (Definitely Not In):

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

Thoughts Assisted by Yuengling:

  • Please bring back the old Patriot jerseys and helmets. How cool did they look on Thanksgiving?
  • Next week a whole bunch of teams will be knocked out of the playoff race, but look for the AFC West, AFC East, and NFC South races to go down to the very end. But if I had to bet, the AFC West race should be the most exciting.

--The Steel Apple

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