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Wednesday Apple Pie

I was reading another of Sports Illustrated writer Peter King's fine <a href=http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/inside_game/peter_king/news/2002/12/16/mmqb/>Monday Morning Quarterback</a> columns Monday and I came across his "Factoid of the Week That May Only Interest Me" section:<p>

When Will Allen, the Giants' young cornerback, attended a function in New York City last week, he found himself face-to-face with Lynn Swann.

Allen had never heard of Swann. He asked if some tape of Swann was available so that he could watch when he went back to the Giants' facility the next day.

I really need time to fathom that one.

What? Mr. King, I need to fathom that one too. It makes you wonder about the state of society when a defensive back would not be familiar with one of the most famous Hall of Fame wide receivers ever to play the game. I think the most blatantly ignorant part of the whole situation was (to quote King) "Allen had NEVER HEARD of Swann."

It's a shame that they'll never face each other on the field because the first time Allen would get isolated one-on-one with Swann, he'd never forget the sight of Swann's backside streaking down the field for a touchdown.

What I also need to fathom (and in a hurry) is how the Pittsburgh defense has become another force to reckon with when it's been a liability (to put it mildly) up until a week ago.

Now, there seem to be two schools of thought as to how to explain this sudden turn-around. One is to cynically point out that the gaudy numbers were due to the Steeler defense playing against Houston's 32nd-ranked and Carolina's 30th ranked units. The other school of thought, which I espouse, is that the Pittsburgh D is, in fact, playing stellar football right now and that allowing only 171 yards of total offense in two games is indeed atypical; it just doesn't happen regardless of the opponents. Look at Carolina and Houston's offensive output for the season:

Houston Carolina
Week 1Dallas - 201 yards Baltimore - 265 yards
Week 2at San Diego - 118 yards Detroit - 385 yards
Week 3Indianapolis - 204 yards at Minnesota - 370 yards
Week 4at Philadelphia - 242 yards at Green Bay - 332 yards
Week 5Bye Arizona - 244 yards
Week 6Buffalo - 338 yards at Dallas - 308 yards
Week 7at Cleveland - 354 yards at Atlanta - 205 yards
Week 8at Jacksonville - 242 yards Tampa Bay - 130 yards
Week 9Cincinnati - 272 yards Bye
Week 10at Tennessee - 268 yards New Orleans - 391 yards
Week 11Jacksonville - 228 yards at Tampa Bay - 231 yards
Week 12NY Giants - 212 yards Atlanta - 121 yards
Week 13Indianapolis - 165 yards at Cleveland - 234 yards
Week 14at Pittsburgh - 47 yards Cincinnati - 340 yards
Week 15Baltimore - 277 yards at Pittsburgh - 131 yards

* Stats from ESPN.com and NFL.com

You can see the difference in yardage that the Steeler defense allowed compared to the other top defenses that have played either Houston or Carolina.

So, if the change in play cannot be attributed wholly to level of competition, then improvement must come from the unit itself, namely Kendrell Bell, Aaron Smith, and Jason Gildon. All three players have stepped their games up in various ways. Bell seems to have regained his explosive first step, which should signal that the injured ankle is no longer affecting his play. Smith is finally getting a consistent push towards the quarterback. And Gildon has upped his sack total and is finally taking advantage of the added focus on Joey Porter.

How about this last tidbit to fathom? Jerome Bettis is on pace for only his second sub-1000 yard season, yet he is on pace for his highest touchdown total as a Steeler. How does that happen? I'll tell you that he has been more effective inside the 20's than he was last year. So maybe the Big Ole' Bus isn't as run-down as many think. It's how the Steelers utilize his talents that may make all the difference.

Apple Six-Pack Review

  1. Miami 23 Oakland 17 – The Dolphins figured out how to beat the Raiders: Stop Rich Gannon. The problem with such a strategy is most teams don't have the secondary to stop Gannon and his release is so quick that sacks don't come often.
  2. Green Bay 20 San Francisco 14 – Once again Bret Favre reminds us why he could be the best quarterback of the past 15 years. The Niners again have trouble with the Packers. It might be a psychological thing. The Niners are firmly entrenched as the No. 4 seed in the NFC.
  3. Tennessee 24 New England 7 – The Patriots run defense looked awful again. I don't know how anyone cannot look at the Titans as a possible Super Bowl team. They have the heart, but they may not have the talent at wide receiver to get there.
  4. Indianapolis 28 Cleveland 23 – This will be the season of "what-if's" for the Browns. What if the helmet had never been tossed? What if Phil Dawson's field goal hadn't been blocked against Pittsburgh? What if they had held onto that 14-3 lead at home against Pittsburgh? What if they hadn't self-destructed against Carolina? What if they held onto their 16 – 0 lead at half-time against Indianapolis?
  5. Denver 31 Kansas City 24 – The Broncos added insult to injury by knocking Priest Holmes out of the game. The Chiefs turn into spoilers this week, while the Broncos, who need to win out and get help, end a 3-game losing streak.
  6. Chicago 20 NY Jets 13 – The Jets team seemed to have exhausted all of their energy in the fights during practice last week. I'll forever be amazed at the lack of spark some teams fighting for their playoff lives exhibit at the most inopportune times. You'd think the Jets, with all they fought through to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs, would have taken this game a little more seriously. By the time Chicago got their attention, Wayne Chrebet was leaping and fumbling the Jets' playoff chances down the drain.

Power Core Rankings Week 16

  1. Philadelphia This team may be destined to win it all with everything they've gone through. Sounds like Pittsburgh last year.
  2. Green Bay – Now they're rooting for Tampa Bay to be upset this week. It's all about that bye.
  3. Tampa Bay – Their last big test before the playoffs is this Monday night.
  4. Miami – Miami may have impressive wins on their resume - Oakland, Denver, New England, San Diego, but if they don't run well, they won't go anywhere.
  5. Oakland – Did you see Star Trek Nemesis? If Oakland is Chinzon, Denver is Picard.
  6. Tennessee – Pounded the Pats into submission by half time.
  7. San Francisco – The Niners won't go to the Super Bowl if they have to play the Packers in the playoffs.
  8. Indianapolis – Huge comeback win against Cleveland.
  9. New England – Wouldn't be in the playoffs if they started today.
  10. Pittsburgh – The Steelers offense doesn't look confident, but at least the defense didn't get that memo.
  11. New Orleans The Vikings just made the NFC wild card race interesting.
  12. San Diego – High-water game may have been against Denver. It's been rocky since then.

Missed Prime Opportunity (MPO) Score

Pittsburgh 2 Carolina 5

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: 7 – 6 – 1

Week 16 Mini - Preview: Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay

The Jaw vs. Chucky. This should make for some good prime-time football.

5 Keys to the Game

  1. Control the Line of Scrimmage: It's all about Gandy, Fanaca, and Simmons vs. Sapp and Rice. Look for the Steelers to keep Dan Kreider in the backfield at all times for extra support.
  2. Bettis Between the Twenties: The Bus needs to bang inside the 20's with efficiency.
  3. Use Amos Tiki-Style: Famous Amos is the best option for an escape outlet underneath.
  4. Thump The Chest: Two chest-thumping defenses attack each other. The game may come down to which one is more dominant.
  5. Check Off Lynch: If Maddox hangs too long on any one receiver, John Lynch will sniff it out. The third and fourth receivers should get plenty of opportunities to catch the ball.

Outlook: The Steelers should hang in for the first half, but Warren Sapp will eat Kendall Simmons alive. Tampa Bay by 10.

Apple Six-Pack: Week 16

  1. Cleveland at Baltimore: Game of the Week. It won't be pretty, but winner stays alive; loser goes home. What's not to love?
  2. Denver at Oakland: Must-win game for Denver, while Oakland will know by kickoff whether they've clinched their division.
  3. New York Jets at New England: Another must-win game for the visiting team. The Patriots can make the final week's game against Miami a game to remember if they take care of business against the Jets.
  4. NY Giants at Indianapolis: And another must-win game for a visiting team (see a trend here?). The Giants can stay in the race with a win and force the Falcons and Saints to win out.
  5. San Diego at Kansas City: This is a must-win game for the Chargers if they want to take the division. They must also hope that Denver upsets Oakland. That's too much hope for my taste.
  6. Tennessee at Jacksonville: Many eyes will be on this game because teams like Denver, New England, Indianapolis, and San Diego are hoping the Titans lose. I don't think Tennessee realized that they weren't invited to this playoff-roulette a few weeks ago.

Apple Playoff Watch

Becks (Just Plain In):

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

Yuengling (Could Be In):

AFC: New England, Cleveland, Baltimore
NFC: NY Giants

Coors Light (Probably Won't Be In):

AFC: Denver, NY Jets, Kansas City, Buffalo

Natty Lite (Definitely Not In):

AFC: Cincinnati, Houston, Jacksonville
NFC: Arizona, Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis, Seattle, Washington

--The Steel Apple

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