Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hines Ward: Hall of Fame worthy?

On January 21 WR Hines Ward was named one of four finalists for this year's Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which "recognizes community involvement and service, as well as on-field performance." As many Steelers' fans know, in 2006 Ward established a foundation that assists bi-racial children in South Korea (where racial discrimination is apparently endemic), and has earned considerable praise for his efforts.

The nomination inspired me to consider whether Ward is worthy of a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When one considers his statistics, blocking ability, Super Bowl (SB) performance, and his "likability," I believe there's a good chance Ward will one day be elected to the Hall. A comparison to Steelers' Hall of Fame receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth is illustrative:

To begin with, Ward already holds all of the franchise's receiving records (720 career catches for 8,741 yards and 65 TDs). Of course, Swann and Stallworth played in a different era in which the ball was thrown far less frequently. On the other hand, until the arrival of Tommy Maddox and then Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Ward had the misfortune of playing within run-oriented offenses led by subpar QB's like Kordell Stewart.

Meanwhile, Swann and Stallworth won four SB rings each compared to just one (thus far) for Ward, although Ward did capture a Super Bowl MVP award for SB XL, much like Swann did in SB X. To date Ward has been elected to four Pro Bowls (2002-05), while Swann and Stallworth earned three berths each.

However, it's Ward's well-deserved reputation for being a great blocker and his sunny disposition that may ultimately put him over the top. A few more solid seasons and another SB ring wouldn't hurt either.

Anyone care to weigh in with further thoughts on this topic?

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Cowher to replace Gibbs?

With Joe Gibbs resigning from his position as head coach of the Washington Redskins, Bill Cowher is certain to get a call from Redskins' owner Dan Snyder. Will Cowher come back to coach the Redskins? It seems a good bet, for at least two reasons. First, Washington isn't far from Cowher's Carolina home. Second, Snyder would probably be willing to pay Cowher the big money he is looking for. And it wouldn't be easy for Bill - or anyone, for that matter - to walk away from eight to ten million dollars a year.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Jaguars 31, Steelers 29

The two-point margin of defeat in last night's playoff game is significant. The Steelers should have kicked the extra point after scoring to close the gap to 28-23 (which would have narrowed the deficit to 28-24). Then, after scoring a touchdown to take the lead another successful extra point attempt would have made the score 31-28 in favor of the Steelers. With a three-point lead the Jaguars' last minute field would have merely forced overtime, instead of giving Jacksonville the lead.

"What are the Chances...?" finishes the 2007 season with a 13-4 record, and is now 26-7 all-time.

Jaguars: What are the Chances...?

This is The Steelyard's first opportunity to predict the outcome of a playoff game, having posted a 25-7 record over the past two seasons, even as the Steelers compiled an 18-14 record over that span.

The Steelers are a slight underdog against Jacksonville, and deservedly so. Jacksonville has a healthier, more physical, more complete team, and should win the game unless it loses the turnover battle.

For Pittsburgh, the outcome is likely to be determined by 1) whether or not its defense can stop the Jags' powerful running attack, and, 2) how well its special teams fare, especially in regards to the kick return game. As was the case in the December game, QB Ben Roethlisberger could exploit the Jags' secondary to a certain degree, but it would be a surprise if the Steelers score more than 24 points or so.

Bottom line? "What are the Chances...?" gives the Steelers a 40 percent chance of coming away with a victory.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Roethlisberger's underrated season

When Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger was named to the Pro Bowl earlier this season many sports media pundits questioned whether other AFC QB's like David Garrard (Jacksonville) or even Derek Anderson (Cleveland) would have been more deserving. Sorry folks, Roethlisberger is more deserving of a Pro Bowl berth than any other QB in the league, excepting Tom Brady, of course.

By way of comparison, Brady finished the regular season with 50 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions (117.2 passer rating). Roethlisberger threw 32 TD passes and only 11 interceptions (104.1 rating). Compare those numbers to those of Garrard (18 TD's, 3 INT's, 102.2 rating) and Anderson (29 TD's, 19 INT's, 82.5 rating). Then consider that Roethlisberger received some of the worst pass protection in the NFL. Big Ben was sacked a David Carr-like 47 times in only 404 pass attempts (one sack for every 8.6 attempts), while Garrard went down 21 times in 325 attempts (once every 15.4 attempts) and Anderson a mere 14 times in 527 attempts (once per 37.6 attempts).

It's also worth comparing Roethlisberger's numbers to other QB's who received inadequate protection. Only two other quarterbacks were sacked more than 37 times in 2007. Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia) was sacked 44 times in 473 attempts (once per 10.75 attempts) and posted an 89.9 passer rating, while Jon Kitna (Detroit) absorbed a league-high 51 sacks in 561 attempts (one sack per 11 attempts) and finished with an 80.9 rating.

Some might argue that Roethlisberger benefitted from a strong running game, as Pittsburgh's feature back, Willie Parker, gained more than 1,300 yards. Yet, Parker managed a relatively pedestrian 4.1 yards per carry (far below most of the league's other rushing leaders), and his impressive yardage total is mostly a function of his high number of carries. Meanwhile, Big Ben's receivers are hardly an impressive lot: Hines Ward may one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but at this point in his career, he's a move-the-chains type of possession receiver. And like Santonio Holmes (Pittsburgh's only legitimate down-the-field threat), Ward has not been able to stay healthy this year. Finally, tight end Heath Miller is a solid receiver, but rarely generates a big play.

The bottom line is that Roethlisberger has done more with less than any other QB in the league. If the Steelers somehow find a way to upgrade the talent around him, one can expect even better performances from Big Ben in coming seasons.

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