Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Okay. I can finally breathe now. But I still don't know what to think.

Yes, the game was extremely entertaining -- certainly one of the more entertaining Super Bowls we've seen. And it was a hell of a lot more climactic than the Steelers' Super Bowl XL victory, which was a relative shitfest of a game when compared to the preceding road playoff wins in Cincinnati, Indianapolis (still the greatest game I've ever seen) and Denver. What the Steelers did in Detroit back in February of 2006 was about as entertaining as what the Red Sox did to the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. The team peaked at the right time, but the post-season peaked early.

That wasn't the case this time. This year, the post-season was consistently good, and it saved the best game for last. But unlike the 2005 season, when there couldn't really be any reasonable debate over who was the best team -- given Pittsburgh's 15-1 record the previous year, followed by the face smashing it dealt to Peyton Manning in the playoffs -- this year's Super Bowl might raise more new and troubling questions about the quality of play in the NFL than we've ever had before. A few completely unsorted thoughts pertaining to that:

A) The officiating all this season was markedly worse than it had been in recent years, and that's saying something. Something must be done about this. I don't care if it means cloning enough Mike Careys to staff every crew for every game, or replacing Terry McAuley and Walt Coleman's entire crews with robots. They must find a way to fix this because it's hurting the game. Case in point:
  • Every left tackle in the league was given a dozen "Get out of holding free" cards, and 51% of them were either used by guys lined up against James Harrison or traded for $50 and free rent on Boardwalk to guys who lined up against James Harrison. I'm looking at you, Jared Gaither.
  • When did it become illegal for defensive backs to defend passes? The "ticky-tack pass interference flag" is becoming the new "technical foul every time Rasheed Wallace looks like he's getting ready to say something".
  • James Harrison drew three holding calls from Arizona LT Mike Gandy in SBXLIII. Did you ever think you'd see a game in which James Harrison would draw three holding calls? Did he draw three all year? Look at the littany of penalties you NEVER see called that were called in this game. We had encroachment. We had a chop block. We had multiple holding, facemask and false start calls, a phantom roughing-the-passer flag, a blatant roughing-the-holder call, 15 varieties of unnecessary roughness, and awful no-calls on an excessive celebration and an ineligible tackler downfield. Cap all that off with the non-review of Kurt Warner's "fumble" off of LaMarr Woodley's strip-sack and you're looking at one of the most shabbily officiated games we've seen this year.
  • In last weekend's Super Bowl, each team had more penalty yards than rushing yards. And it wasn't even close.
B) In January of 2008, KillYourFace5000 wrote a phenomenal piece in this space all about how awful the Steelers' offensive line is. That was at the conclusion of the previous year's campaign, in which the Steelers lost their first playoff game to Jacksonville. In the year since KYF5K panned this missive, there was almost complete turnover on the Steelers' offensive line. And for as bad as it was last year -- Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca, Sean Mahan, Kendall Simmons, Willie Colon -- it was actually worse this year.

Kendall Simmons went down early in the season with a critical case of the gout, or a torn shoulder fat or something. He was replaced by Darnell Stapleton, who did absolutely everything that Simmons did, but he was much cheaper and looked perpetually like a confused Whoopi Goldberg. Marvel Smith, who I'm not entirely convinced can walk under his own power for longer than a few minutes, spent more than half the season sitting out, waiting for UPMC scientists to develop and outfit him with a prosthetic back and bionic titantium legs. He was replaced by Max Starks, who actually did a pretty good job, and should be considered as a possible solution at the position next year. Willie Colon is still starting at right tackle, and still likes to try to jump off the line a few mintues early, just to get a good start on his holding penalties. When it comes to pass protection, Colon has matured to the point where he no longer bolts for his own end zone upon seeing a pass rusher. Now, his technique involves either falling down or trying to block Darnell Stapleton's man while Stapleton helps out center Justin Hartwig, who didn't need any help in the first place because he's pretty good at his job.

This is one of the worst all-around offensive lines in football. It can't runblock. Its passblocking is so piss poor that the guy they're trying to protect took a league-leading 46 sacks, and the 49 allowed by the line on the whole was the second-worst in all of football, right behind the winless Lions' total of 52. But Willie Colon is once again an NFL champion; a proud man at the apex of his profession. Darnell Stapleton is a winner. He may not be the best right guard in the business, but hot damn, he's a winner. Kendall Simmons is currently trying to help his body reconcile its fourth consecutive day of heavy partying with fluctuating insulin levels.

Simmons: Man, Ben's gonn be pissed.
Naw, man. I read the entire rule book back at Hofstra for football class, and I swear, there's a 15-yard penalty for "piling on." Two or three of these and we're in the red zone!
You mean if they call it.
/looks for flag
Oh, come on!
If he asks, just say it was Coach Z's idea.

We'll likely re-visit this one as the draft approaches.

C) About the parade: I didn't go. Anytime you cram more than the entire population of the city into the six-tenths of a square mile that make up the Golden Triangle, that's the kind of crowd I typically try to avoid. But I did watch Channel 11's coverage of said parade, and I have determined the following things:
  • William Gay sees no problem with being drunk by noon. He's clearly insane, and we must sign him long term.
  • The latter holds true for Ryan Clark, who spoke eloquently on the team's defensive philosophy: "All I can say about this team is that all we did was smash faces all year. As a family we went out and took everybody on and said, 'step up, we're gonna stand in the middle of the field and smash your face.'"

More on this later. I need a break.


FRANCOfranco said...

In your litany of zebra bashing, you forgot to mention that they didn't call Kurt Varner for taking his helmet off around the same time Woodley removed his. I believe the penalties nullified each other and our kneel down should have happened 15 yards closer to the endzone.

Point: Pittsburgh's, mofos!

Spinmove said...

Excellent point. I was trying to be as even-handed as possible, but when there are that many ass-backwards calls in a game, it's tough to keep track, though my notes do reflect that discrepancy. And I wasn't taking notes so much as I was drinking very heavily.

Amerigo Vespucci said...

I am still having difficulty with the fact that the Steelers were so flawed this year, but were still pretty obviously the best team all year. All of your criticisms of the Steelers were accurate, to say the least, and yet the Steelers offense was still one of the better ones in the AFC. In the wake of the Super Bowl, I tried thinking of teams that could have beat the Steelers without surprising me, and I came up with the Ravens and maybe the Eagles-in-the-playoffs. It's not that the Cowboys or Panthers or Giants could never have beaten the Steelers, it's just that they were pretty obviously inferior teams throughout the season. Realistically, by the end of the season, the Steelers - a terribly flawed team - were pretty convincingly the best.

So... Were there just no great teams this year? Have the Pats/Colts of the last few years skewed my expectations? Or am I crazy and everybody really thought a team led by Kerry Collins was the shit this year? Or is Bill Simmons right, and watching tons of football had a detrimental effect on my ability to speak about it intelligently?

dr.juice said...

The Kurt Warner fumble on LaMarr Woodley's sack was reviewed for an extended period of time in the booth. There was a penalty called on the play (Farrior taking off his helmet, I believe), and a change of possession, which gave the guys in the booth a minimum of minute to take a look at the play. Why they did not decide to have Terry McAulay also take a look at it when they referred the Santonio Holmes catch, which was obvious, for on-the-field review, is beyond me. But ALL plays inside two minutes get a review upstairs, and that particular one got a significantly better review than most because of the extended play stoppage. My personal take on the Woodley sack is that both Warner and Woodley had their hands on the ball, and Woodley called "first," giving his team possession.