We here at 25twofour would like to congratulate the Pittsburg Steelers and the Green Bay Packers for their exceptional play this season. This play has given us sufficient excuses for neglecting our families, friends, girlfriends, jobs, and educations. On most Sundays and Mondays, some Saturdays and Thursdays, I sat on my couch and engaged in the business of being useless. This Sunday was no different, but to buck this trend of inadequacy, I decided to turn this weekend into a learning experience. The following are a few things I learned during the process.
Beyond the obvious, I noted some interesting developments from championship Sunday:
First, the Jets were about to knock off Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger, all on the road, to complete one of the most impressive drives to the Super Bowl in recent history. Everyone, Bart Scott included, proclaimed how the Patriots losing should not have been a surprise. Justifiably so, the Patriots had a questionable defense; while their offense was predicated on short chain-moving passes, that when clogged up, stalled their productivity. They had little by the way of a deep threat to stretch the field or a run game to balance their attack. So yea, maybe we should not have been so surprised that they beat the Patriots on the road. However, we also should have refrained from considering them the team of destiny and a sure bet to make the Super Bowl.
While the Jets offense was great against the pedestrian defenses of the Colts and Patriots, they were shut down in the first half against the Steelers. Moreover, while the Colts and Patriots were formidable offensive threats, they were by no means defensive juggernauts. Nor did either of those teams have tremendous running games which could have controlled the clock and monopolize the games. This game showed us that the Steelers had what the Patriots and Colts did not; they were a home team with a superior running game and great defense. This is not to say the Jets “aren’t that good” as this author once predicted. They impressed, surprised, and responded impressively. Regardless of his peculiar reads and throws (at times), Sanchez has to be respected for managing important games. He continues to make the one, two, or three big plays his team has needed. Although he fell short tonight, he seems to be improving every day, every game, and every season he laces them up.
The headline in the Pittsburg Post should read: Pittsburg Steelers, Business As Usual. Despite the prognostications of many, the NFL might still be a league where running the ball, playing great defense, and “clutch” QB play is all one needs to win a Super Bowl. While many argue the NFL has undergone a fundamental paradigm shift away from those attributes to a more passer friendly league (which by many accounts it has – 7 of the last 8 Super Bowl champions have had outstanding quarterback play), the Steelers have proven that the old formula still works. While I would have taken Aaron Rodgers over Ben Roethlisberger at the beginning of the season, I must admit during the playoffs Big Ben is the guy I want leading my team. Despite his arrogance, moral laps, alleged criminal behavior, mediocre career stats, and lack of fundamentals, he manages to get it done. Hats off to the Steelers’ great defense, running game, dedication, and heart.
Jay Cutler. JAYYY Cutler. Much props to SheilaKiJawani for texting me this quote early in the second half:
“Replacing Jay Cutler with Todd Collins is like replacing a broken DVD player with a broken VCR player.”
I had this weird sense of deja vu when Cutler was standing on the sidelines, watching his team struggle to move the ball. It felt like the Texas Longhorns and Colt McCocy in the National Championship game against Alabama a couple of years ago.
Look, I have little empirical evidence to substantiate this claim, but I couldn’t help but feel, as a fan of football, Cutler packed it in. If Chris Simms could finish a game with a ruptured spleen, Matthew Stafford could throw a pass with a separated shoulder, Ben Roethlisberger could play after his nose was shifted to behind his ear, and Phillip Rivers could play with a torn ACL, than Jay Cutler needs to give me more than that. I understand he could have some serious knee injury, which will make me look really dumb for advancing this critique, but he came out in the first drive and looked serviceable. Granted that in no way means he could have played at 100%, but the opportunity to play in a championship game is far and few between. Even if he was just 25%, he needed to go out there and work till he really could not do it.
Cutler at 25% is at least a decoy and a better option than Collins at 150% percent. The Packers knew Collins was not capable of making a throw and stacked the box. Thus, they blitz as though it was a new religion, or a trend about to go out of style. The two bright signs for the Bears: first, their defense did an exceptional job on the anointed one. Second, their third string was, for an afternoon, an upgraded portable DVD player.
What the hell is going on? I just made an argument about paradigms, tectonic plates shifting, running games winning, and here come the Packers to fudge it all up. Yes, Starks had seventy-seven yards on twenty-two carries, and a good outing against the Eagles. BUT, lets be real, the jury is still out on this sixth round pick from Buffalo. Our sample size is too small to tell if he will be great or even adequate. Fact of the matter is this team finished twenty-fourth in rushing yards this season. By all accounts, they rode the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the legs of their outstanding receivers. They do not have a “punch-you-in-the-mouth defense,” but they do have a defense -much like the Saints of last year- that glides to the ball and makes big plays. As the first NFC 6th seed to make it to the Super Bowl, they are exciting, explosive, and hungry. They have a game changer at QB, an inventive defensive coordinator, and big play players on both sides of the ball.
While we all will be inundated with nothing but Super Bowl articles, videos, analysis, and coverage for the next two weeks, let’s take a step back and appreciate what I believe is a battle between the old and the new. This year’s Super Bowl will have a number of story lines: from Big Ben’s misconduct off the field, to the Cal Product’s greatness on the field; from the best offense in the game to the best defense in the game; from Mike Tomlin’s effort to grab his second world title to Mike McCarthy’s quest for his first. The list goes on and on and on.
But in the midst of all the white noise and elegant music, look for this story: this Super Bowl represents a clash of football paradigms. The New Front versus the Old Guard. It represents the philosophy of hard nosed football predicated on a strong imposing defense and smash mouth running game on the one hand and a sophisticated offense that moves the ball through the air and makes big defensive plays on the other. While my mind may change fifteen times before Super Sunday, for now, I will take the latter while rooting for the former. It’s the Packers versus the Steelers. As Bart Scott so eloquently opined, “CANT WAIT!!!”