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Steelers-Bills pregame stretch...

November 27, 2010 - Ray Eckenrode

At a glance

Broadcasters: Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcotts

Annoyance factor: After more than 15 years of work, Wilcotts has become passable as an analyst, but he’s still prone to go Edmund Nelson on occasion. We’ll also have to deal with a “Wisdom of Solomon” segment where he tells us something we already know.

Refereee: John Parry

Competence rating: Parry, in his third year as a white hat, is gaining support as the best referee in the NFL, which, at this point in time, is not saying much. Parry’s father, David, is the director of refereeing for the Big Ten Conference, which again, is not saying much.

The line: Started at Buffalo +6 and has expanded to +7, indicating early money on the Steelers.

Smarts say: You can check out the picks in the Las Vegas Hilton Supercontest here:

Top topic: Goodell’s flawed plan getting worse by the week

Chris Collinsworth has worked hard to make himself a better NFL analyst over the past 20 years (Steelers fans remember how bad he was just starting out on the NBC Z team in the early 90’s when Pittsburgh was a middle-of-the-pack team and we had Collinsworth or Bob Trumpy every freakin’ week) and we respect him for that. But his comment Sunday night during the Eagles-Giants game that people who are criticizing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s violent hits, ahem, initiative “just need to stop” is so wrong-headed we don’t know where to start.

So we’ll start here: EVERYONE wants to see fewer helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL, but the current “campaign” against them, initiated between Week 6 and Week 7 by Goodell and his his Laurel and Hardy henchmen, Ray Anderson and Merton Hanks, isn’t the answer. In fact, it’s already a disaster. Here’s why:

> It’s disingenuous. The NFL mostly glorified violent hits for decades then suddenly reverses course because of a media outcry based on plays from a single weekend.

The league’s contention that that it is only concerned about player safety is laughable, considering the hundreds of workers comp cases involving retired players it is contesting.

Also, the league continues to ignore what’s really behind the violent hits, four decades of drug abuse that have created bigger, stronger, faster, more violent football players. Violent hits are a symptom of the disease of PED abuse. To try to reduce violent hits without addressing PED abuse is fruitless and, since everyone in the league is aware of this but no one ever talks about it, it amounts to pure grandstanding.

(Note: We’d be willing to bet if someone studied the number of helmet-to-helmet hits during the 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010 seasons they would be nearly identical. Despite what the oldtimers say (“Back then, people knew how to tackle”), we don’t think there are more helmet hits now. They’re just more violent because the players involved are bigger and faster (Force = Mass x Velocity).

> It’s short-sighted. You cannot change the rules, er, points of emphasis, in the middle of a season. That’s a recipe for confusion and disaster (see Raiders vs. Steelers). You especially can’t change the rules, um, points of emphasis, then go back and fine players retroactively for things they did before you created the new rules, eh, points of emphasis, as the league did in Week 6.

You can argue semantics all you want. The bottom line is this: Plays are being called penalties now that were not being called penalties for the first five games of this season and for the previous five seasons. Like most humans, athletes and referees are creatures of habit and making such a dramatic change in their habits and reflexes is unfair to both of them.

> It’s being administered incompetently. Let’s start with the ridiculous assertion after Week 7 by Anderson that he noticed players, specifically James Harrison, “pulling up” on plays and he applauded them for it. Think about that: An NFL official publicly applauding players for something every coach in the league would berate them for. Absurd.

And don’t even get us started on Hanks, the NFL’s finemaster, who’s been so inconsistent in doling out punishment that it’s rendered it useless as a deterrent. The capper came this week when Hanks decided to apply the league’s “fighting” guidelines to Richard Seymour’s cowardly sucker punch of Ben Roethlisberger after a play. Seymour was “fighting” with Chris Kemoeatu. What he did to Roethlisberger bordered on assault, even if most of the nation’s fans were rejoicing it as some kind of cosmic retribution for Roethlisberger’s alleged misdeeds. Hanks and Goodell set a very dangerous precedent. The cost to go after a star quarterback after the whistle is very, very affordable.

The bottom line is this: This initiative was an over-reaction to the 21st century media climate where every controversy is blown up as the biggest controversy in the history of the world and then forgotten three days later. Because it was implemented in a few days’ time, it was not well thought out, and now it’s confused players, coaches, referees and fans and changed the game dramatically (you can add 12 teams scoring 30 or more points last Sunday to the already impressive list of offensive achievements since Week 7).

Playoff picture

It’s never too early to start speculating:

> It’s starting to look like a 10-6 wild card team will be left out of the AFC playoffs while the winner of the AFC West will be in at 9-7.

> The battle for that final wild card spot looks like it will be between the loser of the Jets-Pats game, the loser of the Steelers-Ravens game and potentially Indianapolis if they lose to the Chargers this week.

> The current Super Bowl line is NFC +3 (up from a +1.5 open), which seems like a pretty good bet to us right now.

The pick

This is a trap game. You’ve probably heard that a dozen times this week. Part of the definition of a trap game is that, even though you see it coming (as Mike Tomlin and the Steelers claim they do), you can’t do much to stop it. There is one way, and only one way, to avoid a trap game: Execution, not preparation, not emotion, execution. No fumbles, no blown coverages, no throws into coverage, no missed tackles, all of that for 60 minutes. Execution allows talent to prevail. The Steelers offensive gameplan will not change. Try to get Ben Roethlisberger in rhythm, get Rashard Mendenhall 20 touches, take a few shots downfield, control the clock, touchdowns instead of field goals. On defense is where it gets interesting. As we mentioned last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick can do a serviceable Tom Brady impression if you allow him. The Steelers can’t allow that. They need at least five sacks today and they must cover the checkdown routes much, much better than they did against the Patriots (where they were severely hindered in the second half by the loss of Lawrence Timmons). Here’s an indication of how bad the Bills’ offensive line is: Kraig Urbik, who could not even get onto the active roster for much of the past two seasons as part of the Steelers’ shaky line, will start at guard for Buffalo. Pittsburgh must exploit that and keep Fitzpatrick from finding his groove. If they do this could get ugly. If they don’t, this could get ugly. Either way, ugly … Steelers (-7) 34, Bills 17.

Prediction record

Last week: Steelers win, Raiders (+7) cover; CORRECT, INCORRECT

Season straight up: 4-6, .400

Season vs. spread: 2-8, .200

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