Big Ben’s Ticking Clock

After last week’s embarrassing blow-out loss to the New England Patriots, the  Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went on  93.7 The Fan, on Pittsburgh radio and sent a nervous tingle throughout Steeler Nation.  Big Ben went over the airwaves and stated the following:  “I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options, to consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season.”  

If there was a bigger “if” spoken in the history of Pittsburgh sports it was probably never spoken in my lifetime.  Big Ben will be 35 years old in March, and has 13 years under his belt as an NFL quarterback.  He’s taken a beating physically – some of it his fault, some of it not his fault – but nonetheless, his body is definitely going through aches and pains that most men his age would feel when they turned 60.

So, is Big Ben’s declaration of “maybe” retiring a thing to be taken seriously.  Yes, and no.

Ben has two more years on his contract and he isn’t walking away from any money. Period, point blank.  What Ben is doing here though are two things.  1. Sending a message to the Steelers brass and 2. Acting, as what the kids would call “butt-hurt.”

The message to the Steelers organization is that he has two more years left.  He’s given everything he can.  For all things considered, he helped lead this team to the AFC Championship when most didn’t see that coming.  The Steelers have, arguably, the best offensive weapons in the league at their respective positions – wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back LeVeon Bell.  To repeat the kind of success this offense had this season would mean to retain the services of Bell, find a tight end that doesn’t get hurt and a compliment at wideout to Brown who doesn’t get suspended.

This is Roethlisberger not saying that he’ll leave – but one day, he won’t be under center for this team anymore and who knows how long it’ll take them to replace a player of his caliber.

It would be considerate of Big Ben to not leave this kind of notion in the air for too long though – considering the team is in “post-post-season” mode, which means they are looking at contracts, upcoming free agents and an NFL Draft to mold their franchise for next season.

Remember a few paragraphs ago when I referred to Roethilsberger as “butt-hurt?”  Well, I meant it.  The Steelers just lost to the Patriots by a score of 36-17.  And although the final score is what you’ll read, visually that game looked like 56-10.  The proud Steelers organization and it’s high profiled offensive stars were thoroughly embarrassed on national television.  Talking to a quarterback about the upcoming season after getting waxed like that, is like asking a girl if she’ll take her boyfriend back, when they just broke up five minutes ago.   Neither one is thinking straight and both are going to answer the question over-emotionally, with very little common sense involved in the equation.

So in this instance, Roethlisberger is a 19 year old girl.  But he has good reason to be.  As hinted at earlier, the window of opportunity for this squad is one or two more years.  One if we’re being realistic.  It’s a clutch and suave move by Roethlisberger.  When things aren’t going the way you like it, make some threats, stomp your feet and hope daddy buys you a new car – or in this case, hope the Steelers give Ben the help he needs to make it to another Super Bowl.


twitter @GeeSteelio

How The Falcons Will Beat Green Bay

For the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers, this weekend’s game either sends them to the Super Bowl or sends them home.

Coach Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers have made it to the playoffs for the last eight seasons.  They have been a model of consistency in the NFL and for all their accomplishments and double win seasons (seven of the last eight) they’ve only netted one Super Bowl win.  Nobody is saying it’s “easy” to win the Super Bowl, but a team like the Packers has set a precedent for themselves that anything less – would be a disappointment.

On the Atlanta side of things, head coach Dan Quinn has a Super Bowl win as well, but as a defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks.  He, along with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have helped to coach up the leagues number one offensive, ringing in 33.8 points per game.  Quinn was on thin ice coming into the year, and as a defensive minded coach, fans of the dirty-birds expected something a little more south than the 25 points a game this defense gives up.  The defense has gotten noticeably better late in the year, but that includes games against Colin Kapernick and Jared Goff, so hold a torch for those numbers as much as you’d like. . .

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers brings along with him, his 40 touchdown passes on the year, but as earlier reported by Ed Werder “Jordy Nelson and Davonte Adams responsible for 26 of Aaron Rodgers 40 TD passes. Both uncertain for Sunday.”  This would be  huge blow to the Packers (Captain Obvious, reporting for duty!) but chances are, Rodgers will at least have one of the two.  Jordy is by far the better receiver who has the better chemistry with Rodgers though.   The truth is, the Packers offensive line has led the late season charge for the Packers, as Rodgers seems like he has all day to make passes lately – and even when he doesn’t – he’s in such a groove right now it doesn’t even matter. . .

Matt Ryan is having, without a doubt, the best season of his nine year career.  Posting career bests in touchdown passes, quarterback rating, completion percentage and total yardage.  The Falcons offense has been too much for anyone to handle as virtually every member of this offense is a threat to break open a big play or be a threat in the red zone (13 players in total have been on the receiving end of a Matt Ryan touchdown pass).

Both teams have been on a roll, but while the Packers are healing from the thrilling shoot-out-style victory they had last week in Dallas – the Falcons are sitting pretty after shutting down one of the most loud-mouthed teams in the NFL in the Seahawks.

The wise-guys at Vegas are treating this game like a Big12 Conference match-up and have set the over/under at 61 (ridiculous for an NFL game).

There is no doubting the firepower of both offenses, it’s all about which defense will make more stops. . .

As talented as Aaron Rodgers is, Matt Ryan is gifted in his own right and has more talent to work with.  The running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are true dual-threats from the half-back position, while Robinson, Sanu and Gabriel have done well for themselves being on the field with (and even at times without) the great Julio Jones at wide receiver.  Rodgers has a wide-receiver turned running back as his best player in the back field, and last week he relied on an undrafted wide-out named Geronimo Allison and Jared Cook, a veteran tight end who was released by. . . the Rams. . .yuck.

With Rodgers simply having to do everything, it will be too much to handle.  This Atlanta offense – will not – and I repeat – will not stumble against a defense like Green Bay’s that allows 4 yards a rush and allows opposing QB’s to throw at a 65% completion rate.  Not saying the Falcons defensive stats are much better – – they are just all around, a more talented team.  And that’s what it’s all about at this time in the season: the better team, not the better player. . .

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Who Should be MVP?

When discussing this year’s NFL  MVP Race,  a few names come to mind.  The Dallas Cowboys throw two names into the mix, the Patriots have their usual candidate, as do the Packers – while the Raiders and Falcons – get involved in the conversation this year as well.

First, let’s trim out who won’t get the award.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and . . . Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot.  This isn’t a bias thing either.  I actually have nothing against the Cowboys, or their fans – I think both get a bad rap to be honest. . . either way, these two – won’t be in consideration and here’s why.  Dak Prescott, stepped into some big shoes to fill this season and handled all of the pressure of being the Cowboys starting quarterback with the poise and consistency teams want in their franchise QB.  He threw for 23 touchdowns and ran for 6, had a completion percentage of 67.8% and threw for over 3600 yards.  Impressive – for a rookie.  Those numbers are great, and by comparison his stats looked a whole-lot-better than reigning MVP Cam Newton’s.  The issue with Dak is those are good QB numbers, but not MVP caliber quarterback numbers AND. . . the powers that be won’t give this award to a rookie. . . Zeke Elliot, was one of the most exciting players to watch this season, and his success running the ball could very well have been the main reason for Dak’s success this year. . .Elliot finished as the league’s top rusher with 1631 yards, 15 touchdowns and at an average of 5.1 yards a carry.  He made the NFL’s All-Pro First team as a rookie and showed not only his ability to run, but to catch and block at the position.  The issue here is that Demarco Murray played behind this same offensive line in 2014, ran for about 200 more yards than Elliot and did not win the award AND. . .the powers that be won’t give this award to a rookie. . .

Now, let’s look at who shouldn’t get the award.

Let me preface this by saying: “I love Tom Brady.”  There is not a thing to like about this man as a football player.  The professionalism, the consistency, the mastery within his system and that super-hero like chin – it’s all there.  The issue here is, as dominant as Brady was this season, and as much as one must love his “revenge tour” this year – he missed 25% of the season due to a suspension.  Yes, the suspension was petty and pathetic, but that’s not the issue here.  When looking at the numbers, he actually had a better season than the previously mentioned Dak Prescott (who started every game for the Cowboys this season).  Brady is a marvel to watch, a future Hall of Famer – and if he played a full 16 games this year, it wouldn’t even be close. . . Someone else who didn’t play a full 16 games, albeit in the most “unfortunate of fashions” is the Raiders’ QB, Derek Carr.  Although impressive at 63% completion percentage, it falls short of Brady and Dak – and he finished with 28 touchdowns to his six interception.  He was surely on his way to throwing for over 4000 yards, but his season was cut short due to a leg injury received in his week 15 contest against the Colts.  The Raiders, without Carr, ultimately dropped from a bye-week to a wild card in the playoffs and got booted out in the wild-card round by the Houston Texans.  Sure, his value was evident, as his absence made his team subsequently collapse but an MVP should be able to finish out the season – not be on the sidelines when the team desperately needs him.  It’s a tough break, but this is real life. . . This brings me to Aaron Rodgers.  My bias is a bit full blown here (BearDown for life) but Rodgers threw for over 4400 yards and a league leading 40 touchdown passes.  His heroics have been drooled over and over by commentators every week and his smug smile on this eight-game winning streak is the prominent image the NFL has going for itself right now.  Let’s not forget though this is a team we wrote off somewhere in that four game losing streak, where Rodgers looked either “off” or generally “uninterested.”   Folks love to live in the present, but this is an award based an a whole season – not the last few weeks.  When it’s all said and done, it will come down to the numbers and because of that –

. ..  The winner is. . .

Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.  Yes, Rodgers has two more touchdown passes than Ryan, but where else does Rodgers edge out Ryan?  Not in yards per game, yards per attempt, not in completion percentage, rating or even yards (where Rodgers falls short by about 500 yards although he attempted almost 80 more passes than Ryan).  “Matty Ice” has been the leader of the NFL’s strongest offense this season and has earned the respect to be in that group of “next level” quarterbacks in the league (I refuse to use the word “eli—” ah, you almost got me!).   In his ninth NFL season, Ryan has put together his best season to date.  At 31 years old, he could be at his “veteran savvy” stage, which means we should expect this level of consistency for years to come.  There is no doubt, Matt Ryan should win the MVP this year, and maybe another in the future.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

How the Falcons Will Beat Seattle

The table has been set for the Divisional Playoffs.  For the Atlanta Falcons, fresh off of their bye-week, are to play host to the Seattle Seahawks.  The Seahawks’ wildcard win over the Detroit Lions, was less like a play-off game and more like a scrimmage.  Seattle had the privilege of playing against a quarterback like Matt Stafford, a running back like Zach Zenner and a wide-out like Golden Tate.   Now, one isn’t going to bash the three mentioned as they are all NFL talents, worthy of sporting a jersey on game-day but – they are not on the level of what Atlanta offers at those positions. 

The running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman provide the most complete one-two punch an NFL backfield has to offer.  With Freeman averaging 4.8 yards a carry and Coleman averaging 4.4 – the drop off, is not noticeable and neither does it change the offensive strategy of the  Falcons.  Going against a Seattle defense that allows 3.5 yards a carry, the Falcons know they have to do more than just run up the gut against Seattle.  What is odd about Seattle’s rush defense though is that they’ve allowed 16 rushing touchdowns, which puts them in the bottom third of the NFL in that category (Freeman and Coleman have combined for 19).

The pass defense of the Seattle Seahawks looks impressive from a numbers standpoint: allowing on 223 passing yards a game, hold opposing qb’s to a quarterback rating of 84.5 and have only allowed 15 passing touchdowns against them.  Let’s look deeper into that though. . . For such a “storied” secondary – they’ve only nabbed 11 interceptions on the year.  Looking at their schedule they’ve only played four, of what you would call “top tier” quarterbacks this season in Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan – losing against the first two names and winning against the latter two.

The win against New England still saw Brady with a 71% completion percentage and over 300 yards passing and the win against Atlanta came after Seattle was on a bye-week.  Atlanta meanwhile was on their second away game, the previous one being a grueling win at Denver (a better defense than Seattle).  Even with that, Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes in the third quarter (including a 30 and a 40 yard touchdown pass) but they ultimately ended up losing by two points.

Matt Ryan is en-route to being the NFL’s MVP and deservedly so.  He has posted career highs in touchdown passes (38), QB rating (117.1), completion percentage (69.9%) and yards per attempt (9.3).   Ryan finally has a supporting cast of players who have names that don’t have either “Julio” or “Jones” on their driver’s licenses.  And although Julio has had a remarkable season (over 1400 yards and 83 receptions), Matt Ryan has been putting all his guys to use.  Of Matt Ryan’s 38 touchdown passes only 6 have seen Jones on the receiving end of them.  Ryan has been able to dissect whatever his opposition throws at him in order to find the best window of opportunity.   This becomes easier for Matt Ryan against the Seahawks this time around, because of the injury to All-Pro safety Earl Thomas will be watching the game from the sidelines.

Defensively, fans of the Falcons won’t brag about it, but the bottom line is this:  the defense allows 25 points a game and they offense puts up 33 points a game – do the math.  Especially considering the Seahawks only put up 22 points a game – this plays right into the hands of Atlanta.  Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and 2014, which includes a Super Bowl win ( Super Bowl XLVIII).  If there is anyone who knows how to work the below average offensive line of the Seahawks and make Russell Wilson uncomfortable, it would be him.  Also, keep in mind, the defense has some of the main cogs that he coached, and he’s going to use that knowledge to his advantage as well.  The Falcons defense was horrific when he got there and now they are average at best, but have some nice pieces in it like Keanu Neal and Vic Beasley Jr.

At the early going Vegas has this game at a four point spread with the Seahawks being the underdog.  No doubt when this game inches closer to kick-off the spread will become shorter because the public will still see the Seahawks as they shouldn’t and still see the Falcons as the “soft” team they’ve been in playoffs before.

Times have changed.

Falcons win 29-19.

G.W. Gras


Alabama and Clemson, Part Two

The Alabama Crimson Tide enter this championship game as a seven-point favorite over the Clemson Tigers.  It’s a rematch of last year’s National Championship game, which saw the Crimson Tide beat the Tigers 45-40.  Tigers’ quarterback Deshaun Watson had an amazing game against the Crimson Tide’s defense throwing for 405 yards and 4 touchdown passes.  His ability to weave and dodge pass rushers while keeping his eyes down the field became a hindrance to the Bama defense and Saban even admitted later that Watson gave them all they could handle.

Nick Saban’s focus will be on how to NOT get played by Watson for the second year in a row.

Speaking of Nick Saban, he pulled a pretty petty and surprising move before the championship game by “letting go” of his offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.  Kiffin had accepted the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic and Saban believed that it was best for Kiffin and Alabama to split.  Kiffin has been nothing short of amazing as Bama’s offensive coordinator and for the first time in a long time, maybe it’s time for the general public to question the ego, and pettiness within that ego of Nick Saban.   Keep in mind, Alabama has had a true freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts, who although has been commended for his extreme maturity to go along with his talent – has been comfortable in Kiffin’s offensive scheme.  Saban should be smart-enough to tell new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian “stick to the script,” in order to keep the familiarity within this offense.

Clemson’s defense has been good  this year allowing only 18.4 points per game.  They have held opponents to a 52% completion percentage and have nabbed 20 interceptions throughout the season. Their rushing defense has been equally as impressive allowing only 3.5 yards a carry.  That number will be challenged by an Alabama offense that charges ahead at 5.7 yards a carry which gives Bama the advantage in what I call a “clash average” of 4.6 yards a carry.

Alabama has had the best defense all year in college football allowing under 12 points a game and holding the opposition to two-yards a carry.  Clemson’s offense averages 40 yards a game (as does Alabama) but it’s the battle up-front where Clemson hasn’t seen power like this all year.

As the story was last year, Clemson will rely on Watson to keep the Tigers marching up and down the field for four quarters of football.  Saban-coached-defenses have issues with mobile quarterbacks as Watson proved last year, and as Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel proved in years prior.  This Crimson Tide defensive unit has NFL talent all around(about five or these kids are projected to go in the first two rounds of the NFL draft) and they also have proved to keep their emotions in check, never getting too high and never getting down on themselves.

Although this Bama defensive unit is stout, Clemson has on offense two players who are slated as the best in their respective positions come the NFL draft.  Aside from Deshaun Watson being the number one quarterback prospect by some “experts” — Mike Williams, is without a doubt the number one receiving talent in college today.   Williams brings to this championship game his 84 receptions, 10 touchdowns and 1171 yards on the season.

For Nick Saban, this is one of his best teams he’s coached at Alabama (that is saying A LOT).  On the other side of the ball is a coach in Dabo Swinney who has built up the Clemson program as one of the strongest in the nation.  Dabo has built a culture there and has been recruiting out of his mind, producing NFL talent on both sides of the ball.  The one thing that eludes him is a National Championship.  This time around, he gets a rematch against arguably the greatest coach of all-time in Saban.  For Saban, this is an opportunity to repeat as champion and further solidify his legendary status.

The motivation for both teams will be high, as it should be.

The over/under for this game is 51.  Take the over.  The 7 point spread favors the underdog, but Bama is just too strong and can wear out any team in college football, even one as talented as Clemson.


G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio