Monday, October 28, 2013

Turning to the 2014 NFL Draft

Losing to Oakland, something that happens with increasing regularity when the Steelers travel west, is always painful but let's face it: This year's Steelers squad is not a Super Bowl contender (and never was), so the long-term health of the franchise would benefit from the highest possible pick next spring.

With that in mind we give you the first mock draft of the season, about four months ahead of schedule.  This particular effort, October 23, has Pittsburgh picking sixth and choosing offensive tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M.  Personally, we think it is time to think nose tackle, defensive end, strong safety but it isn't as if a strong OT wouldn't be helpful.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Steelers @ Oakland: The Weekly Matchups

Not to put too fine a point on this but my children have never seen the Steelers defeat Oakland in Oakland, and if the numbers are to be believed (and we all know that -- as Nick Bakay always says -- the numbers never lie!) this week's contest is a battle between two teams who have more in common than their 2-4 records.

Oakland Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: Oakland offense 25th (320.8) v. Steelers defense 6th (306.8 )

Average net rushing yards per game: Oakland offense 9th (129.2) v. Steelers defense 18th (109.3)

Average net passing yards per game: Oakland offense 32nd (191.7) v. Steelers defense 4th (197.5)

Average yards per pass attempt (excluding sacks): Oakland offense 11.8 v. Steelers defense 10.7

Average points per game: Oakland offense 28th (17.5) v. Steelers defense 12th (22.0)

Steelers Offense v. Oakland Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers offense 22nd (329.8) v. Oakland defense 12th (344.0)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers offense 27th (74.3) v. Oakland defense T9th (99.0)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers offense 12th (255.5) v. Oakland defense 16th (241.0)

Average yards per pass attempt (excluding sacks): Steelers offense 11.6 v. Oakland defense 10.9

Average points per game: Steelers offense: 27th (17.8) v. Oakland defense T21st (22.0)

Special Teams
Average yards per punt return: Oakland 13th (8.7) v. Steelers 30th (6.0)

Average yards allowed per punt return: Oakland 21st (8.4) v. Steelers 22nd (8.9)

Average yards per kick return: Oakland 20th (23.1) v. Steelers 31st (19.8)

Average yards allowed per kick return: Oakland 1st (19.0) v. Steelers 4th (20.3)

Net yardage punting average: Oakland 42.0 v. Steelers 37.2

Opponent net yardage punting average: Oakland 37.9 v. Steelers 40.2

Turnover differential: Oakland T15th (0) v. Steelers 29th (-10)

Time of possession: Oakland 12th (30:46) v. Steelers 18th (30:21)

Sacks: Oakland 16 v. Steelers 8

Sacks allowed: Oakland 27 v. Steelers 22

Penalties: Oakland 55 for 336 yards v. Steelers 33 for 284 yards

Some Individual Numbers
NFL passer rating: Terrelle Pryor, 18th (84.9) v. Ben Roethlisberger, 15th (90.8)

NFL Leading rushers: Terrelle Pryor, 25th (285 yards) v. Le'Veon Bell, 41st (448 yards)

NFL Leading receivers: Denarius Moore, 58th (44 targeted, 25 catches, 399 yards, 16.0 per catch, 4 touchdowns) v. Antonio Brown, 2nd (60 targeted, 47 catches, 548 yards, 11.7 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns)

NFL Sack Leaders: Lamarr Houston, 3.0 v. LaMarr Woodley, 5.0

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Friday, October 18, 2013

The NFL & Concussions: Adding Insult to Injury

According to a story in the New York Times former NFL players "found with a severe brain injury after they turned 45, or who played in the N.F.L. for five years or less, would probably receive smaller payouts" from the league's recent $765,000,000 settlement of a lawsuit brought by 4,500 retired players.

The problem of course is that encephalopathy is a gradual, neurodegenerative disease that, while there have been high profile cases of players exhibiting symptoms before age 45, may take years to manifest itself.

Further, the survivors of players who died before 2006 (e.g. Mike Webster, Terry Long and Andre Waters) would be ineligible to receive any payment.  What does that mean for those survivors?  According to the article, "the families of players who committed suicide [prior to 2006] and were found to have C.T.E. may receive up to $4 million."

Given the level of suffering that some players have suffered it seems small-minded, if not cruel, to exclude cases of football related encephalopathy, and the attended depressive issues, that have been confirmed by postmortem examinations simply because the victims died more than seven years ago.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The NFL's Concussion Problem: New Evidence

According to a Los Angeles Times article a newly published study of NFL alumni reveals that the
differences in brain function between the former NFL players and their healthy comparison group suggest that long before concussion-related dementia is evident, the brain begins to work differently to keep up. As crucial brain networks break down, those who have sustained cumulative injuries to their brain must exert extra mental energy just to deliver cognitive performance approaching normal.
The groundbreaking aspect of this particular study (available online) is that the former players were living at the time of their participation in the study and, rather than brain tissue being examined, the players and the participating control group underwent "fMRI-optimised neuropsychological test of executive function" that examined brain activity while each subject performed a series of tasks.

In recent years the NFL has seemingly played both sides of the concussion threat -- supporting scientific research and rule changes within the game while simultaneously claiming that the science was unclear and unsettled as to whether or not playing football leads to encephalopathy -- and we can only wonder how much longer league leadership will equivocate on this crucial issue.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Looking forward: A fearless prediction

Before the season began we were fairly confident that the Steelers would lose their first four games -- nothing in the preseason made us believe that the mediocre team from 2012 had done anything to improve -- and now that that has come to fruition we turn our attention to the remaining twelve games.  Where will the Steelers' record end up, and how will it get there?  To steal a line from Peter King, here's what we thing we know:

10/13 @ New York Jets -- If the Steelers don't win this game then everything else we say here is automatically null-and-void.  This will be Pittsburgh's only road victory this season.

11/10 vs. Buffalo -- The unsettled nature of the quarterback position for the Bills will work to the Steelers' advantage.

11/17 vs. Detroit -- This is very much a coin toss kind of game, but we are feeling generous.

12/08 vs. Miami -- Ike Taylor will abuse Mike Wallace.

12/29 vs. Cleveland -- The Steelers will end their sorry 2013 season with a win than means nothing except a lower draft pick.

10/20 vs. Baltimore -- The defending champs will not miss on an opportunity to kick their rivals while they're down.

10/27 @ Oakland -- Since the merger, including playoff games, the Steelers are 12-14 versus Oakland and have not won a game in Oakland since 1995.

11/03 @ New England -- The injury to Vince Wilfork is a big blow to New England's defensive unit, and the game might be a little closer because of it, but no win here.

11/24 @ Cleveland -- The resurgent Browns are this season's NFL version of the Pirates.  More to the point, the Browns are proving effective at running the football and the Steelers are having a problem stopping people from running.

11/28 @ Baltimore -- Four days to prepare?  Uh, okay.

12/15 vs. Bengals -- We would love to pick the Steelers here, and the Bengals could always implode before the end of the season, but we think that is mostly wishful thinking.

12/22 @ Green Bay -- This may be a blowout of epic proportions.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The NFL flexes its political muscles

According to a Los Angeles Times report the National Football League, in collaboration with other professional sports leagues, have successfully lobbied the California state legislature to pass legislation that "significantly limits workers' compensation claims by pro players."

California Governor Jerry Brown signed that legislation into law on October 8, and is retroactive to September 15, 2013 (meaning that claims filed after that date are now invalid).

As the article points out, "because the NFL does not offer lifetime healthcare to its players, those who cannot file workers' compensation claims despite having legitimate injuries may be forced to pay for their own medical costs."

Only time will tell if the professional sports leagues will engage in a state-by-state strategy to limit themselves to workers' compensation exposure, but it also seems that the NFL is determined to see that the recent $765,000,000 payout to former players is the last of its kind.

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"League of Denial"

We have been blogging about the issue of concussions and their long-term affects amongst players of the National Football League for some time now, and so it will come as no surprise to readers here that we were very interested in "League of Denial," the most recent episode of PBS' outstanding series Frontline.

But nothing could have prepared us of the riveting, wrenching, and heartbreaking description of Mike Webster's post-NFL life.  Moreover, the story focuses intensely and intimately on the Pittsburgh Steelers as a microcosm of what has happened to former NFL players as the result of their play and what today's players may face in the future.

If you love the Steelers, and by extension the NFL, make the time to watch "League of Denial" online.

We also have the book of the same title (referenced in the Frontline piece) and will be sharing our thoughts soon.

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