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Steelers-Ravens pregame stretch...

December 3, 2010 - Ray Eckenrode

At a glance

Broadcasters: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Andrea Kremer

Annoyance factor: After last week’s Harlan-Wilcots debacco, this can only be an improvement. The biggest problem with these spotlight games now (aside from Joe Theismann trying to talk over everyone on the NFL Network games) is the painfully uninformative sideline reporting. Seriously, when was the last time a sideline reporter’s interview provided you with one bit of useful information? The teams won’t provide accurate injury information, the coaches don’t want to talk anyway and the reporter just ends up standing around looking nervous.

Refereee: Terry McAulay

Competence rating: McAulay lives near Baltimore (just sayin’) and is usually not one of our favorites, but after last week’s John Parry debacco, this can only be an improvement.

The line: Opened with the Ravens as the classic 3-point home favorite and has held steady there all week.

Smarts say: You can check out the picks of the smarts (Vegas insiders) in the Las Vegas Hilton Supercontest. Picks are usually post here at some point Saturday afternoon:

Top topic: The hits keep coming

One of the many problems with Roger Goodell’s disastrous violent hits policy is that there’s no common understanding of the terms used to describe and penalize these plays. Had the initiative been better planned, this would undoubtedly have been one of the key first steps.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the use of the term “crown of the helmet.” A quick stroll around last weekend shows a wide range of journalists and commentators, from small-town scribes to ESPN analysts, misusing the term.

Webster says the crown of the helmet is the top of the helmet. Therefore, in order to hit someone with the crown of your helmet you’d have to have your head down. Hitting someone with your head down is the definition of spearing. Spearing is hitting a player with the crown of your helmet. All makes perfect sense, right?

However, many people seem to misinterpret “crown of the helmet” to mean the area directly above the facemask on the front of the helmet, which creates tons of confusion and brings us to…

Another problem with the violent hits initiative that is becoming more evident each week is the fact that two human beings can look at the same play and see two different things.

Of course, this doesn’t apply just to violent hits. How many times have we seen instant replay challenges where one group of people perceive one thing and the referee making the ruling perceives something else? Our initial reaction in these situations is to scream, “That guys is blind,” but in reality he’s just seeing something different.

And when you put these plays under a microscope and bring tens of thousands of dollars in fine money into play it really points out the fact that human perception varies from person to person. Think we’re nuts? Here’s an example:

In penalizing James Harrison for his hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick last Sunday, Referee John Parry said Harrison was “leading with the crown of his helmet.” We assume an NFL referee knows what the crown of the helmet is so we assume Parry thinks he saw Harrison leading with it.

But this blogger (very Les Nessman-esque, eh?), who admittedly views the world through black and gold glasses, didn’t see it that way. Here’s how we described the hit early Sunday evening: “Harrison hit Ryan Fitzpatrick chest-high with his shoulder, forearm and helmet.”

A few days later, columnist John Mehno, one of the smartest guys on the Pittsburgh sports beat, said he didn’t see how anyone could argue Harrison’s fine because “he led with the crown of his helmet.” That’s one guy with a white hat and one pretty smart journalist who saw Harrison leading with the crown. Case closed? Not so fast…

The same day, the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, one of the best NFL beat writers in the country, said “replays clearly showed the crown of his (Harrison’s) helmet never touched Fitzpatrick.” Aha! Another dissenter…

But wait, Bouchette’s colleague, columnist Bob Smizik, described the hit this way on the very same day: “As the crown of Harrison’s helmet crashed into Fitzpatrick’s upper chest and neck area.”

Finally, the voice of the league weighed in, saying in Harrison’s fine explanation that “specifically he made helmet contact to the chest of the Buffalo quarterback, who was in a defenseless position at the time the contact was made.” Note there’s no mention of the crown…

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s six views of one event and each view is slightly different. We’re not saying any of them are right or wrong, we’re just saying this illustrates a massive problem with the violent hits initiative that should have been considered before it went into effect.

Playoff picture

It’s never too early to start speculating:

+ Last week, we speculated at least one 10-6 AFC team would miss the playoffs. Well, this week we’ve seen several AFC projections that have an 11-5 team missing out.

+ A lot of those same projections have the Chiefs going 4-1 in their remaining games. We’d take a little bit of that action. For amusement only, of course.

+ Also, several projections have the Steelers missing out after being upset by Cleveland in Week 17. As you know, that’s our worst nightmare here at the “15 Minutes” blog.

The pick

Before we pick a winner here, let’s start with a list of why anyone would be insane to pick Pittsburgh in this game:

+ Although 7-7 lifetime at Baltimore, Pittsburgh is 1-5 at M&T Bank Field since Ben Roethlisberger took over as the Steelers starting QB.

+ Chris Kemoeatu couldn't block Kyle Williams last week. How's he going to block Haloti Ngata this week?

+ Ray Rice is a lot healthier than the first time these two teams met and the Steelers defense is a lot unhealthier.

+ Roethlisberger's mobility has to be limited by his his broken foot and the protective shoe he'll wear, and, as we all know, #7 is a good stationary quarterback and a great mobile one.

+ Both Peter King and Mike Greenberg have picked the Steelers to win, a fate known as the double whammy of death.

But to be fair we thought we’d put ourselves on the other side of the fence and try to come up with five reasons to pick the Steelers in this game:

+ Even a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger should more than account for the three-point difference in the two team’s first meeting.

+ Joe Flacco has had some serious lapses in pocket awareness this year and that’s the kind of thing the Steelers defense feeds on.

+ Although Ed Reed might be steadier, Troy Polamalu’s high points are higher and he’s been playing at a high level for the past two weeks.

+ The Steelers have been unified by their perception they’re being singled out by the NFL in relation to Roger Goodell’s violent hits policy.

+ Although Michael Oher and Le’Ron McClain both claim they’re ready to go Sunday, it’s highly unlikely they can perform at peak levels with leg injuries.

Well, after reading over both sides, we’re going to predict the team with the fewest turnovers will win … Steelers (+3) 22, Ravens 21.

Prediction record

Last week: Steelers (-6.5) win and cover; CORRECT, INCORRECT

Season straight up: 5-6, .454

Season vs. spread: 2-9, .222

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