February 04, 2006

Frinklin Super Bowl Preview

Man, this is hard. My team is in in the Super Bowl. The team I grew up with. When I was a kid I had a Dave Krieg jersey (you KNOW I was that cool) that wore so much I had holes in it. Since before this year, I’ve always had to pick a team to root for. I went with Green Bay and St. Louis and Cincinnnati and whomever. The past few years have been tough, as choosing between the Pats, Eagles, Panthers, Raiders and Bucs has been close to impossible. That does make it easier to prognosticate though. I knew the Pats would win the past couple years; I knew the Bucs would wax the Raiders. I did get the New England –St. Louis game wrong.

This year…oy. I’ve been following the nonsense from Detroit all week, and I actually care about it. I’m actually interested in what Terrell Davis has to say, or attempt to say. I pay attention when people realize that Walter Jones has the Biggest Head Known to Man. I’ve been following the utterly ridiculous Jerramy Stevens – Joey Porter brouhaha. First, it’s the most dispiritingly manufactured feud I’ve ever seen, but the more important is what Porter uses to rant. Wrestling and vampires? Interesting choices Joey.

Before the NFC Championship I told myself that that game was the one that mattered. That getting to the Super Bowl was the big deal and once there, well… let the chips fall.

That was wrong. This is it. This is for all the marbles. Win this and that unfunny asshat Rick Reilly never runs the Loser City column again. Win this and people in San Diego might actually recognize what a Seahawk baseball cap looks like. Win this and people in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh!) can’t rag on us any longer. Win this because Seattle has a real quarterback after years of Jon Kitna, John Friesz, Stan Gelbaugh and Rick Mirer. Seriously, this team started Stan Gelbaugh once upon a time. Win this for Jack Patera and Chuck Knox and Dave Krieg and Cortez Kennedy and anybody who wore that goofy bird on the side of their helmet.

So, exactly how does Seattle go about that? Like the Carolina game, they have to win the matchups.

QB Matt Hasselbeck versus “Blitzburgh”
After the Steeler defense ripped through Peyton Manning and Jake Plummer (Kitna don’t count) and the Seahawk offense struggled against the best 3-4 they faced this year, which was Dallas. They did torch the bad 3-4 teams (Houston and San Francisco) this year, but that doesn’t count either. Why is Hasselbeck going to be able to throw against these guys? Two reasons: He has a better line than Peyton (and he knows when to stop audiblizing and just play), and the Cowboys have much better corners (and are willing to play more man-to-man) than do the Steelers. Pittsburgh corners Ike Taylor and DeShae Townsend are a weakness.

OT Walter Jones versus OLB Joey Porter
The best tackle in football against the best pass-rushing linebacker in football. Should be fun to watch when it happens. The Steelers will move Porter all over the place, and try to stay out of this matchup as much as possible.

WR Bobby Engram and WR Joe Jurevicius versus S Troy Polamalu, S Chris Hope and OLB Clark Haggans
The Seahawks run the majority of their offense out of the three-wide set, and Steeler coordinator Dick LeBeau, despite having more depth than actual quality at corner, likes to stay with his base defense. If this continues, the Seahawks should have some mismatches with Engram and Jurevicius sharing slot duties against Hope, a hit-first-ask-questions-later safety and Haggans, Porter’s running mate at outside linebacker. Using a third, and possibly a fourth receiver could also force Polamalu into coverage and take away some of his blitzing and free-lanceing. The third-year safety is the best player in this game, and the Seahawks will try to keep him as busy as possible.

RB Shaun Alexander versus ILB James Farrior and ILB Larry Foote
Alexander will have a tough time. That much is a given. The Steelers defense is too stout against the run for Shaun to go off, plus the odds are that LeBeau will scheme to stop the run. The 3-4 is predicated on the defensive lineman taking on blockers and allowing the linebackers to make the majority of plays. Farrior and Foote are first and third on the team in tackles. If Alexander can get past them and into the secondary, it could be a long day for Pittsburgh.

WR Hines Ward, WR Antwaan Randle El and WR Cedrick Wilson versus CB Marcus Trufant, CB Andre Dyson and CB Kelly Herndon
The Seahawks secondary has played better than expected against Washington and Carolina, teams with superstar receivers and little else. Can they do it against a team with more? The Seahawks have been vunerable to the long pass all year, and even in the blowout win against Carolina the long ball was available for Jake Delhomme and Drew Carter. Trufant is the Seahawks best coverman while Dyson and Herndon have had erratic and injury-filled years. Randle El will be involved in a trick play or two.

DT Rocky Bernard and DT Chartric Darby versus C Jeff Hartings, G Kendall Simmons and G Alan Faneca
Bernard is the Seahawks best pass rusher, a quick and light tackle who can swing outside. He and Darby, along with backups Marcus Tubbs and Craig Terrill will have to disrupt the interior of the Steelers line. It won’t be easy. Faneca is an All-Pro and nearly the equal of Seahawk Steve Hutchinson. Hartings is a gritty and tough center.

TE Heath Miller versus S Michael Boulware and S Marquand Manuel
The Seahawks have been ripped apart by quality tight ends this season. The Cowboys Jason Witten, Giant Jeremy Shockey and the Titan’s Ben Troupe all went over 100 yards against a soft middle of the defense. Boulware is still transitioning from college linebacker. He’s much more comfortable against the run than the pass. Manuel is a backup forced to start due to Ken Hamlin’s injuries. He’s okay, but can be exposed. The Seahawks may have to drop MLB Lofa Tatupu to compensate.

RB Willie Parker and RB Jerome Bettis versus OLB D.D. Lewis, OLB LeRoy Hill and Tatupu
The Steelers have thrown a curveball this postseason. Pittsburgh is known primarily as a grind it out running team. That’s still true, but they have been unleashing Ben Roethlisberger early in games, using the pass to set up the run and then grinding down the clock. The Steelers would still prefer to run though, and the Seawhawks young linebackers have to stop the bullet-quick Parker and the lumbering Bettis. Bettis will be primarily a short-yardage back, and probably won’t touch the ball more than 10-15 times. Parker is what scares the Seahawks. Seattle’s linebackers, and the defense overall, is very quick but undersized.

Mike Holmgren versus Bill Cowher
Both head coaches have something to prove. Holmgren can become the first coach to win Super Bowls with two different teams and cement his place in the Hall of Fame. Cowher can get rid of his reputation as a mediocre big-game coach for good.

Like the Panther game, if the Seahawks win these matchups I think they win the game. Am I nervous? Of course, almost ridiculously so. Does it freak me out that the Steelers, from Roethlisberger’s play on Nick Harper and Champ Bailey’s blown interception for touchdown, seem like a team of destiny? Do I worry that the Seahawks seemed too laid back at media day? Yes and Yes.

But there is something about this team. I think it stems from Hasselbeck and his devil-may-care attitude. Or maybe it’s the quiet professionalism that vets like Jurevicius, Darby and Robbie Tobeck bring. Maybe it’s Holmgren and his insistence that the team stays in the moment and enjoy being in the Super Bowl. It might be that everybody and his brother is both predicting and pulling for Pittsburgh. It’s all these things. But most of all, I just believe in this team.

Sometimes that’s enough.

The Pick: Seattle 27, Pittsburgh 24

Posted by Frinklin at February 4, 2006 12:13 AM | TrackBack
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