Archive for February, 2011

The Superb Owl (Allegedly)

Brett who?

Well wasn’t that good! For the fourth year in a row we were treated to a close, exciting Superbowl between two teams giving it their all.

The UKNFL team could have been found at the Superbash selling jerseys, discovering the free bar and asking NFL players about the future of their franchise but in reality all those japes were just a sideshow to a great game that ended an utterly mental, yet brilliant season of NFL.

There’s no need to go into great play-by-play detail, that will be done far better in numerous places but just leave you with a few, very tired thoughts.

Whilst Big Ben couldn’t quite finish it off with a late scoring drive, this has to go down as a great Superbowl, momentum repeatedly shifted from team to team, especially in the second half, and for once, the final blow was not Big Ben’s (allegedly) . After a start from the Packers that seemed to leave the Steelers stuttering over their lines like Gareth Gates on opening night (We really need more people with stammers, Gates is an easy, early 2000s examples that does not reflect the normal elegance of my prose), the injuries that have dominated the Packers season reappeared and gave the Steelers a sniff. It was at this point that a more inexperienced side than Pittsburgh may have crumbled, but Mike Tomlin’s men scored a crucial touchdown late in the first half and when they opened up the second half by cutting the deficit to 4 the momentum seemed to have swung away from Green Bay and an unlikely comeback suddenly seemed inevitable.

The spirit in the Packers team cannot be undermined though and the scenes of Clay Matthews being fired up by his linebackers coach may prove to be one of the defining images of Superbowl XLV (aside from the quasi-communist show (with added neon) at half time), and a talk that inspired Clay to hit Rashard Mendenhall forcing him to fumble, stopping a Steelers drive that looked destined to give them the lead and instead giving Aaron Rodgers the chance to lead his team downfield to put them 11 point up, a difference that, despite being cut to 3, ultimately proved decisive.

Before praising the virtues of Rodgers and the Packers, a quick word on the Steelers. They remain one of the most impressive franchises in the league. Big Ben has now reached 3 Superbowls, and despite a disappointing first half, the way he got his team back into shows how good a player he is. Mike Tomlin has continued the Steeler tradition of creating a team that is tough to beat and one with hearth to match their undoubted ability, and even managed to perform at half time. Whilst they fell short on the final drive (against the second best defense in the league don’t forget) they will once again start next season as contenders, presuming Big Ben is kept under house arrest in the off-season, allegedly.

As for the Packers, well all season I have struggled to spell Aaron Rodgers’ name, but I can now confirm it is spelt MVP. A superbly efficient performance from Rodgers who, despite a wobble in the 3rd quarter and a set of receivers with more balls dropping than an all boys high school, recorded over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, coming up with a number of big plays when it really mattered. For a player whose career started in the shadow of Brett Favre, this will looked back upon as the season where Aaron created his own, less perverted, shadow. The whole Packers team deserves credit, after a shaky start to the season and loss of key offensive playmakers Finley and Grant, they found form when it mattered most. And then just as they appeared to be on the cusp of the championship, the injuries struck again to key receiver Donald Driver, last season’s defensive MVP Charles Woodson, and seemingly every other member of their secondary. But they stuck to it, when the going got tough, they kicked Billy Ocean and Boyzone in the face and got going.

The Packers are one of the most impressive squads, teams, and franchises in the league, an entertaining team to watch with a number of likeable players and charismatic fans, few therefore (apart from Steeler fans, naturally) will begrudge them this victory, their first since 1996, and one that could lay the foundation for a dynasty over the coming years. For Mike McCarthy, a coach that does not get the plaudits he deserves, his achievement to create a team that could cope with all these injuries is remarkable, as was his ability to keep his team’s collective head together, when Big Ben appeared to be in control. The Packers, from a tiny city, punched above their weight impressively, the anti-Big Ben. (Allegedly)

So a great Superbowl, a great season, and not a bad first season for UKNFL. Thanks for all your support, we’ll be all over the draft, and who knows, hopefully we might have a next season! But for now, the last word goes to Commissioner Goodell, Vince Lombardi is coming home!

Jamie Cutteridge

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It all comes down to this….

This is what it’s about. The previous 20 weeks of football, the months of training, the years of hard work comes down to this Sunday night, one game, a ridiculous amount of viewers, a halftime show that no-one wants and only one winner. You’ve read our previews on the site, and this sunday is one of the toughest Superbowls to call for a long old time as two of the most famous franchises in the game, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers face off.

Both teams have the ability to rack up a load of points, and both can strangle the opposition to stop them scoring. Both quarterbacks can extend plays with their legs and both have defensive playmakers to turn an entire game on it’s head. You might give the Steelers the edge in the running game, but the Packers sets of recievers and explosivity on defense can balance the scales. The Steelers have experience, the Packers have the joy of youth. The Steelers have  very few friends outside their team and are full of characters that divide opinion, the Packers have a fresh-faced, all- American QB. For two teams to similar, they seem to be the complete opposite of each other.

The UKNFL team is split (as you may have heard on the podcast or picked up from the previews below). David is backing the Steelers, Andy the Packers. I am sitting on the fence. It will be close, very close, and actually, I don’t care. I don’t care about who wins because the Superbowl is all about the winning for those involved, but all about the event for those not. This sunday, I’ll be supporting the game, I’ll be enjoying myself, and shouting at the top of my voice for as many points as possible.

We’ve had an amazing season, in the league and for us at UKNFL so lets hope this season gets the Superbowl it deserves.

GO FOOTBALL!

Jamie Cutteridge

(Ok, Steelers by 3)

Superbowl Preview: The Pittsburgh Steelers.

How They Got Here

Out of the AFC, the Steelers aren’t often left out of most people’s picks at the start of the year, whether to win their division, the conference, or go all the way. This season, the off-season antics of ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger (shown above, and I think the picture says it all) meant they would be without their MVP quarterback for the first four games of the season, and many thought an 0-4 start was on the cards and little more was to follow.
Cue Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch papering over the cracks with a little help from an exceptional running game to start 3-1 and prove all the doubters wrong. Big Ben returned, and the Steelers never really looked back. Defeats followed to the Patriots, Jets, Saints in addition to Batch’s defeat to the Ravens in Week 4, but it could be argued that all four of their losses came to playoff-bound teams during a difficult season.
During the regular season, the Steelers beat the Ravens in a crucial game which essentially decided who would top the AFC North. In the playoffs, it looked like the Ravens would have their revenge, taking a 21-7 lead into half-time.  At the crucial time, however, the difference between a Superbowl-winning quarterback and a shaky one was exposed, as Flacco fell to pieces and the Steelers scored 24 points with little reply to win the game 31-24. In the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets, exactly the opposite applied. The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points to obliterate the Jets in the first half, before failing to score any at all in the second, leaving the Jets to get within inches of a remarkable comeback. The game ended 24-19, with the Steelers advancing to Texas Stadium for the season’s showpiece: Superbowl 45.
The Strengths
Firstly, the experience of the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot be underestimated. Big Ben is a young quarterback in relative terms, but already has two Superbowl rings. Many of this Steelers side return from the team that defeated the Arizona Cardinals two years ago, and some even return from the side that defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl XL. The Packers have little of this experience, with only Charles Woodson playing a big part in a previous season-ender, and on the big stage on Sunday night, this could very well played in the Steelers hands.
There’s no denying that an enormous strength for the Steelers is their…strength! From a quarterback who is one of the biggest and toughest in the league, to a frankly brutal defense, Pittsburgh will see themselves as one of the few teams who can match the Packers pound-for-pound if the game should turn into a dogfight.
The Weaknesses
An issue for the Steelers in any game, and Sunday is no different, is their possible indiscipline. Linebacker James Harrison, outstanding as he is, has been faced with more fines for illegal hits this season than anybody, and isn’t keeping quiet about his indignation at the issue. No matter what Harrison thinks of the rules, they will remain the same against the Packers, and if the Steelers pile up the penalties against a team like Green Bay, they will be punished.
Maurkice Pouncey’s absence from the Steelers offensive line could also present a problem to Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. Pouncey has a slight ankle sprain and is extremely doubtful to play on Sunday night, and any team leaving a Pro Bowl center out of their side may be prone to slip-ups in a high-pressure environment.
Key Players
You simply cannot look past the afore-mentioned Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Ben’s previous two Superbowls were poles apart in terms of performance, having an uncharacteristic yet successful day against the Seahawks in XL, and a game-winning 256 yard, 93.6 rated day against the Cardinals in the thriller that was Superbowl XLIII. This polarising quality that Roethlisberger displays both on and off the field has been particularly apparent in two particular microcosms against the Jets and the Ravens. Dreadful for one half, great for another, and if he were to put in a performance like the one against the Seahawks against Green Bay on Sunday, the Steelers could very well be in trouble. As the first four games of the season showed, they can survive without Ben, but having him at full-strength makes life a hell of a lot easier.
The figurehead of one of the league’s greatest defensive systems is flaxen-haired Troy Polamalu. With seven interceptions in an injury-blighted season, Polamalu is back, fit and ready to rumble. Superbowl XLIII saw one of the most memorable interceptions in Superbowl history, with the safety intercepting a Kurt Warner pass in his own end-zone, before running it back 97 yards to change the entire momentum of the game going into half-time. Aaron Rodgers began to look shaky after bursting out against the Bears two weeks ago, and if any passes go astray, Polamalu will certainly be around to scoop them up. He is a magnet for the ball, a big-game player and could negate the serious passing threat the Packers possess.
The Steelers Will Win If…
…they can find a way to make Rodgers wobble early on. Considering he’s a relatively young quarterback in his first Superbowl, an early pick or an early roughing-up could see the Steelers take control of the game. Similar mental fortitude will need to be displayed by Roethlisberger in keeping a lead should the Steelers go ahead. They almost let the Seahawks back in in 2006, and the Cardinals were inches away from a fantastic comeback in 2009. After the Jets made everyone in Steel-town nervous two weeks ago, gripping a lead by the scruff of the neck will be vital for Pittsburgh. Finally, variety is required. Whilst Starks and Kuhn have performed for the Packers on the ground in recent weeks, their game remains relatively one-dimensional. If the Steelers can mix it up between the pass and the rush, the Packers will work harder, and a tough Steelers will see the game out.
David Dickson.

The Superbowl Preview – Green Bay Packers

How They Got Here

The packers have had a pretty bumpy ride to the Superbowl, and for a while they were in danger of not even making the playoffs. After starting strong, with wins against Philadelphia & Buffalo, they went on a 4 game losing slide as they seemingly were getting to grips with an injury crisis that saw them lose starters Jermichael Finley (Tight End), Nick Barnett (Linebacker) & Ryan Grant (Running Back) among others.

After a week 6 loss to the Dolphins, the Packers won 7 of their next 10, including a 45-17 demolition of the New York giants (who were competing with Green Bay for the last Wild Card) which ultimately put them in the playoffs.

Going into the post season, the Packers dispatched the Eagles (it still hurts) with a late Tramon Williams pick to seal the game, and then faced the NFC’s best Atlanta Falcons, where Aaron Rogers played a game in what will go down in history as one of the best quarterback performances in the playoffs. Green Bay did not punt once, Rogers completed 31/36 of his passes and accounted for 4 touchdowns in a 48-21 rout.

The Packers completed their journey to the Superbowl with a 21-14 win over division rivals, the Chicago Bears, in a slow, defensive game. Once again though it was Rogers early precision (9/9 on the Packers first drive) that set Green Bay on route to victory, and put the Packers into the Superbowl for the first time since 1998.

The Strengths

The Packers key strength is their potent passing game. Aaron Rogers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league and at his disposal, even without Jermichael Finley, is perhaps the NFL’s best recieving corps. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson & James Jones the Packers can stretch the field as well as anyone.

Its difficult to pick out the specific strengths of the Packers defensive unit, as they are solid everywhere. To pinpoint one aspect, they have a very strong pass defense, ranking 5th in the league during the regular season. Charles Woodson is probably the best ‘do-it-all’ cornerback in the league and Nick Collins is coming off another good season.

The Weaknesses

Picking out weaknesses in a team that has made it to the Superbowl is tricky. The only 2 aspects that raise concerns for the Packers, and both have improved somewhat in the post season, are as follows:

The Run Defence – Green Bay ranked 18th in the regular season in rush defence, allowing an average of 114.9 yards per game. During the post season they’ve brought that down to 69.7 yards per game, but having seen what Rashard Mendenhall did to the Jets a couple of weeks ago, the Packers are going have to keep it very tight.

The Rushing Game – We know Green Bay are a pass first offence, and they do it well. Still, they ranked 24th in the league on rushing yards per game. They can lean on Aaron Rogers and his WR’s to put points up, but balance is key for any offence, and if they cannot get anywhere with their ground attack then it could cause problems for them.

That said, James Starks has come to the fore as the leading rusher in the post season, putting up 263 yards and 1 TD in 3 post season games. He could be a key man on Sunday night.

Key Players

On the offensive side of the ball, perhaps quite obviously, Aaron Rogers is the man. It’s perhaps unoriginal to say a quarterback is the key player, but as the Packers are (likely) going to rely so heavily on their aerial attack, Rogers is going to need to be at his best. After going 14-0 up against Chicago, he struggled to keep the offence moving. However, if the Aaron Rogers that played against the Falcons turns up at the Superbowl, it’s going to be very difficult to stop him.

Defence wise, keep watching Clay Matthews. Even if he doesnt do anything, his hair is wonderful. The outside linebacker, who missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year by 2 votes (out of 50 voters), had 13.5 sacks in the regular season, and has added another 3.5 in the playoffs and is quite simply a dominant edge rusher. I mentioned earlier the Packers less than perfect rush defence, and while Matthews isn’t typically the guy who stops the A-gap runs, if he can stop Mendenhall for a loss a couple of times on outside rushes, that could be enough to swing this game in Green Bay’s favor. He’s also my tip for Superbowl MVP…

The Packers will win if…

They can get an early lead and the running game comes alive to eat the clock when it matters.

Oddly, I actually think theres a better chance for the Packers to win if the Steelers take the lead and Green Bay are forced to throw, then grab the win late in the game. While I’m sure the Packers would want the more standard, safer route to victory I stated first, the latter would be much more fun for us to watch, right?!

Andy Stuart