The Best of the Worst: Bright Spots for Non-Playoff NFL Teams (Part 1)

I recently developed an opportunity to do some work for Mud, Sweat and Beers. It’s the sports blog for Match Pint, an online and mobile service in the United Kingdom, which shows sports fans what game is being televised in which pub, wherever they are, on their computer or via their iPhone.

The blog and service are mainly devoted to sports (mostly soccer) in the UK, but they also wished to branch out and start hitting on some American sports.

I think it was a swell idea.

My first entry (out of many, hopefully) is devoted to spotting the positives within this year’s non-playoff NFL teams. It’s a bit satirical, possibly upsetting, but probably entertaining.

So if you’re team didn’t make the playoffs this season, check out why I think all hope is not lost. Whether you agree with me or not, it’s likely to stir up some emotion. Laugh, cry, leave me comments (good or bad).

Part 1 covers the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers.

Click right here to check it out.

And if you’re a soccer fan, be sure to check out the rest of their stuff.

As always, enjoy!

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Leftwich can beat Ravens, needs big help from o-line

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced Wednesday that Byron Leftwich will start Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens due to the injuries suffered by Ben Roethlisberger on Monday night against the Chiefs.

Roethlisberger was Pittsburgh’s team MVP up to this point – he’s thrown for 2,287 yards, 17 touchdowns, only four picks and has a quarterback rating of 100.0 –  so every Steelers fan should assume the Ravens will embarrass Pittsburgh in their bumblebee unis, throw their Terrible Towels into the trash and pray to god that the NHL lockout ends soon.

Steelers fans should panic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait, no. They shouldn’t.

The Steelers offense is certainly disadvantaged without Big Ben, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t beat the Ravens on Sunday. They have plenty of other playmakers who can move the ball and score points, but it will require the biggest team effort of the season from the biggest men on the team.

So far this year, the Steelers pass protection has allowed its quarterback some room to breath.The team has allowed 19 sacks in nine games, which ranks No. 7 in the NFL. Roethlisberger’s escapability certainly helped bolster that number, but he didn’t do it all on his own. The line must continue to protect the quarterback, especially because of Leftwich’s impression of a Hideo Nomo windup.

If they do give him time, there’s still the occasion for burner Mike Wallace to go deep for quick-strike scores, the play that he’s built a career around. When Leftwich is under center, “deep” gets even deeper. That’s the one advantage that Leftwich has over Roethlisberger; Lefty has an absolute cannon for an arm. This means big plays could still be in order if the timing is right.

To help set up the passing game, the Steelers MUST run the ball effectively, which they are more than capable of doing. To achieve this, the big men up front must duplicate their performances from earlier this season against the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. They helped a backfield of backups rush for 158, 140 and 167 yards, respectively in those games.

Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are good backs, but they don’t have the experience or raw talent to beat defenses by themselves the way guys like Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster can. It was the o-line that won Redman and Dwyer the majority of those yards in their best games and it’ll be the O-line that decides how well the offense performs in prime time at Heinz Field on Sunday night.

Against the Chiefs, there was a letdown by the offensive front as the Steelers rushed for only 95 yards. But they were going up against an abnormally stout Chief’s front seven who played their best game of the season. Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter Joe Starkey reported that Pittsburgh offensive linemen said the Chiefs were calling out the Steelers plays before they ran them, suggesting they were familiar with Haley’s unaltered offense that he brought from his tenure at Kansas City. Expect a bounce-back game on Sunday from the big men because there’s a good chance they’ll have an easier time handling the Ravens defense.

As strange as it sounds, Baltimore ranks 26th in the NFL in run defense, allowing an average of 132 yards per game and about four yards per carry. They also rank 26th in the NFL in overall defense.

Yes, gone are the Sundays when men in purple struck the fear of god into quarterbacks and other offensive personnel.

They’re missing two of their biggest pieces in linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb, who both suffered season-ending injuries earlier in the year. Even the top defenders who will take the field aren’t close to being healthy and executing at their highest level.  Linebacker Terrell Suggs hasn’t been close to duplicating his defensive MVP performance from a season ago since returning from an Achilles injury (10 tackles and one sack in three games) and future hall-of-fame safety Ed Reed just isn’t playing with the same lock-down consistency we’re used to seeing because of nagging shoulder, leg and neck injuries.

If the Steelers could pick a time to try and strike this Ravens defense, it’d be now. It just so happens that they won’t have Roethlisberger to do it. But show me a struggling and battered defense facing a strong offensive line and I’ll show you a 10-year veteran quarterback who can be successful against it.

Still worried about how Leftwich will play? It’s still a legitimate concern.

It’s tough to predict how effective Leftwich will be in his first start since Sept. 27, 2009 (in that game he was 7-16 for 22 yards and one interception in a scoreless loss against the Giants). He’s winless in his last six games as a starter and he hasn’t won since Oct. 8, 2006 while he was playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. And against the Ravens, Lefty is 1-1 as a starter.

But it’s not like he’s is entering into a foreign offense and needs to figure out what the letters and numbers on his wristband mean. He knows the playbook and he’s taken plenty of snaps in practice all season long.

This isn’t Leftwich’s first rodeo.

He’s played in 59 NFL games and thrown for 58 touchdowns and more than 10,000 yards. Plus, he averages less than one interception per game. The cobwebs were dusted off when he came in cold against the Chiefs on Monday so he should be prepared to play at game speed.

And speaking of preparation, remember about nine months ago when Roethlisberger announced his wife was pregnant? It drew a lot of chatter in Pittsburgh because the due date would be around the time that the Steelers would face the Ravens. Odds were good that if Mrs. Big Ben had the baby on time, Mr. could miss a game against Baltimore. So what are the odds that Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn’t prepare for this scenario? The reasons might be different but the situation is still the same. There had to be a contingency plan.

Does Tomlin seem worried in this press conference Wednesday?

(Scoff) Next question.

Haley won’t have to alter the offense much with Ben out for the passing game to be successful. Tomlin said it himself that there will be only subtle changes in the offensive game plan. Haley will try to make it as easy as possible for Leftwich to hit open receivers so that probably means a lot of shorter passes and check downs, especially if they can get the run game going. If you’ve been paying any attention to the Steelers this season, you’ve heard the words “dink and dunk” about as much as you’ve seen commercials for beer, trucks and Cialis.

Haley’s offense doesn’t put a ton of pressure on the quarterback to make tight throws deep down field. It involves a lot of check downs and three-step drops. It was designed to get the ball out quickly so Roethlisberger would avoid getting hit too often and could stay healthy (ironically). But for the most part, it’s worked. It’s true that getting the ball out quickly isn’t Leftwich’s forte. But in terms of throwing underneath and checking the ball down to avoid a pass rush, he should be able to do an adequate job as long as the offensive line can give him time to drop back.

(Pittsburgh collectively gulps)

Have a little faith and trust that the Steelers and their veteran QB can pull this one out, because they certainly think they can.

No panic necessary.

A quick thought on Pittsburgh patience

We live in a right now, knee jerk, gotta have it yesterday, instantaneous society. It’s a fact that’s tough to argue against when fewer and fewer people are willing to wait a day for their news in a paper and prefer to get breaking information over their Twitter feed, whether it’s confirmed as true or not. It’s a reactionary culture that’s quick to condemn, redeem or otherwise forget anyone or anything that seems to impact our existence at any given time.

Because sports tend to be a large part of many of our lives, it’s not surprising how quickly we decide what the state of our teams are or will be in the near future.

A good example is the firing today of Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown after FIVE games. Did he deserve it? Maybe, but it seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to say the least.

Or how about the Duke lacrosse scandal a few years ago? That team was condemned by the media and public for alleged sexual assault crimes, only to be pardoned after due process and ultimately forgiven.

As difficult as it may be and as frustrating as it sounds, everybody needs to slow down and take a breath. We must all wait a bit to gather our thoughts and let the world play out before we pound the gavel and execute or dismiss. And because of recent events in the Steel City, this is especially true for Pittsburgh sports fans.

Last Sunday, the Steelers executed their finest win of the season, defeating the Super Bowl champion Giants 24-20. And despite horrendous officiating, the Steelers dominated much more than the final score suggested. Eli Manning – the owner of two very large rings and two MVPs to go with them – was held to just 125 yards and completed only 10 completions on 24 attempts. The Giants passing game was stagnant. Their run game was stifled (the G-Men racked up only 68 yards on the ground).

Not only was it an outstanding defensive performance reminiscent of the Steel Curtain teams fans fondly remember, the black and gold also put together a sound performance on the offensive side of the ball. Ben Roethlisberger went 21-30 and threw for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Back-up running back Isaac Redman carried the ball 26 times for 147 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line opened up holes big enough to drive a garbage truck through. The pass game clicked. The run game cruised. Everything went to plan.

Just about every way you look at it, this game was in stark contrast to what the Steelers looked like through the first five games of the season. At that point, they were 2-3 and suffered brutal losses including two to the Raiders and Titans, two of the worst teams in the league. Pittsburgh ranked dead-last in rushing and the defense allowed an average of 23 points per game while blowing a number of fourth-quarter leads.

They just didn’t look like the Steelers. Had the Browns changed their colors to black and gold? Did Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau go on mental vacations?

But after leaving Tennessee with their tail between their legs following a 26-23 loss, it seemed like something started to click. The game plans looked better and the execution was far superior. They went into Cincinnati and shut down Andy Dalton and A.J. Green (who is a top-five receiver in the NFL this year). Pittsburgh trounced rookie phenom and the Redskins 27-12. They finally looked like the Steelers again and everyone’s doubts went out the window and started to drown at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

But the problem is, there was never any reason to hit the panic button in the first place, even after losing to Oakland and Tennessee. Sure, the team looked out of sorts, but it was still quite early in the season and the rest of the AFC (minus the Houston Texans) looked no better. Pundits on national radio and television were killing the Steelers. Colin Cowheard of ESPN Radio said that the Steelers were too old defensively and they couldn’t produce well enough to be an upper-echelon team. Now the Steelers are 5-3, only one game back of first place in the AFC North and everyone is once again calling them contenders.

Here’s some advice to all fans and media: Avoid the waffling in the first place and wait until at least halfway through a season before declaring this or that about any team in professional sports. There’s something called a turnaround and we should all be well aware of it by watching the Giants the past few years. If they’ve taught us anything, it’s that all you have to do is make it to the postseason and then anything is possible.

Pirates fans learned this lesson the hard way over the last two years. The team started off their last two campaigns in excellent fashion. Both teams spent time in first place in the NL central division and it appeared that they would be locks to end 19- and 20-year losing skids. But both collapsed. We were all left wondering what happened and how it was possible. But it certainly was possible, if it wasn’t realistic, for both the 2011 and 2012 Pirates to blow up winning seasons because that’s sports. It’s not predictable in many cases for better or for worse. That’s what makes them great in the first place. Anything can happen.

And even now after Pirates owner Bob Nutting has decided that his inexperienced, sometimes hair-brained front office is staying intact, that doesn’t mean the team can’t have a winning season in 2013. Does it seem likely? Absolutely not. But stranger things have happened. I suppose it might be easier to expect the Pirates to be bad next season so that if we are surprised, it’s a pleasant one.

The same goes for the Penguins last year. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fluery, we’ve come to expect greatness from the Penguins recently. Not just Pittsburghers either. Last season, Vegas had the Penguins pegged as the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. And after the regular season, it looked increasingly likely. The Pens finished second in the East and with Sidney Crosby finally healthy again and Evgeni Malkin having assumed the role of best player in the world, the only team that could beat the Penguins was the Penguins.But then they clashed with the Flyers in a less-than-heroic fashion and were defeated in six games. And entire season blew up in two weeks. Fluery, who had won a Cup in 2009, looked like Swiss cheeses as pucks easily found their way past him. Evgeni Malkin didn’t look the same as he did as the MVP in the regular season. Everyone let their expectations get the better of them because the Penguins were SUPPOSED to win. And should the NHL season happen this year, the Penguins are again the favorites to win it all.

Let’s just hold off on that judgement now.

Is it possible the Penguins and Pirates will collapse again? Yes. Is it likely? For the Penguins, no. For the Pirates. Maybe. But we shouldn’t engrave Sidney Crosby on the Cup yet and we shouldn’t fire Clint Hurdle before the season begins.

It’s best not to let any expectations get in the way of our sports. Just watch, listen and enjoy. Let the surprises work themselves out and let fate do what it does.

The 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope may have put it best when he said “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

The Pittsburgh Logos Project

Before this season, the Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles all announced some changes to their look before the season.  The Marlins completely altered their identity. They are now the Miami Marlins and have new colors, logos, uniforms and a new ball park to boot. The Blue Jays and Orioles simply changed their logos back to similar designs they used in the past.

Without question, tons of money was spent in all three cases so the teams could develop these logos, generate interest and marketing campaigns for them, and ultimately decide if they would help the public perception of those teams. (A friend of mine works for the company that rebranded the Marlins and he informed me that the transition was no small financial or physical undertaking.)

Although the Marlins and the Blue Jays both failed to make the playoffs, the Orioles powered their way into the postseason and lost to the Yankees in the ALDS. Regardless, the 2012 Baltimore Orioles and their revamped logo will be thought of as a winning team, especially compared to most other Orioles teams in recent history.

Ultimately that’s what matters.

In my opinion, the primary goal of a logo change is to associate the new logo with a winning team (and winning tradition) and to be accepted by the fans as a true seal of that franchise, both presently and historically. If both of these criteria are met, then merchandise revenue will go through the roof and people will instantly recognize a symbol and think “winner.”

There are a few “winner” symbols that are recognized across the U.S.: the Yankees’ “NY,” the Detroit Redwings’ winged wheel, and of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ triple hypocycloids all come to mind. These are iconic logos long associated with winning, just like the McDonald’s arches is an icon long associated with obesity.

Recently, the success of the Orioles and their new logo got me thinking about the success of the Steel City and its logos.

Pittsburgh has had its fair share of winners throughout its professional sports history. The Steelers have six championships while the Pirates and Penguins have won five and three, respectively. Even without mentioning championships, the Steelers and Pirates are historically winning franchises; the Steelers have a .523 all-time win percentage and the Pirates are at .503 all time. And the Penguins aren’t far behind with an all-time points percentage (points divided by maximum possible points) of .497.

So here’s the question I posed: Where do all the professional Pittsburgh sports logos rank all time in win percentage amongst the three teams?

To answer this question, I keyed in on a few very helpful resources. Using Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page – www.sportsLogos.net (“Your virtual museum dedicated to education of the history of sports logos and sports uniforms.”), I was able to identify practically every logo that the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins ever used. There were a few gaps in which the franchises played but no logos are listed, but for the most part the information is relatively comprehensive. Then, I cross-referenced the logo’s years with the statistical data of each team using www.pro-football-reference.com, www.hockey-reference.com and www.baseball-reference.com.

I compiled all the information and boiled it down to an easy-to-read catalogue of black and gold (and red and blue and a surprising array of other colors used in Pittsburgh logo history) for your browsing pleasure. At the bottom of this entry are charts indicating the chronological order of the logos used for each franchise, as well as each logo’s all-time franchise rank and all-time Pittsburgh rank in win percentage. Before those, you’ll find the win percentage ranking, one by one, of all the logos ever used by the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

Disclaimer: Before you check out the list, there are a few things you should know. All the information below is based on the primary logo for each team at that time. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the logo used on the uniforms or even the logo you were most used to seeing most of the time. All of these franchises have used alternate logos throughout their histories (which you might have thought were the “main” logos), but those are not included in this list.

 Secondly, to compare logos across different sports, I used win percentages for football and baseball and points percentage for hockey. They aren’t the same statistic, but both are the most useful in their respective sports to judge the amount of winning the teams had done. Also, ties have a different statistical bearing in the NFL than they do in MLB AND the NHL. Since 1972, the NFL has counted each tie a half a win. So you’re not confused, I counted all ties (even before 1972) into my win percentages for the Steelers.

 Finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really doubt there is some type of correlation between win percentage and a primary logo. There have been some studies that suggest there is a correlation between uniform colors and winning, but remember, these primary logos didn’t necessarily appear on the uniforms of the teams they represented. I’m no scientist, but I’m guessing the teams in this list with the highest winning percentages probably would have won just as much had they been represented by any other primary logo.

This is not a scientific study that is meant to be broken down and analyzed in terms of WHY certain logos were successful and WHY others were not. I’m just revealing that some WERE and others WERE NOT. Perhaps the Pirates logo from 1908-1909 had magical powers. Or perhaps it was because those years just happened to feature one of the greatest Pirates to ever play baseball. (I’m guessing the latter.)

 So why, you ask, did I take all the time and do all the work for this list?

 For the sake of fun and curiosity. And because I knew I would uncover some interesting stuff.

Here are some of the fun facts I discovered:

  • The first three primary logos for both the Steelers and Penguins were all losers.
  • The Pirates first primary logo with a win percentage under .500 was their fifth (1915-1919).
  • The longest tenure for any one logo in Pittsburgh is the Steelers fourth franchise logo, which was used for 32 years (1969-2001).
  • The logo with the most championships in Pittsburgh history (four) is also the Steelers fourth franchise logo (1969-2001).
  • The Pirates have had only three logos with losing records in team history (1915-1919, 1948-1959, and 1997-Present).
  • The Pittsburgh logo with the lowest all-time win percentage was the first primary logo for the Steelers. At that time, they were the Pittsburgh Pirates. Go figure. The uniforms worn by the team using that logo are the current Steelers’ throwback uniforms.
  • The Steelers primary logo was actually changed after the 2001 season. Even though it looks practically identical, the new logo (used from 2002 to the present) features slightly darker colors throughout.
  • The Pirates changed their logo 10 times in the franchise’s first 35 years and each time the change was to another depiction of a “P.”
  • Out of the three current primary logos used by the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins, only the Steelers’ logo ranks among of the top 10 all-time Pittsburgh logos in win percentage.
  • All Pittsburgh franchises featured both black and gold in their logos from their inception – except for the Pirates, who didn’t use both colors in their primary logo until 1948.
  • The most successful Pirates logo (and Pittsburgh logo) was used from 1908-1909. Those years also featured arguably the greatest player in Pirates history, Honus Wagner. One of the rarest and most valuable baseball cards in existence is a Wagner card from 1909.
  • Both of the current throwback/alternate uniforms for the Steelers and Penguins were from teams represented by logos with the lowest win percentage each franchise’s respective history (1933-1939 Steelers, 1968/69-1970/71 Penguins).
  • The Pirates are the only Pittsburgh franchise to use the same logo during two, non-consecutive periods in team history (1921 and 1932).
  • All three franchises have used the color blue in the primary logos at some point in their history.
  • Sixty-five percent of all Pittsburgh professional primary logos are winners (17 of 26). Thirteen of those winning logos are from the Pirates franchise.

If there’s anything else you notice and I didn’t mention before, feel free to let me know. But above all else…

Enjoy.

 Starting with the primary logo with the lowest win percentage in Pittsburgh professional sports history…

24. 1933-1939 Pittsburgh Steelers (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Record: 22-55-3

Win percentage: .293%

23. 1968/69-1970/71 Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 67-120-43

Points percentage: .384%

22. 1960-1968 Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 45-72-7

Win percentage: .391%

21. 1948-1959 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 770-1077-10

Win percentage: .417%

20. 1997-Present Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 1115-1473-1

Win percentage: .430%

19. 1915-1919 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 325-401-9

Win percentage: .451%

18. 1967/68 Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 27-34-13

Points percentage: .453%

17. 1971/72-1991/92 Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 654-799-221

Points percentage: .456%

16. 1951-1959 Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 48-57-3

Win  percentage: .458%

T-15. 1936-1947 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 926-909-24

Win percentage: .504%

T-15. 1987-1996 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 787-765-2

Win percentage: .504%

14. 1920 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 79-75-1

Win percentage: .513%

13. 1968-1986 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 1577-1431-3

Win percentage: .523%

12. 1960-1967 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 680-599-3

Win percentage: .532%

11. 2000/01-Present Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 428-363-80

Points percentage: .536%

T-10. 1910-1914 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 411-350-13

Win percentage: .540%

T-10. 1933-1935 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 247-210-1

Win percentage: .540%

9. 1922 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 85-69-1

Win percentage: .552%

8. 1923-1931 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 778-602-8

Win percentage: .563%

7. 1921/1932 Pittsburgh Pirates

Combined record: 176-131-1

Combined win percentage: .573%

6. 1969-2001 Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 292-209-1

Win percentage: .582%

5. 1907 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 91-63-3

Win percentage: .591%

4. 1992/93-1999/00 Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 331-214-75-6

Points percentage: .595%

3. 1900-1906 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 639-377-12

Win percentage: .630%

2. 2002-Present Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 107-57-1

Win percentage: .651

1. 1908-1909 Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 208-98-3

Win percentage: .680%

Here’s the breakdown by chronological order and franchise…

(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE, THEN CLICK YOUR BACK BUTTON TO RETURN TO BLOG ENTRY)

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