Rooting For Plax!

January 23, 2008

I was always a big fan of Plaxico Burress when he was a Pittsburgh Steeler. He was a great interview, and he really had a good knowledge of how to play the position of wide receiver in the NFL.

Now that he’s a member of the New York Giants and headed to his first Super Bowl, I’m even happier for him. But I know there are a few Steelers fans who may not agree with me.

Burress was a first-round draft pick of the Black And Gold back in 2000. He suffered a broken wrist in his rookie year and wound up catching only 22 passes and no touchdowns. And, of course, there was the infamous spiking of a live ball in the Jacksonville game.

Many said he was a bust. But every season after that, he got better and better — so much so that he was a legitimate deep threat by his final season in the ‘Burgh in 2004.

Still, a lot of fans seemed to misunderstand him and it amazes me that just the mere mention of his name causes so much anger among them.

They said he was lazy. He didn’t play hard. He wasn’t a good teammate. He had a bad attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I found Burress to be a true professional that worked hard at his craft. He was a stand-up guy. Good game, bad game. It didn’t matter. And I never hear a bad word about him from any of his coaches and teammates. He answered every question and never showed a poor attitude.

Sure, he had his growing pains his first few years, but once he learned how to use his 6’5″, 225-pound body to his advantage, he became one of the best in the game. His 11 catches for 154 yards in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay is proof of that.

Many would like to see the Giants upset the Patriots because they don’t want to see New England complete the undefeated season. I’m rooting for the Giants for two reasons: One, I grew up in upstate New York as a big Giants fan, and Two, I want to see Plaxico Burress get a ring. In my opinion, he deserves it. Deep down inside, I think a lot of you agree with me.

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The Steelers’ season is now over, and I’m not going to waste time talking about bad calls or missed calls in the playoff loss to the Jags. As head coach Mike Tomlin often says: “That’s football.” Things happen.

Think back to the ’05 Super Bowl run. A lot of things went the Steelers’ way on the road to winning in Detroit. This time, they weren’t so fortunate. It’s over. GET OVER IT!

So, with that out of the way, we look to the future.

Defensively, I think their two young outside linebackers, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, will be OK. I would like to see the Steelers re-sign Clark Haggans to provide veteran leadership, but he’s likely headed for free agency.

The secondary remains a concern. I’m a huge fan of Deshea Townsend, but when is Bryant McFadden going to step up and grab a starting cornerback spot? ‘Bout time, isn’t it?

On offense, most of you know I’ve been a staunch Willie Parker supporter. That hasn’t changed. However, I think the Steelers’ approach to running the football SHOULD change.

First, the Rooneys need to bite the bullet, get rid of that hunk of painted mud known as the playing surface at Heinz Field, and invest in field turf.

Second, with Alan Faneca almost certainly on his way out the door, the Steelers need to revamp their run-blocking scheme.

Parker is a speed runner with cutback ability. The Steelers need to adapt a zone-blocking scheme, instead of their straight-ahead power attack. This will allow Parker to attack the perimeter more and read the cutback lanes better.

Next: Big Ben. Hard to find fault with a guy who tossed 32 touchdowns, only 11 interceptions and posted an efficiency rating of well over 100. But, number seven needs to stay in the pocket more, go through his progressions and allow plays to develop before taking off and scrambling so much.

Ben reminds me of the character Steamin’ Willie Beamon in the movie “Any Given Sunday.” A talented, athletic quarterback who plays on instinct and feel. But sometimes, you have to run the plays the way they’re designed, and hopefully the O-line will improve and not have him running for his life much longer.

Last, but not least: Tomlin. He did a great job in his first year in Pittsburgh. He handled everything… the media, the fans and his players. The one thing he didn’t do was win enough away from Heinz Field. Road losses to the Cardinals, Broncos and Jets probably prevented the Steelers from getting a first-round bye, which would have been key with so many players banged up.

This promises to be an interesting off-season for your Black and Gold heroes. We will soon find out what changes will be made in ’08.

The Steelers are banged up, their defense can’t tackle anyone and their second best offensive skill player, Willie Parker, is out for the season with a broken leg. Even the most optimistic fan of the Black and Gold would say the Steelers’ chances are slim of making a long playoff run. But, there is one factor that the Steelers have going for them: Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben is capable of carrying a team on his shoulders, he’s done it for the better part of this season. His ability to make plays where there are none to be made might be good enough to beat the Jaguars and possibly scare the Patriots or Colts in round two. Roethlisberger has been there before and the thrives on big pressure games. His performance two years ago in the Steelers’ Superbowl run was legendary and this year, number seven will need to don the Superman cape yet again in order to the keep the Steelers’ championship dreams alive. I don’t think the Steelers are long for the 2007 NFL playoffs, but if they fall short, it won’t be because of what their quarterback did. Play well, Ben. It’s your team’s only chance.