Clint's Corner Archive

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The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.

For 12/29/96

Crowd Pleaser...

Next Sunday at 12:30pm in Foxboro Stadium, the nation will witness 18 years of frustration erupt all over the Pittsburgh Steelers. I hope the lovely Ms. Cowher and her daughter bring their earplugs. We diehard fans have been dreaming of a home playoff game since Jimmy Carter was in office. I myself was only 8 years old when the Pats lost to Houston 31-14 in 1978. Do you remember the crowd during last season's Monday Night game against the Bills? It was SICK! I absolutely can't wait for the 5th. If the New England faithful can whoop it up for ABC on a Monday Night, imagine what they can do for a home playoff game! Just the thought gives me the chills.

Fred Smerlas and Clint
Clint with Fred Smerlas, tailgating at Giants Stadium

Bring 'em on!

The Steelers earned the right to travel North to Foxboro by pasting the Colts 42-14 at Three Rivers Stadium. Big deal. These are the same Colts who the Pats beat twice this year (easily), and who finished the regular season losers at Cincinnati. The Colts were 3-5 on the road this year and the Steelers were 7-1 at home. With the Steelers having to go on the road this time, in front of 60,000 fans who will make the fans at Three Rivers seem like Tibetan Monks, I sense things will be a little different.

Outside the friendly confines of Three Rivers, the Steelers went 3-5. They lost at Jacksonville 9-24, at Houston 13-23, at Cincinnati 24-34, at Baltimore 17-31, and at Carolina 13-18. In those 5 games the Steelers were outscored by a combined 76-130. Their loss at Baltimore was only a few weeks ago, when the Steelers were in a position to secure the 1st round bye, and Baltimore was playing out the string. I'm not saying this Sunday is a sure victory for the Pats, but playing at home gives the Pats a huge, huge advantage.

People always talk of the Pats' big losses to Washington, Denver, and Dallas. Only the Denver game was not winnable. What if the Pats lost at Baltimore or Cincinnati? Sure they lost at Dallas, but so did Green Bay. Sure they lost to the 'Skins at home, but so did Philadelphia. Hey, the Pats didn't go 16-0, stop crying. All 5 of the Pats losses this season were to quality opposition, and the Pats finished the season 11-3 after stumbling out of the blocks 0-2 on the road. New England will have had two weeks off to rest and prepare for the 5th. Rest assured that Bill Parcells had the team working on the running game and blitz pickups, something that the offense has not done so well since the Colts were in town a few weeks ago.

Come Sunday, expect to see the Pats come out running, and then run some more. They haven't been able to do that as well as they'd like in recent weeks, but Tuna knows what brings victories in the post season, and you can bet he's had his team working OT to get it right. Leave the defense alone. They have played fantastic all around since the loss to Denver.

When they last met...

Last season the Pats played at Pittsburgh in week 15. The Pats were 6-8, and going nowhere. The Steelers were trying to catch the Chiefs for the #1 seed in the AFC. With just under 2 minutes to play, the Pats trailed by 8 when Bledsoe hit Coates in the endzone to bring them within 2. A subsequent pass to Martin gave the Pats 2 more and things were all tied up at 27. O'Donnell then hit Mills on a quick 5 yard slant, and 5 missed tackles and 80 yards later it was 34-27 Steelers. Ben Coates fumbled as the Pats tried to tie things up again, and the ball was scooped up and returned for a TD to make it 41-27, which is how it ended.

Mosi Tatupu and Mark
Clint's friend Mark and Mosi Tatupu

That game was a microcosm of the Pats' 1995 season. Once again they had proven that they could play with anyone, and fell apart in the final two minutes on crucial mental errors. The 1996 edition of the Pats is quite different. They mounted a 80+ yard drive late in the 4th quarter to beat the Bills at home (Sunday night TNT). They overcame a 21-0 deficit to the Jets on the road to win 31-27. They overcame a 22-0 deficit on the road against the Giants last week to win 23-22. The Steelers will face a much different Patriots team next week than they did last season. Not only are the Pats a better team this year, but this time the game is in our house, and the Pats have a little bit more to play for.

For you stats junkies, here are some numbers from that game last December, and final 1996 regular AFC season rankings:

Martin: 20 att/120yds; 8 rec/62yds 1TD
Coates: 11 rec/83yds 2TD
Bledsoe: 60att/39comp 336yds 3TD 5INT

Offense: Pats 4th. (3rd pass, 13th rush), Steelers 9th. (15th pass, 2nd rush)
Defense: Pats 9th (4th rush, 13th pass), Steelers 1st (3rd rush, 1st pass)

When the Steelers pass:

The Pats 13th ranked pass defense is due in large part to a lot of hail Mary's, and the D giving up a lot of passing yardage in garbage time (Baltimore, Jacksonville, and the Colts games come to mind). The Steelers, behind Mike Tomczak, have not been a passing threat all season long, and finished dead last in the AFC. Cordell Stewart is a dangerous weapon, but he will not burn you throwing the ball. The Pats secondary has played very well as of late, and they are getting pressure up front now, particularly from the outside with Slade and McGinest. Edge: Patriots.

When the Steelers run:

Jerome Bettis had an outstanding year, compiling a lot of big numbers. Those numbers were largely racked up in the beginning of the year, however. The Steelers do have the #2 rushing attack in the AFC, but the Pats 4th ranked squad against the rush has been playing solid run defense down the stretch. They continually stuffed the Cowboys and Giants, particularly in the red zone. Over the last 4 weeks of the regular season, the Steeler running game was invisible as the Pats shut down Adrian Murrell, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, and the Giants. Big Jerome awakened against the Colts today with 102 yards, but remember that the Colts defense gave up 195 rushing yards to the Pats 4 weeks ago. This matchup is huge, and likely will decide the outcome of the game. Edge: Even.

When the Patriots pass:

The Pats #3 passing attack in the conference features a pro bowl QB in Bledsoe, and a pro bowl TE in Ben Coates. Pro bowl RB Curtis Martin has also been a receiving threat this season. Rookie Terry Glenn led the team with 90 receptions, and speedy Shawn Jefferson has done a great job this season stretching opposing defenses, and making some tough over the middle catches. WR Troy Brown has also made some huge 3rd down grabs throughout the season. Despite the large number of pass attempts, Bledsoe has seen great protection from his line all year long. When given time to throw, Bledsoe has surgeon like accuracy. The Steelers, however, have the #1 pass defense in the AFC. They provide constant pressure on the passer, and have an outstanding secondary with Ron Woodson and Carnell Lake.

What's EXTREMELY impressive about the Steelers #1 ranked pass defense is that they achieved that while playing Vinny Testaverde, Mark Brunnell, and Jeff Blake twice each this season. Wow. We have seen this season what good defenses do to the Pats passing attack. The Cowboys and Broncos completely shut it down. When Bledsoe is pressured, he isn't nearly as effective. The Pats must establish a running game to keep the Steeler defense from pinning their ears back and coming at Bledsoe. Drew must not stray from his mechanics when pressured. Edge: Steelers.

When the Patriots run:

On paper, this appears to be a huge mismatch. The Steelers are #3 against the run, while the Pats are near the bottom of the conference at #13 running the football, and they have lost Sam Gash until next season. In reality, this is not as big a disparity as you would think. In their 11 wins this season, the Pats have been so successful with the pass, that there was no need to even try to run the ball. When the Pats set out to run the ball, as they did against the Colts and Dallas late in the season, they did so with success. The Cowboys have the NFL's #1 ranked D, and the Pats were able to move the ball on the ground down in Dallas.

Like I mentioned earlier, you can be sure that Parcells emphasized the run last week, and will continue to do so this week. I believe that if determined to run the ball, the Pats can do so. I also look for Bob Kratch to re-take his job at guard and replace the struggling Todd Rucci. If the Pats can establish even a small ground game, that will open up the pass, and the Pats can score a lot of points. Jerome Bettis runs to set up Mike Tomczak. Martin and Meggett run to set up Bledsoe. The Pats ability to run the ball, particularly early in the ballgame, will go long way in deciding who goes to the AFC Championship game. Edge: Even.

Keys to victory:

The Pats must be able to run the ball to give Drew the ability to play action pass. Martin and Meggett must combine for 25 carries if the Pats are to win this one. If they are forced to pass on every down, the offensive line will have it's hands full with the blitzing Steeler D. I think the Pats defense can hold Pittsburgh in check. This game will be won or lost by the Pats offense.

The Steelers must score early and cannot afford to fall behind by more than a TD at any time. The Pats can play catch-up, the Steelers cannot. If they allow the Pats to get on the board first, that will force the Steelers out of their game plan and will add more fuel to an already out-of-control crowd. If they can take the crowd out of the game and continue to run run run the ball, the Steelers will be in great shape.

Prediction:

These teams match up well against each other, but the Pats are playing at home. That is the only reason I am going with the Pats here. I like the home team in a close one, 23-17. No matter who wins, they will find the going a lot tougher the following week in Denver.

I remember when...

It is great to see this entire region get so excited over the Pats 11-5 season and upcoming home playoff game. For the past three seasons, all of the home games have been sold out prior to the season opener, and there is actually a season ticket waiting list. You can't walk down a sidewalk in this state for more than 20 feet without seeing a Patriots hat or jacket. Nearly 1,000 fans greeted the Patriots at the stadium when they arrived home from their stunning come from behind victory over the Giants. Thousands more (myself included) were in attendance at the Meadowlands. Fans lined up bright and early last Sunday for a chance at the few remaining playoff tickets.

The Guys from Limo #1
The guys in Limo #1 from Boston to Giants Stadium!

Although this is great to see, and it's always great to see a packed house on Sunday to cheer on the Pats, I would like to ask everyone "Where the hell where you" during the last 10 years? It was only a few short years ago that less than 18,000 seats were owned by season ticket holders, and not all of them came to the games. The Pats had a very hard time selling the place out. In 1990, the average attendance for the first 7 home games was 35,601. The lone sellout was week 16 against the Giants, but there were very few Pats fans in attendance.

OK, enough wining on my part. It's great to see everyone on the bandwagon and getting behind the team. This season is a little bit more sweet, however, for those of us who have bled red, white, and blue for as long as we can remember. To all of you who have come aboard over the last few years (or few weeks), I would just like to ask a small favor: Should the Pats lose next week at home, or the following week, or in the Super Bowl, don't boo them off the field. Coming off a 6-10 1995 campaign to win the 1996 AFC East Division crown is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. No matter what happens on Sunday, this team deserves our thanks, and our cheers.

See you next week. Hopefully I'll be previewing the AFC Championship game and not writing a sermon.

GO PATS!