Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
“I never forgave him for getting older.” -Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams
There are many positive idioms for getting older. Mark Twain said, “Age is a matter of mind over matter. As long as you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. Jimmy Buffet declared that, “Wrinkles will only go where smiles have been.” Billy Burke opined that, “Age is something that doesn’t matter…unless you are a cheese.” And Gertrude Stein told us that, “We are always the same age inside.”
Maybe you can convince yourself that the above are true, but none of them apply to athletes. In reality, few things are sadder than watching Willie Mays stumble around in the outfield as a member of the New York Mets, Mohammed Ali forced to resort to “rope a dope”, Rod Beck throwing up absolute nothing balls as a member of the San Diego Padres, Joe Namath as an LA Ram, or Drew Brees being replaced when the Saints were going to throw the ball more than 10 yards. There are countless other examples, but the point is, many athletes play too long.
If you’ve been paying attention to the NFL this season, you know that it’s happening again, this time in Pittsburgh.
On September 12, the Steelers went to Buffalo and beat the Bills, but since then, the Steelers have played like the Stinkers. They have no running game, even though they drafted a very talented running back out of Alabama named Najee Harris. They can’t pass the ball, either, and last year I wrote that this might be due to having receivers more interested in dancing on the opponent’s logo than fighting defensive backs for 50-50 balls. Their defense is usually good, but a lot of their defensive stars have been suffering from various injuries. Their field goal kicker is pretty good, but due to the offense’s woes he hasn’t been getting many chances. That leaves punting as the best part of the Stinkers’ game-never a good sign for any football team.
While you can make excuses for many facets of the Stealers’ (sic) woes, the play of their quarterback has been bad. Stoners’ (sic) coach Mike Tomlin says his QB, Ben Roethlisberger, still retains all of his former skills except mobility. Well, coach, I would say you’re only partially right, because Roethlisberger is so immobile he makes a statue look nimble. Other than that, what Coach Tomlin said is simply not true. Ben is not only slow, his arm strength is not good where once it was very good. His accuracy reminds me of Tim Tebow’s, which NFL players on his own team openly joked about. His decisions are often slow and frequently bad, and it seems when he makes the correct decision he does so too late.
I believe that good players play well, but great players make other players better. Ben Roethlisberger spent most of his Steeler career playing behind a great offensive line, handing the ball to great running backs like Le’veon Bell, and throwing to great receivers like Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. Under these circumstances, Ben Roethlisberger played quarterback very well. Those circumstances have changed, and so has the quality of Roethlisberger’s play.
The question the Steelers must answer is this: Is their quarterback’s poor performance due to the players around him, or is Ben done at 39? Mike Tomlin says Ben Roethlisberger at QB gives his team the best chance to win. If this is so, given the undeniably poor quarterback performance, is that because of poor players around him, or the alternatives to Ben being worse than Ben? The alternatives are Mason Rudolph (a career backup best known for being on the receiving end of Myles Garrett’s swung helmet) and Dwayne Haskins (so good the Washington Football Team chose a quarterback just off the IL from a life-threatening injury over him). It is possible that Ben Roethlisgerger is being the ultimate team player and really “taking one for the team”
Maybe, but the images of former greats embarrassing their memories won’t go away. I hope Ben Roethlisberger steps down soon, if for no other reason than his own safety.
For my own safety, I’ll move on to this week’s picks. Point spreads are from SportsLine.com on Tuesday, Oct. 5 and all picks are against the point spread.
New York Jets (+3) vs. Atlanta Falcons in London, England.
New Orleans Saints (-2 ½) at Washington Football Team My wife says not to pick for or against the FT if I don’t like typing out the longest mascot name in the history of the world. I already dropped the FT’s defense from my fantasy squad and will take my wife’s advice if I lose this one.
Cleveland Browns (+1 ½) at Los Angeles Chargers Maybe an AFC Championship preview if Baker Mayfield starts playing quarterback as well as he plays in commercials.
Arizona Cardinals (- 5 ½) vs SF 49ers The new “Greatest Team Ever”
Buffalo Bills (+2 ½) at Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are Chefs when on defense. They should be 1-3 and even had Philadelphia’s anemic offense going through their defense like a hot knife through butter last Sunday. The Chiefs have turned their defense around before and will have to do it again. In the meantime, I like the Bills.
Indianapolis Colts (+7) at Baltimore Ravens. Speaking of “too old” I remember when the Indianapolis Colts were the Baltimore Colts and the Baltimore Ravens were the Cleveland Browns.
Last week 3-3
Air Force (-4 ½) over Wyoming: Every season, some team starts out 4-0 or 5-0 because of a weak schedule and starts to earn some respect. Sometimes those teams turn into 2019 Minnesota, which wound up 11-2. Other times, they get smacked in the face in the first legitimate challenge. I think this is a very good Air Force team, and I’ll gladly lay the shortened price in a game where we will find out what Wyoming is really all about. I’m guessing it’s not 2019 Minnesota.
Utah (+3) at USC: When the Trojans have faced a lightweight, like San Jose St., Washington St and Colorado, they’ve had their way. But when they’ve run into a team that can punch back, they were routed by Stanford and Oregon St. Utah will fight back, and after so many frustrations losing in Los Angeles the past decade or so, Kyle Wittingham finally breaks through.
Texas (+3) vs. Oklahoma: Texas has covered seven of the last 10 years in this series, even though they’ve only won three of those, and have lost the last three straight. It’s not often that I’m happy a team I bet on didn’t score a touchdown and followed that up with giving up a 99-yard touchdown drive, but Texas did that last week in its win over TCU. But, had the Longhorns scored, and then not given up a touchdown, they would have won by 19, instead of 5, and this line would be less than 3.
Notre Dame (pk) at Virginia Tech: For all the hype by Notre Dame fans about running back Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree, who averaged 5.3 and 6.8 yards per carry, respectively, last season, this year the Irish are averaging only 2.4 per carry as a team. While rushing for only 3 yards as a team against Wisconsin holds down that average, the season high for the Irish this year is only 132 yards against Purdue. So why do I like them here? Because a team built on the running game, coming off of two consecutive weeks of inability to run, is going to make that a focus and find a way to turn that around. And Virginia Tech earned some good vibes with a first week upset of North Carolina, but that appears less impressive now than it did at the time, and nothing else VA Tech has done has been stellar.
Panthers (-3) over Eagles: The scoreboard showed what I expected it to for the Panthers last week against Dallas, but the stats told a different story. The Panthers’ secondary wasn’t overwhelmed by the Cowboys’ passing game, and now comes a much more limited Eagles offense. Maybe Christian McCaffrey returns, maybe not, but either way, I’ve been extremely impressed over the last year-plus with the coaching of Matt Rhule, and I think the Panthers are a solid team that won’t beat themselves.