Bouchette on the Steelers: Harrison wins a Tony
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The debate over what is the most valuable player in a sport, argued for years in baseball, has new meaning this season in football.
Is it someone who is the most valuable to his team because without him they would have had no chance of winning? Or is it merely someone who performs at the highest level?
Baseball voters generally consider MVPs only on teams that make the playoffs. In football, voters are given an "out" because they don't have just the MVP to award to the outstanding player, they also have the offensive and defensive players of the year.
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson? Yes. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning? Yes, again.
But what about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or Steelers linebacker James Harrison? They're not far-fetched choices; in fact they are among the five favorites to win it.
According to oddsmakers at Bodog, Peterson is the favorite at 3-2 to win the league MVP, followed by Manning at 2-1. In third is Roethlisberger at 5-1 and tied for fourth is Harrison along with Dallas quarterback Tony Romo at 10-1.
Not only that, but Harrison picked up the biggest endorsement this week since the Electoral College met and picked Barack Obama. Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy appeared on "The Sirius Blitz" on Sirius NFL Radio and was asked by host Adam Schein, "Peyton Manning, league MVP?''
Peyton Manning's coach said not so fast.
"If I had to vote right now I'd vote for James Harrison from Pittsburgh,'' Dungy replied. "He's just been phenomenal in anchoring a defense that's playing as well as anyone in the league and he does so many things for them."
Dungy explained that, "He's like a Randy Moss or Dwight Freeney. You have to game-plan for him in terms of how you're going to block him in the passing game. So he puts that on the table even before the game starts and then he does other things. He drops in pass coverage. He covers tight ends. They move him around, and he's not just a one-dimensional rusher. He's a linebacker that also rushes and he's been the most dominant player on the best defense in football and, shoot, by next Sunday they may have the best record in football."
CBS analyst Phil Simms, on a different Sirius Radio show, also picked Harrison.
"Right now, I would give it to James Harrison. But I think Peyton is in that mix, and I'll tell you the other one, this Troy Polamalu. Wow. It's real. He is the best safety in football, and I'll argue it forever. He does everything. Tremendous tackler, he can cover and he can blitz. He is a unique safety. And he has the size to do it all, too. He's a short guy with a big body, that's what I think separates him."
And how about Mike Tomlin for NFL coach of the year, or at the least AFC coach of the year?
He's not likely to win it for the same reason Chuck Noll won it only once in 23 seasons or Bill Cowher once in 15. The expectations are too high for a Steelers coach -- once Noll established the bar, that is.
Coach of the year usually goes to the guy who led a team that won only a few games the previous season to a .500 record or a little better. Those honors likely will go to rookie coaches Tony Sporano in Miami and Mike Smith in Atlanta, even though both teams might not make the playoffs.
Me, I'm likely to vote for one of four: Tomlin or Tennessee's Jeff Fisher in the AFC, and Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants or Carolina's John Fox in the NFC. All had to overcome plenty to place their teams among the top two in each conference.
Tomlin had the toughest NFL schedule and injuries, including a couple to his quarterback. Fisher changed quarterbacks. Coughlin had injuries and Plaxico Burress. Fox had everyone wanting to fire him entering this season so they could hire Bill Cowher.
More on Cowher. Another Ohio reporter popped up in the Steelers' locker room to quiz players about Cowher possibly coaching the Cleveland Browns next season.
It says here he never will coach the Browns and he won't coach anywhere at all next season, which would be his third since he resigned from the Steelers.
Also, there have been suggestions that if and when Cowher does return to coaching, Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, would join him. Colbert is signed until May 2010, and, if he were to leave while under contract, it would have to be for a significant promotion, like general manager with clear say over the coach or team president.
I don't think Colbert is going anywhere, even if Cowher would take a job next year and offer the GM post to him.
Here are explanations for why the Steelers had a delay penalty and let the play clock often get almost to zero before the ball was snapped in Baltimore, and why center Justin Hartwig keeps lifting his head -- all from tackle Willie Colon.
Hartwig's head has something to do with starting their silent snap count on the road.
As for the game clock and delay, "Sometimes, that's our fault,'' Colon said of the line. "It's us walking to the line a little too slow. It takes time for Justin to declare [the defense they're in], and, once he gets what he has to do, we look up and the clock is running down. Anytime that happens, it's usually us taking a little too much time getting on the ball."
But there are extenuating circumstances when you play in a place like Baltimore against a defense like the Ravens.
"With that defense, they walk around so much, you're trying to find out who's who, trying to get it to all five guys, Ben knowing where we're at, do we not have his back?" Colon said, ticking off everything that must happen. "All that has to go down in 25 seconds. With that defense, they'll show you something and then with the silent count, Justin brings his head up and then they re-declare late and that has to be re-declared. In that span, everything has to go real fast."
First Published December 21, 2008 12:00 am