Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
15 Apr 2005
Guest Column by Ian Hollohan
The start of the 2005 NFL Europe campaign has been sloppy to say the least. There have been a boatload of penalties (most of them of the â€œstupidâ€? variety) and a wide array of dropped passes, botched kicks, and other blown plays. But NFL Europe is all about player development, so it seems fair to give everyone an early-season mulligan and hope that most of the sloppiness will be eliminated as the season progresses. I'll do the same for the announcing crews on the NFL Network, who would surely cause Dr. Z's head to explode if he had to rate them through these first two weeks.
Frankfurt is home to NFL Europe's most interesting storyline this year, the attempted comeback of Akili Smith (TB). Smith is the highest drafted player (3rd overall in 1999) to ever play in NFL Europe. He's been allocated by the Bucs, and will be fighting to be the 3rd sting QB behind Brian Griese and Chris Simms.
Smith struggled to get going his first week, as did most of his Galaxy teammates. In Week 2, Frankfurt settled in after a shaky start, and came from behind to beat Amsterdam 23-14. RB Ahmaad Galloway (Den) set a franchise rushing record with 160 yds in Week 2, and he leads the league in rushing through two weeks.
Rhein's offense has been lackluster through the first two games of the season. Their D has fought hard, but it hasn't been enough to get them a win. QB Andy Hall (Phi) just doesn't look comfortable in the pocket and QB Scott McBrien (GB) has been erratic. Although fighting to be the heir apparent to Favre (who isn't, it seems?), McBrien seems to be trying a little too much to actually be like Brett, with the end result through two games at least, that we have â€œFavre circa 92-93.â€? Packer fans especially will know what I'm talking about here: overthrown, underthrown, gorgeous pass. Gorgeous pass, way overthrown, pick. But it is still early, and McBrien should get a good opportunity to develop a grove within the offense in the coming weeks.
Amsterdam looked very impressive through its first game and a half of the '05 season, but then struggled mightily in the second half of Week 2 against Frankfurt. They stand at 1-1 after two weeks. Quarterback Gibran Hamdan (Sea) has taken the bulk of the snaps under center for the Admirals and has looked fairly impressive. He's been statistically the best QB in the league through two weeks, but hasn't yet shown he has the arm strength to throw an NFL-quality deep ball. TE Tony Donald (Sea) has looked solid as well. RB Jarrett Payton (Ten), son of Walter, has run well in the first two games.
The Admirals defense has been quick and penetrating up front; free agent LB Greg Carothers has led the way, and if he can consistently play at the level I've seen through two weeks, he has a shot at getting picked up by an NFL team in need of help at linebacker.
The Centurions are 2-0 through the first two weeks of the 2005 season. Last week, they dominated the Rhein Fire at Dusseldorf, to capture the inaugural Rhein Cup, a challenge trophy donated by the mayors of the two teams' home cities (Cologne and Dusseldorf). If there is a more prestigious trophy in all of sport, I haven't seen it. WR Carl Morris (SD) has been Cologne's best offensive player through the first two weeks. A big guy with good hands, he's shown an ability to go over the middle on short/intermediate routes, and to find open space within a zone. He looks to be a solid possession receiver. He leads the league in receptions (12) and receiving yards (116) through two weeks.
The defending World Bowl champions are off to another quick start this year, defeating Frankfurt and squeezing by Hamburg to go to 2-0 after two weeks. They lead the league in total offense and total defense. QB Dave Ragone (Hou) looks confident guiding Berlin's ball control offense. WR Michael Jennings (NYG) has had a couple nice grabs, and at RB, Little John Flowers (NYJ) -- seriously, that's his name -- and Cal Murray (SD) have been solid on the ground.
The former Scottish Claymores franchise is 0-2 after the first two weeks of 2005, with two tough losses to Cologne and Berlin by a combined three points. TE Bobby Blizzard (Ari) is second in the league with 11 receptions after two weeks.
Frankfurt dug deep to come from behind against Amsterdam in Week 2. They'll have to play a lot better this week to beat a solid Cologne side. Smith should emerge as the #1 QB over Kevin Eakin (NYJ) and get progressively more playing time over the next few weeks. Frankfurt should look to have Galloway running early and take some of the pressure off Smith and their mediocre wideouts. Cologne moved the ball effectively against Rhein, and should be able to do the same against Frankfurt (particularly if Frankfurt doesn't eliminate the drive-sustaining penalties that have plagued them through two weeks). I think Frankfurt's chances in this game rest heavily on Galloway. If Cologne can contain the run, Smith will have to do something special to get the win. (DTV, by the way, is a network that plays German programming on American digital cable. Time to polish that Deutsch vocabulary.)
In the sprint that is NFL Europe, a Week 3 match up between winless teams is almost a must-win game for both. Hamburg is looking to overcome the disappointment of two tight losses, and Rhein is looking for any type of consistency on offense. Rhein has a bit of a dilemma at QB: Hall has been largely ineffective, while McBrien has had a tendency to throw momentum-killing interceptions. RB Joe Smith (Ten) has played well (a 69-yard run last week was called back on a holding penalty), but his good play will be hard to sustain if the passing game doesn't develop some type of consistency. The defense has played well, but they've been on the field too much the last couple of weeks. Cologne simply wore them out in the 2nd half last week. I expect Rhein will rotate Hall and McBrien early again this week, and ultimately go with whoever has the hottest hand. Hamburg (seemingly like every other team in NFL Europe) looks to eliminate the penalties that cost them last week against Berlin. They'd also like to run the ball more effectively to balance out their offense. Both teams should be hungry for a win after two tough losses. I expect a tight game and fairly low scoring. Rhein's defense should again, keep them in the game, but it won't be enough to overcome a pumped up Sea Devils side playing in front of their fans for the very first time.
Too bad this one isn't on NFL Network as it is the best game of the week. Amsterdam is a bit unlucky to not be 2-0. Berlin's offense should be tested by Amsterdam's quick defense.