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Hall of Fame Game Preview

Hall of Fame Game Preview

Hall of Fame Game Preview + Free Pick
by Robert Ferringo

Raise your hand if you are giddy with excitement thinking about Michael Irvin giving a speech at the National Football League Hall of Fame induction ceremony weekend in Canton, Ohio (Right now I am nearly falling out of my chair raising both arms.)

For me, this entire weekend will be a complete waste of time if Irvin doesn't stroll up to the podium in a long fur coat and a fedora, with a Mexican hooker on each arm, hopped up on several grams of Bolivian cocaine, and tell everyone that he is the greatest football player of all time in the broken English that only he can muster. After that, I'm hoping Irvin will turn to Troy Aikman and claim that he was the real reason the Boys won all of those titles - and than tell Aikman that he banged his girlfriend.

Let me take that back; the weekend won't be a total failure if I don't get my Dream Speech out of Irvin as long as I hit on my plays on the Hall of Fame Game between New Orleans and Pittsburgh. The game marks our first opportunity to wager on "real" football since the Pro Bowl in February. It kicks off at 8 p.m., on Sunday at Fawcett Stadium in Canton. The Steelers have been installed as a 2.5-point favorite, with the line reaching 3.0 at several online books. The total opened at 35 but has already dipped a full point.

Now, I can't tell you which team I like in the game because it's privileged information. Well, not that privileged because you can find out for $29. But I can share a bit of insight on how I handicapped the game. Remember, breaking down a preseason game is a completely different animal than approaching a game during the regular season. There are certain indicators and trends that we need to focus on that aren't usually considered during the regular season.

New Orleans is coming off a dream season in 2006. They brought back 20 starters from last year's squad, adding depth in free agency and the draft, and retained their entire coaching staff. By all indications, Drew Brees has looked sharp in camp and the offense figures to be a well-oiled machine. Also, the NFC has won eight of the past 12 Hall of Fame Games. New Orleans should be confident and smooth to open the game.

Conversely, this will be the first game as a head coach for Pittsburgh's new leader, Mike Tomlin. It's also the first game for new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who was the former OC for the Cleveland Browns from 2001-03. The Steelers will be without starting running back Willie Parker (knee) as well as linebackers James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, and are going to be running both their usual 3-4 defense as well as some new 4-3 looks. Don't be surprised if some toes get stepped on.

Now, you would think that the familiarity and cohesion that the Saints have would be a tremendous advantage. And to a certain extent, it is. But at this stage it actually may restrict them. Head coach Sean Payton already knows what his guys can do. This game is actually one of five tune-up games the Saints have before the season starts. Because Payton has experience and confidence in his guys he won't want to burn them out or risk injury any more than he has to in what is essentially an extra outing.

Tomlin, on the other hand, will likely be looking to make a statement with his first game. He's been running a brutal training camp, pushing his veteran team with rough, physical practices. Again, it's all about setting the tone and marking your territory. I recently read an article in which it said that Tomlin considers himself a "you play the way you practice" kind of guy. I think as a result that what the Steelers lack in system understanding they will make up for in tenacity and aggressiveness. How Tomlin approaches this game is a key factor, and I think that he's going to go all out.

But will it make a difference? I suspect that the New Orleans first teamers will be better off than the Pittsburgh first teamers. However, preseason games are no different than regular season games in that they are both won and lost in the fourth quarter. The distinction is that in the preseason it comes down to third- and fourth-string players, the most important of which are the backup quarterbacks. This is an area where I feel like the Steelers have an edge.

Steeler backups Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre have each been in Pittsburgh for at least three years. They know their receivers and have plenty of experience. The Saints have Jamie Martin, Jason Fife and Tyler Palko. By all accounts, Fife and Palko have been a wreck in training camp. Nearly 60 percent of scoring in the Hall of Fame Game over the past 15 years had taken place in the second and fourth quarters - the express domain of the backups and the back-back-backups. It's possible that the Steelers will hold an advantage in these two areas, but it may not make a difference if the Saints first team puts up two or three quick scores.

Which brings me to my free pick for the game:

Take 'Over' 34.0 New Orleans vs. Pittsburgh. (8 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 5)
From what I can gather, both Brees and Ben Roethlisberger have looked very good in training camp thus far. The Saints are already very comfortable in their system, so I'd be surprised not to get a touchdown or two out of their first and second teams in the first half. Pittsburgh will be without Parker, so I get the idea that Arians will try to air it out. When he was the OC in Cleveland, Arians' teams averaged 25.0 points in their first preseason game. The average number of total points scored in those three games was 52.7, which would put us comfortably over the posted number.

The 'over' has hit at 57 percent over the past 15 years and the games have sailed over this total in three of the past five seasons. I mean, these two teams combined for nearly 80 points in the regular season last year. I anticipate more of the same.

This should be an enjoyable game. I fully expect to hit on my selections, but the bottom line is that football is back and what's most important over the next five weeks is to get a good feel for the teams, the spreads, and the public perceptions of both. Clearly it's great to pad your roll before the Real Season starts, but working the systems and sharpening the instincts could end up paying even bigger dividends.

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Re: Hall of Fame Game Preview

Steelers set to take the field in Hall of Fame game

LATROBE, Pa. - Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may one and done in Sunday's Hall of Fame game against the New Orleans Saints.

That's one series and off the field.

Coach Mike Tomlin plans for his starters to play only 12 to 15 snaps, or about two series of play in the first of the Steelers' five preseason games. Mostly, he wants them on the field to get their timing down under game conditions.

Roethlisberger, who has enjoyed a strong training camp to date, may play even less than that.

"It is our intention to play Ben a little less than most of the starters and go with Charlie Batch after that," Tomlin said Friday.

With Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker out with a sore knee, Najeh Davenport will start, but the other running backs in camp should get plenty of work. Also out are linebacker Lawrence Timmons (groin), the first-round pick who has barely practiced since being drafted in April.

Because their Hall of Fame game appearance in Canton, Ohio, required the Steelers to report to camp for to five days ahead of most NFL teams, Tomlin knows his players are ready to go against somebody other than themselves.

"We look forward to taking the next step Sunday night and seeing where we are against some unfamiliar faces," Tomlin said.

To Tomlin, what occurs in the preseason counts more than what takes place on the practice field.

"It's a little different when the lights go on," Tomlin said. "I think you weigh them heavier than you do practices. The level of intensity is up a notch, it really is, particularly in the special teams games. It's very tough to simulate that on the practice field."

No doubt Tomlin is eager to see if all the practice time devoted to special teams will play off in the kicking time. Neither of his two immediate predecessors, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll, devoted nearly as much practice time to special teams as Tomlin has.

"I want to see what this team is about," Tomlin said. "I try not to go in with any preconceived notions."

Notes:@ As expected, Tomlin called off Friday morning's planned practice. The team worked out once, in the afternoon. ... Also out are LB Derek Rehage (thumb) and OL Darnell Stapleton (knee). Stapleton had surgery Friday to repair torn knee cartilage. ... LB James Harrison, the likely replacement for Joey Porter at right outside linebacker, likely will sit out with sore ribs. If he doesn't play, second-round draft pick LaMarr Woodley will start. ... Willie Reid, the second-year wide receiver returning from a serious foot injury, will return punts and kickoffs. He played in only one game last season. ... Batch will be followed by Brian St. Pierre and Bryan Randall. ... The Steelers will have their first offday in 15 days on Monday. They haven't been off since reporting to camp July 23. They have only one practice scheduled Tuesday.

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Re: Hall of Fame Game Preview

Team to fly to Canton for game

JACKSON, Miss. — The New Orleans Saints wrapped up preparations for their exhibition opener in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, on Sunday night with a single workout Friday.

The lone practice came after seven straight days of two-a-days as coach Sean Payton decided to back off and let the players get some rest for Sunday night’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Payton said there’s a chance strong safety Roman Harper, who had soreness this week in his surgically-repaired left knee, will not play. Payton also said running back Deuce McAllister is healthy, but may also be held out.

Payton hopes to get quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush one or two series of work and get his other starters out after one quarter. The backups would work into the third quarter with third-teamers finishing up.

The Saints will fly to Canton after a brief walkthrough this morning. The entire team will tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight.

Brees eyes Canton
Players usually don’t like playing a fifth exhibition game, but Brees is one who’s excited about the trip. Since he’s never visited the Hall of Fame, he relishes the opportunity to tour the facility.

Brees said he was a fan of Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Troy Aikman and has a connection to one of this year’s inductees — Thurman Thomas.

Thomas was inducted into the Texas High School Hall of Fame in 1991, the same year Brees’ grandfather, Ray Akins, went in after a legendary high-school coaching career in that state.

“I was 12 years old and I remember getting (Thomas’) autograph and thinking how cool it was,” Brees said. “I’ve had the chance to meet him on a few occasions since. Every time I see Thurman, we’re old buddies.”

QBs to get look
Payton, who would like to develop a quarterback for the future, is looking forward to evaluating Jason Fife and Tyler Palko in a game situation.

Fife was a member of the Saints’ practice squad last season, but Palko is the newcomer as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Pittsburgh.

“Those live snaps you get at quarterback over the period of four or five games are very important,” Payton said. “I think for both of them, the preseason games will be important to evaluate that position.”

New kid on the block
Wide receiver Chris Jackson, who was signed by the Saints in time for Thursday second practice, said he hopes to play Sunday night. The former Millsaps College standout was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent and went to camp with them last week — only to be cut Tuesday.

Payton said Jackson might get into the game, perhaps as a kick returner.

Play of the day
Jackson was in the right spot when a pass from Fife glanced off the hands of running back Antonio Pittman and popped high into the air. Jackson alertly picked the tipped pass out of the air, saving a possible interception.

Sitting out
Four players who have missed all or a good portion of the first week of camp won’t play Sunday. They are DT Brian Young (foot), DE Rob Ninkovich (knee), DE Anton Palepoi (ankle) and WR Jamal Jones (knee).

Wide receiver Rhema McKnight, who was cut on Thursday, was claimed off waivers by San Diego. … Sunday’s game will be seen on the NFL Network on Cox digital cable ch. 241. ... Palko’s brother, Luke, is serving as an intern in the Steelers’ personnel department this season.

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Re: Hall of Fame Game Preview

NFL Preseason Preview - New Orleans (0-0) Vs. Pittsburgh (0-0)

(Sports Network) - The NFL preseason will kick off in traditional fashion on Sunday night, when the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints do battle in the annual Hall of Fame from Canton, OH.

The game will mark the Steelers sideline debut for head coach Mike Tomlin, the former Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator who takes over for the departed Bill Cowher. Tomlin, in keeping with early preseason tradition, is not expected to play his starters for any great length of time. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to appear briefly, but running back Willie Parker (knee) is among the offensive standouts expected to be held out. On defense, linebackers James Harrison (ribs) and Lawrence Timmons (groin) are unlikely to appear.

The Steelers come off an 8-8 season that was preceded by the team's first Super Bowl title in 26 years.

The Saints, meanwhile, will be in uniform for the first time since their 39-14 loss to the Bears in last year's NFC Championship.

New Orleans' main directive in preparing for the season is sculpting its defensive lineup, which has been enhanced through the free agent addition of linebackers Brian Simmons (ex-Bengals), Dhani Jones (ex-Eagles), cornerback Jason David (ex-Colts), safety Kevin Kaesviharn (ex-Bengals), and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy (ex-Cardinals).

Offensively, Payton and his staff should be able to get an extended look at first-round draft choice and wide receiver Robert Meachem (Tennessee), who is being counted on to fill the gap left by departed wideout Joe Horn (now with the Falcons).

Defensive tackle Brian Young (foot) is among the prominent New Orleans players who will not be in uniform on Sunday night.

The Steelers lead the all-time preseason series with the Saints, 7-3, but were 26-0 road losers in the last such meeting, prior to the 1992 campaign.

Pittsburgh defeated New Orleans, 38-31, when the teams met at Heinz Field in Week 10 of last season.

The annual Hall of Fame game is played at Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium, a Canton city high school facility which seats 22,375 and can accommodate up to 1,500 in standing room. It is located directly across the street from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The first game of the series was played in 1962, a year before the Hall was opened. Except for 1966, there has been a Hall of Fame game in Canton every year since.

The Steelers have a 2-2 record in Hall of Fame Games, including a 30-6 loss to Tampa Bay when they last played in Canton, in 1998. Pittsburgh's most recent Hall of Fame Game win was a 27-14 triumph over New Orleans in 1983.

The Saints are 1-2 in their three Hall of Fame Game appearances, last appearing when they lost, 10-3, to the Colts in 1996. New Orleans' lone Hall of Fame Game win came in 1970, when they defeated the Vikings.

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Re: Hall of Fame Game Preview

Steelers top Saints in Hall of Fame Game
August 5th, 2007

Canton, OH (Sports Network) - Pittsburgh backup quarterback Brian St. Pierre threw for 129 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers defeated the New Orleans Saints, 20-7, in the annual Hall of Fame game.

Starting signal caller Ben Roethlisberger, in limited action, completed a 55- yard reception to Cedrick Wilson on Pittsburgh's opening possession that lead to a four-yard Najeh Davenport touchdown.

The game marked the Steelers sideline debut for head coach Mike Tomlin, the former Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator who took over for the departed Bill Cowher.

The Steelers come off a disappointing 8-8 season that was preceded by the team's first Super Bowl title in 26 years.

New Orleans' first-team offense struggled, as Drew Brees completed just one of six pass attempts for six yards.

The Saints are coming off a successful 10-6 season that ended with a lopsided loss to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship.

Tomlin's tenure couldn't have gotten off to a better start as the Steelers marched down the field on their opening possession for a touchdown.

After a short Davenport run on Pittsburgh's first play, Roethlisberger rolled to his right and hooked up with Wilson for a 55-yard reception down to the Saints' 23-yard line.

Two plays later, with Pittsburgh facing a 3rd-and-9, Roethlisberger found Wilson once again for an 18-yard reception and a Steelers first down on New Orleans four-yard line. Davenport, with Pittsburgh starting running back Willie Parker not dressed, finished off the drive when he bulled his way across the goal line.

Both teams' starters soon came out of the game, as Tomlin and Saints head coach Sean Payton got extended looks at their backups.

In the second quarter, Santonio Holmes hauled in a 41-yard catch from St. Pierre that brought the Steelers down to the New Orleans seven-yard line. One play later, Pierre hooked up with Holmes for a short three-yard score that made it 14-0 with just under nine minutes left in the first half.

Jeff Reed added a 28-yard field goal as Pittsburgh took a 17-0 lead into the locker room.

The Saints finally got on the board with their opening drive of the third quarter, marching 72 yards on 16 plays. Faced with a 4th-and-goal on the Steelers' one-yard line, Jason Fife found Kevin Dudley open in the left flat for a touchdown.

Reed kicked a 39-yarder as time expired in the third quarter to push Pittsburgh's lead to 20-7.

New Orleans wide receiver Robert Meachem, the team's first-round pick, was leveled by Pittsburgh rookie cornerback William Gay in the fourth quarter on a pass over the middle. The Tennessee product eventually got to his feet and returned to the sideline.

Gay soon added an interception when he stepped in front of a Tyler Palko pass.

The annual Hall of Fame game is played at Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium, a Canton city high school facility which seats 22,375 and can accommodate up to 1,500 in standing room. It is located directly across the street from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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