Mike Ditka on the Steelers: It’s Not Happening in Pittsburgh Right Now

ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 5 – ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson previewed today’s NFL action with Suzy Kolber, analysts Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski and NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. Musician Joe Walsh also joined the Sunday NFL Countdown crew in studio. His Funk #50 is the show’s theme song. Some excerpts from today’s show:

 On Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady…

Carter: “You can’t give either one of these quarterbacks the same look. You can’t come out and play 40 snaps of man-to-man, you can’t come out and play all zone. You have to be able to mix it up. Now, New England, no one is better offensively as far as changing or deviating from a game plan week to week. So Denver, they’re not going to know what they’re doing for the first four or five series. That’s why I believe the New England defense has a huge advantage.”

Jackson: “You know why we’re so intrigued by this game? There’s been six quarterbacks who have thrown 300 touchdowns. Three of them are going to be in that stadium; with John Elway in the stands, three of them are going to be in that stadium. So we know we’re looking at greatness either way.”

 On the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Pittsburgh Steelers… 

Carter: “This game definitely has got some bite to it or some bark to it.”

Johnson: “Pittsburgh’s going to have to run the football better. They need more balance.”

Ditka: “When you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I think of defense, ground and pound. I don’t care about how good (Terry) Bradshaw was or receivers. They established the running game. It’s not happening in Pittsburgh right now and that’s part of their problem.”

Berman: “Philly’s offense, whether they run or pass, it’s a sports car with Michael Vick that should drive 70-75, but not 110.”

 On the impact of Chuck Pagano’s absence…

Jackson: “First and foremost, we wish him a swift and complete recovery. But you can tell how near and dear he is to this organization. We see players go through tragic situations – Brett Favre comes to mind, Torrey Smith this year – and they manage to come out on the field and put on a great performance. That has not usually been the case when it comes to your coach… teams don’t tend to react well to their coach being off the field. Even Sean Payton being suspended comes to mind as I watch the demise this year thus far of the Saints.” 

Carter: “They’re head coaches for a reason, and I believe that they’re really, really special.”

On the 2-2 Green Bay Packers – are they back on track?

Ditka: “They don’t have a running game. You have to be honest. The Pack is back, they’re a good football team. But when you don’t run the ball, defenses play you differently. They play a lot of zone, they drop back, they don’t give you the deep pass, and that’s basically what’s happened. They’re not getting the home run anymore.” 

On Atlanta – can we trust these Falcons?

Johnson: “Sounds good, Boom, smells bad.”

Ditka: “Unless you win in the playoffs, you’re going to be known as next year’s champions.”

On the San Francisco 49ers…

Carter: “I mean, they are a very good football team. They’re very, very balanced. Their attitude and what they bring week in and week out I believe is a constant. And that is, we’re going to run the football, we’re going to be tougher than the next guy, we have a certain style for which we’re going to play with and that’s it. And I believe also the arrogance of the head coach – it rubs off on the rest of the team.”

Jackson: “I’ve been on board with this team, even though they had a loss on their record. But I just want to know how it is they remain as physical as they are – both sides of the football, running, the way they play defense when you only have that one day in pads. I want to know how they do that as opposed to the rest of the league.”

Ditka: “Jim Harbaugh’s personality is all over this football team. They run the big two tight end-two back package more than anybody in football. Why? They want to impose their will on you, and they want to break your will.”

On Drew Brees, who is tied with Johnny Unitas for the NFL record of consecutive games (47) with a touchdown pass…

Jackson: “What an accomplishment it is for Brees, but perspective – and I think that’s what we’re lookin’ for here – this record stood up for 52 years. The age in which we live where you throw the ball the way they throw it now, I don’t think that any passing record is safe… we’re seeing a different football game played, but kudos to Drew Brees for being the guy who finally got past this record.”

Johnson: “I’ll take either one as my quarterback.”

Berman: “When you watch Johnny Unitas and those black-and-white films from the ‘50s, you can still see the modern game… he was that far ahead of his time.”