View Full Version : Mystery of Heinz to impact Ravens vs. Steelers

01-14-2011, 07:30 PM
Mystery of Heinz to impact Ravens vs. Steelers
Peter King SI
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Now this is going to be fun.

Five of the last seven Pittsburgh-Baltimore games have been decided by a field goal. Heinz Field, site of Saturday's AFC semifinal game between the Steelers and Ravens, has been a Bermuda Triangle for kickers.

In the 10-year history of Heinz Field, the longest field goal has been 52 yards, and kickers have made only three of 16 (19 percent) from 50 yards and longer in Heinz history. They've hit on 60 percent of their tries from 40 to 49 yards since Heinz Field opened in 2001.

A couple of issues Saturday could make kicking interesting. The field has new sod in the wake of the New Year's Day hockey game. In bad, wintry weather, the sod has had 12 days to mesh with the field. And kicking into the south end of the stadium, which is always problematic because of swirling winds, could be more troubling with winds from the southwest forecast at about 10-20 mph, and a 70 percent chance of snow. So it could come down Baltimore's Billy Cundiff or Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham Saturday evening in Pittsburgh. Their record at Heinz:

Kicker, Team Games FG-FGA FG Made FG Missed
Cundiff, Bal. 3 3-4 27, 35, 33 46 (wide right)
Suisham, Pit. 4 6-7 23, 35, 41, 42, 26, 29 41 (wide right)

Cundiff said whenever the wind comes from south or southwest, that adds to the unpredictability.

When the Ravens played at Pittsburgh Oct. 3, with light winds from the north, Cundiff had a 46-yarder from the left hash that he aimed straight toward the middle of the uprights. At the last second, the kick veered hard right.

"I have no idea why,'' Cundiff said from Maryland on Wednesday. "That's why this is the great mystery of Heinz Field. Whoever says it doesn't play with your head going into a game is lying.''

There's one other factor of significance with Cundiff, who normally would be a big factor in a field-position kind of game like this one promises to be. He tied the NFL record with 40 touchbacks this year, but don't look for him to boom the ball out of the end zone, or six yards deep, on Saturday.

"The resodding,'' he said, "probably means we'll struggle with footing. At Heinz, when you kick off, you really don't get all of the ball, because you're concerned about the footing. Normally, when I kick off, I'm 10 yards from the ball. But here, I'll start nine yards away and take shorter steps so I can be sure of my footing. Then I'll lean over the ball. You lose distance because you're focused on making sure you keep your balance.''

But ...

"You just have to suck it up and deal with it. We're kickers. Nobody wants to hear our excuses.''

Suisham prefers to ignore the Heinz Factor. "I see where you're going with this,'' he told me, "but I guess with me maybe ignorance is bliss. I just kick. I don't concern myself with that very much. It's often not easy, or ideal conditions for a kicker. But I grew up in Canada. I kicked at Bowling Green [in northwest Ohio]. I'm OK with whatever the weather is, whatever the conditions are.''

I asked both kickers about this being such a close series, with so many games decided by three points; how would they feel about the game coming down to their right foot, in the final seconds?

I found the answers telling. See what you think.

Suisham: [Pause] "I enjoy extra points. I hope we're scoring touchdowns. Coming in every game, they can all come down to that one kick. It's part of the job. You can't find that anywhere else.''

Cundiff: "I would absolutely love it. When I was out of football, what I missed about the game most was the opportunity to have the game riding on my right leg. When I was out of football, I went and got my MBA at Arizona State, then went and got a paid internship with a venture capital firm as an analyst. I enjoyed it. And what that did was make it easier to live with the pressure of being a kicker, because now I'm not scared about the what-ifs. Now I know I'll be able to survive no matter what happens to me in this job. I think that helps me do my best. It takes away a lot of the pressure.''

Advantage, Cundiff -- I think ... unless he's kicking into the south end of the stadium, and the wind kicks up. Then? Flip a coin.

01-14-2011, 07:37 PM
Steelers confident that kicker Shaun Suisham matches up well against Billy Cundiff
January 13, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Shaun Suisham is just about the polar opposite of former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed.

He's quiet, he's humble, he's Canadian, he's never been photographed shirtless and intoxicated in public, and he seems like an unlikely candidate to rip his own fans and his own field if something goes wrong.

He's also been virtually automatic on field goals this year (14 of 15) ever since the Steelers decided to cut Reed in November. Reed had been with the team for eight years, but wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh with some of his wacky antics off the field and his inconsistency on it. He was, however, with the Steelers for two Super Bowl runs, and this will be Suisham's first playoff game.

"This game is certainly more meaningful," Suisham said. "We need to win. But that certainly doesn't change anything that I do to get ready for the game."

Baltimore might feel that it would have the advantage in a close game thanks to the exceptional year Pro Bowl selection Billy Cundiff has had, but the Steelers feel pretty good about their kicker as well.

"He's banged just about every kick we sent him out there to hit," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Suisham. "But not only that, he has a can-do attitude. He is a pleasant teammate. He has endeared himself to his teammates because of it. He doesn't bat an eye when you ask him to do some special things, whether it's kickoffs and spreading the ball around or lobs. He has just been a pro. He has been a good addition to us."

Suisham and Cundiff were actually in Dallas together briefly, although they were both fighting for the same job so they weren't exactly close.

"He's really been impressive this year," Suisham said. "His kickoffs have really been impressive."

Suisham said he was not worried about feeling any additional playoff pressure on Saturday. He has, after all, been essentially kicking for his job every since he got to Pittsburgh.

"Certainly the stakes are higher for the team," Suisham said. "But for me, it's the same. I'm always going out on the field with only one goal, and that's to make the field goal. I'll be prepared for whatever I'm asked to do."

01-14-2011, 08:32 PM
I like Suisham's approach. If we kept Reed we'd probably had to create a whole stadium for him.