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hawaiiansteel
05-11-2010, 08:55 PM
Pittsburgh Steelers: Five Reasons Why They Are Stronger In 2010

by David Law Correspondent



Critics and doubters of the Pittsburgh Steelers point to the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger, and the trade of Santonio Holmes, as primary reasons why the team will struggle in 2010.

However, there are some very strong reasons why fans should expect an improved record in the upcoming season.


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Here are five of those reasons.



DEFENSIVE STARTERS

The Steelers suffered through most of the 2009 season due to the loss of two key starters from their defensive unit—Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith.

Troy Polamalu is one of the most dynamic defensive players in the NFL— a player who can change a game with a timely interception, a devastating hit, or a QB sack at a key moment. He has a nose for the ball and a flair for the dramatic.

Polamalu’s healthy return represents a huge upgrade over Tyrone Carter, his replacement last season.

Polamalu is one of the keys to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s blitzing schemes, and the defense was notably more conservative in his absence.

Aaron Smith is one of the most underrated players in the NFL.

The defensive end is a key cog in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense, and Smith is quietly adept at stuffing the run, pressuring the QB, and freeing up the outside linebackers to pressure the quarterback.

The loss of Smith in Week No. Five, last year, was a blow to the defense.

Perhaps the single biggest defensive weakness last season was the play of cornerback William Gay.

He proved unable to handle the job on a full-time basis after backing up Bryant McFadden quite well the previous year.

McFadden’s return represents another upgrade defensively, while Gay should prove to be a more effective nickel back than last year’s DeShea Townsend.

Finally, Ziggy Hood appears poised to take over the starting defensive end job from Brett Keisel.

While Hood still needs to prove his superiority through the preseason and exhibition games, he is bigger, younger and faster than Keisel.

If Hood gets the nod as starter, then Pittsburgh should be starting Ziggy Hood and Aaron Smith this season, which is a nice upgrade over the tandem of Keisel and Travis Kirschke who manned those spots most of 2009.

If we look at projected starters for 2010 compared to their 2009 counterparts, we are looking at Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, Bryant McFadden and Ziggy Hood playing as opposed to Tyrone Carter, Travis Kirschke, William Gay and Brett Keisel.

It is not unreasonable to expect Pittsburgh to be one of the NFL’s dominant defenses in 2010.



DEFENSIVE DEPTH

One of the knocks on the Steelers in 2009 was that they were too old and didn’t have the depth to cover injuries on the defensive side of the ball.

That is less of an issue in 2010.

Will Allen was brought in as a free agent to be a backup safety.

The addition of McFadden means that Gay becomes the backup at cornerback instead of an old, slow DeShea Townsend.

However, a healthy Keenan Lewis, no longer a rookie, threatens to take Gay’s job as primary backup at corner, which only adds to that depth.

Defensive end looks to be deeper with Brett Keisel backing up Ziggy Hood. The return of Larry Foote adds depth at the inside linebacker spot, while rookie Jason Worilds should prove to be a strong backup at outside linebacker.

On the whole, the defensive depth in Pittsburgh is markedly better than in 2009, and adds to expectations of a return to defensive dominance.



SPECIAL TEAMS

Far and away, the worst element of the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers was their kick coverage.

Opposing returners frequently torched the Steelers for long runs and back-breaking TD returns.

The kick coverage woes cost coach Bob Ligashesky his job.

New special teams coach Al Everest will have a number of new players to reinforce those units.

The Steelers drafted a number of linebacker prospects who will be expected to contribute primarily in kick coverage this season.

Meanwhile, it appears that the skill positions will be in the same capable hands as last season. Reed, Sepulveda and Stefan Logan had solid seasons in the roles as placekicker, punter and return man, respectively.

The Steelers should be much improved in their special teams coverage in 2010. Honestly, they couldn’t be any worse. Even a return to merely-average would represent a significant improvement.



OFFENSIVE LINE

The offensive line was a much-criticized group last season.

Some of that criticism should rightly lie at the feet of QB Ben Roethlisberger, who tends to hold onto the ball longer than he should.

A number of Roethlisberger’s annual 50+ sacks are his fault, but that is the cost that comes with having a QB like Roethlisberger who occasionally turns those slow-developing plays into something spectacular.

Run-blocking also was a weakness in 2009, as the line often failed to pick up a run-blitz, and couldn’t open holes on short yardage plays.

First-round draft choice Maurkice Pouncey is expected to become a starter this season.

Ultimately destined to become center, Pouncey will probably start at right guard in 2010. He should improve both the pass-blocking and run-blocking this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends the year as the team’s best offensive lineman.

Another hint that the offensive line should be improved this season is the fact that O-line coach Larry Zierlein was fired and replaced by Sean Kugler.

The offensive linemen never developed the way that the team had hoped under Zierlein, and that should change with a new man in charge.

This is a unit that has underachieved because it has not developed the necessary agility and subtle techniques under Zierlein. Look for improvement from Colon, Kemoeatu and the rest this year.

Outside of Pouncey, the rest of the O-line returns intact, and we can expect that a full season together will show dividends in 2010 as they mesh as a unit and develop their skills.



RUNNING GAME

Team President Art Rooney, has publicly stated a desire to see the Steelers return to the effective running team that has been their tradition.

Rashard Mendenhall had a successful year in what was honestly his first year on the job.

Mendenhall averaged 4.6 yards a carry, and rushed for over 1,100 yards in only 12 starts after supplanting Fast Willie Parker as the Steelers primary runner last season. At age 22 we can expect big things this season from Mendenhall.

Many Steeler fans are hoping that Jonathan Dwyer proves to be one of the steals of the 2010 draft. Projected to be drafted much earlier, the Steelers obtained the 230-lb. Georgia Tech product in the sixth round.

Dwyer’s power running could complement Mendenhall’s slashing style, particularly if he adds some bulk.

Another reason for optimism in Steeler country is the possibility that the team might have a legitimate fullback on its 53-man roster in 2010.

That fullback could be Dwyer, or one of last year’s pair of Isaac Redman or Frank Summers.

More interesting, perhaps, is the possibility that the team could use converted Virginia Tech defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor as a fullback.

The 270-lb, Taylor could signal a return to a true fullback which has been missing since Dan Kreider departed.

It will be interesting to see if the offense really returns to more of a running attack that we have seen in the Bruce Arians era.

Offensive Coordinator Arians has shown a preference for the run over the pass, and has publicly stated that his offense doesn’t include a fullback.

Perhaps the suspension of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to begin the season will serve as the impetus to re-focus on the running game.

Last year’s inability to close out games with a running attack exposed the need to re-establish more of a power running game in Pittsburgh.

The same can be said of the team’s poor red-zone performance. Rooney merely said what most of the team’s fans were already thinking when he publicly called for a return to the run this season.

A legitimate threat in Mendenhall, combined with a good run-blocker in the form of Maurkice Pouncey, suggest that the team has the capacity to re-establish the run.

If Rooney’s desire to run wins out over Arians’ reluctance do so, then Steeler fans should see an offense that is better at converting short-yardage plays and eating up the clock.



CONCLUSION

Improvements in the five areas above will be more than enough to overcome the Roethlisberger suspension and the trade of Santonio Holmes.

In fact, I would argue that those two circumstances herald a return to what I consider to be the hallmarks of “Steeler football” — a strong running attack and suffocating, blitzing defense.

Well, that plus the other hallmark—winning.



http://cdn.bleacherreport.net/images_ro ... 1273601414 (http://cdn.bleacherreport.net/images_root/images/photos/000/951/826/98773771.jpg.5594_cropped.jpg?1273601414)

Oviedo
05-12-2010, 08:08 AM
My thoughts:

Will Allen will make a huge difference as far as safety depth. He is a major upgrade over Ty Carter.

Keenan Lewis may be ready to show something but Joe Burnett has already shown more and should not be discounted in the battle for CB or nickleback.

Sean Kugler may be the best off season acquisition. If he can do half of what he did for Buffalo last season we will see a major improvement in the OL. BTW--I don't expect Pouncey to be the opening day starter. He may be ready sometime after the bye week.

There won't be a full-time FB on roster this season unless they call Frank Summers a FB. Lead blocking will still be done primarily by a TE/FB like McHugh or Johnson...I prefer McHugh. Demetrius Taylor will need to spend a year on the practice squad to learn the FB position.

SteelAbility
05-12-2010, 08:29 AM
Troy baby! :tt2

I have to say I agree with pretty much all of the above.

Oviedo
05-12-2010, 08:57 AM
Troy baby! :tt2

I have to say I agree with pretty much all of the above.

Hopefully Troy can give us 16 games, but I'm not optimistic which is why I am glad we got Will Allen and sent Ty Carter away.

BradshawsHairdresser
05-12-2010, 09:09 AM
Five Big QUESTION MARKS for 2010:

DE--
Yes, Aaron Smith is back, but he's a year older. As his career has advanced, he has shown a propensity to injury. What is the likelihood he stays off IR this season? And if Ziggy Hood wrests a starting spot from Brett Keisel by the season opener, as the author suggests, I'll be shocked.

ILB--
James Farrior is a year older, too, and last season, he was already a liability in certain situations. So we have WHO to replace him on passing downs? Larry slow-a-Foote?
And that's supposed to inspire confidence?

CB--
I looked back at posts from this board from two years ago. One of the hot topics going into 2008 was whether that would be the year that Bryant McFadden finally broke into the starting lineup. He did, and his performance was such that, after returning from a mid-season injury, he was platooned with one William Gay. Then, following the season, the Steelers allowed BMac to leave in free agency, making little effort to keep him.
Now he's back...and he's supposed to be the cog that fixes a sorry unit?

S--
All-World player Troy Polamalu is back, but see what I wrote about Aaron Smith above.
Even with the "savior" in the lineup, the Steelers have had their problems in the D backfield, dating back to Super Bowl XLIII.

QB--
Franchise QB is out for at least four games. This situation presents a lot of "what ifs."
What if Leftwich plays like the third-stringer he was at Tampa? What if Dixon isn't ready to handle the starter's role? What if one of them steps in and plays outstanding -- leading the team to a perfect record? How will the fans, the city, the teammates, the coaches, and Big Ben respond? Will Ben make the lifestyle changes necessary to keep him out of trouble?



That's five question areas. I haven't even touched on concerns with WRs and OL...
Bottom line, I don't feel supremely confident that the Steelers will come out of 2010 with a better record than they had last season. I could see them going 11-5. I could also see them going 5-11. I sure hope it's something closer to the former. :tt2

flippy
05-12-2010, 09:17 AM
The only reason for us being better that's legit it Troy and Aaron.

Everything else is unknown at this point.

Subtract Ben and Santonio and that makes us a bit weaker.

But healthy Troy and Aaron will carry us imho.

RuthlessBurgher
05-12-2010, 10:32 AM
Two parts that I disagree with:


Ziggy Hood appears poised to take over the starting defensive end job from Brett Keisel.

Ziggy was not drafted as a replacement for Brett Keisel. On 8/31/2009, Keisel signed a five-year, $18.885 million contract, with a $5 million signing bonus. He's a starter, and he is in the prime of his career. Ziggy was drafted because Aaron Smith is getting older. Ziggy is ready to contribute more, and should rotate with Aaron at LDE, which would in turn help prevent Smitty's body from breaking down. Nick Eason, Sonny Harris, and Doug Worthington will battle to see who gets to relieve Keisel at RDE.


Dwyer’s power running could complement Mendenhall’s slashing style, particularly if he adds some bulk.

I agree that Dwyer was an excellent value, and he should complement Mendenhall well. But he should not be trying to add bulk. On of the issues he had in college was with weight. Apparently, he was up in the 250's at one point. Keeping him in the solid 230's is fine. He doesn't need to look like Bettis to be an effective complement to Mendenhall.

frankthetank1
05-12-2010, 10:36 AM
Two parts that I disagree with:

[quote]Ziggy Hood appears poised to take over the starting defensive end job from Brett Keisel.

Ziggy was not drafted as a replacement for Brett Keisel. On 8/31/2009, Keisel signed a five-year, $18.885 million contract, with a $5 million signing bonus. He's a starter, and he is in the prime of his career. Ziggy was drafted because Aaron Smith is getting older. Ziggy is ready to contribute more, and should rotate with Aaron at LDE, which would in turn help prevent Smitty's body from breaking down. Nick Eason, Sonny Harris, and Doug Worthington will battle to see who gets to relieve Keisel at RDE.


Dwyer’s power running could complement Mendenhall’s slashing style, particularly if he adds some bulk.

I agree that Dwyer was an excellent value, and he should complement Mendenhall well. But he should not be trying to add bulk. On of the issues he had in college was with weight. Apparently, he was up in the 250's at one point. Keeping him in the solid 230's is fine. He doesn't need to look like Bettis to be an effective complement to Mendenhall.[/quote:3nu87x3f]

i think we great depth at d-line. the FO has done a great job in filling that void. eason is a very good back up and hood showed a lot of promise last season. if sonny harris pans out we will be in great shape. hopefully in next year's draft we will get a future NT to be hampton's succesor

SteelAbility
05-12-2010, 03:49 PM
Whatever happened to the "Top 5 Reasons The Steelers Will Suck LLama Butt in 2010" Post? You know, a la BEF?

hawaiiansteel
05-12-2010, 04:30 PM
Troy baby! :tt2

I have to say I agree with pretty much all of the above.

Hopefully Troy can give us 16 games, but I'm not optimistic which is why I am glad we got Will Allen and sent Ty Carter away.



i'm not sure if Troy will be able to give us 16 games or not, but at least his hair will be healthier...

http://www.mediaincanada.com/articles/mic/20090911/polamalu.body_lead.jpg

TallyStiller
05-12-2010, 10:35 PM
Lest we forget, this team lost by a touchdown or less EVERY time it was beaten last year... literally a handful of plays change the season from 9 - 7 to 14 - 2. It won't take a whole lot to dramatically alter the results in a positive direction, IMHO.

Further taking into account the Steelers' historical penchant for performing abysmally when expectations are high after a great season (2002, 2003, 2006, 2009 recently) and tremendously when they're sneaking up on people (2001, 2004, 2008), I fully expect them to defy the expectations of most outside of the fan base and have a strong season... I think Ben gets the suspension reduced, we go 3 - 1 during (losing to either the Titans or Rats) on our way to 12 - 4 and winning the division.

flippy
05-13-2010, 12:20 PM
Lest we forget, this team lost by a touchdown or less EVERY time it was beaten last year... literally a handful of plays change the season from 9 - 7 to 14 - 2. It won't take a whole lot to dramatically alter the results in a positive direction, IMHO.


2 years ago we won the SuperBowl, we were barely good enough to win most games we won.

I think it says 1 thing about this team. We're mediocre. But Ben, Troy, and Aaron are spectacular.

Oviedo
05-13-2010, 02:58 PM
Lest we forget, this team lost by a touchdown or less EVERY time it was beaten last year... literally a handful of plays change the season from 9 - 7 to 14 - 2. It won't take a whole lot to dramatically alter the results in a positive direction, IMHO.


2 years ago we won the SuperBowl, we were barely good enough to win most games we won.

I think it says 1 thing about this team. We're mediocre. But Ben, Troy, and Aaron are spectacular.

You've just described every decent team in the NFL

MaxAMillion
05-13-2010, 07:30 PM
I don't know a team in the league that would not suffer greatly if they lost their starting QB and their number one WR. Throw in the fact that Ward is getting older and more injury prone and you are looking at some significant problems in the passing game.

Would the Colts be better than 9-7 if Manning missed a month and Reggie Wayne was traded? Would the Saints be better than 9-7 if Brees missed a month and Colston was traded? Would the Ravens be better than 9-7 if Flacco missed a month and Mason were traded?

I will all but guarantee that the Steelers will suffer in the win/loss column without Ben and Holmes playing. I don't care how much better you project the Steeler's aging defense.

BradshawsHairdresser
05-13-2010, 09:03 PM
Although there are plenty of questions on both offense and defense, I'm a lot more concerned about the defense at this point.

Sugar
05-14-2010, 10:44 AM
I don't know a team in the league that would not suffer greatly if they lost their starting QB and their number one WR. Throw in the fact that Ward is getting older and more injury prone and you are looking at some significant problems in the passing game.

Would the Colts be better than 9-7 if Manning missed a month and Reggie Wayne was traded? Would the Saints be better than 9-7 if Brees missed a month and Colston was traded? Would the Ravens be better than 9-7 if Flacco missed a month and Mason were traded?

I will all but guarantee that the Steelers will suffer in the win/loss column without Ben and Holmes playing. I don't care how much better you project the Steeler's aging defense.

What an amazingly sensible post. My hope is that they can play over their head until Ben gets back and that we actually have something special in Sanders or Wallace.

Oviedo
05-14-2010, 11:15 AM
I don't know a team in the league that would not suffer greatly if they lost their starting QB and their number one WR. Throw in the fact that Ward is getting older and more injury prone and you are looking at some significant problems in the passing game.

Would the Colts be better than 9-7 if Manning missed a month and Reggie Wayne was traded? Would the Saints be better than 9-7 if Brees missed a month and Colston was traded? Would the Ravens be better than 9-7 if Flacco missed a month and Mason were traded?

I will all but guarantee that the Steelers will suffer in the win/loss column without Ben and Holmes playing. I don't care how much better you project the Steeler's aging defense.

Makes sense but the question becomes can the defense get you two to three wins that they gave away last season.

On the surface though I think you are right and no way do I see more than a 10-11 win season. A 7-8 win season would not surprise me if we start slow in Ben's absence.

frankthetank1
05-14-2010, 11:26 AM
I don't know a team in the league that would not suffer greatly if they lost their starting QB and their number one WR. Throw in the fact that Ward is getting older and more injury prone and you are looking at some significant problems in the passing game.

Would the Colts be better than 9-7 if Manning missed a month and Reggie Wayne was traded? Would the Saints be better than 9-7 if Brees missed a month and Colston was traded? Would the Ravens be better than 9-7 if Flacco missed a month and Mason were traded?

I will all but guarantee that the Steelers will suffer in the win/loss column without Ben and Holmes playing. I don't care how much better you project the Steeler's aging defense.

Makes sense but the question becomes can the defense get you two to three wins that they gave away last season.

On the surface though I think you are right and no way do I see more than a 10-11 win season. A 7-8 win season would not surprise me if we start slow in Ben's absence.


i would be ecstatic with 10-11 wins. i think 7-8 will happen unfortunately. the passing game was by far the best part of the offense last season and we wont have been for a while and no tone.

the defense is a year older. im glad they have foote back because i thought farrior showed a lot of age last season. bmac is a lot better than gay, but he isnt an elite cb or anything. hopefully woodley's second half of last season will carry over to the first half of this season and harrison has a better year. if they have a pass rush as consistent as 2008 then i think we will win 10-11 games. if the pass rush is like last season i think we will have another dissapointing season.

Snatch98
05-14-2010, 10:45 PM
Lest we forget, this team lost by a touchdown or less EVERY time it was beaten last year... literally a handful of plays change the season from 9 - 7 to 14 - 2. It won't take a whole lot to dramatically alter the results in a positive direction, IMHO.

Further taking into account the Steelers' historical penchant for performing abysmally when expectations are high after a great season (2002, 2003, 2006, 2009 recently) and tremendously when they're sneaking up on people (2001, 2004, 2008), I fully expect them to defy the expectations of most outside of the fan base and have a strong season... I think Ben gets the suspension reduced, we go 3 - 1 during (losing to either the Titans or Rats) on our way to 12 - 4 and winning the division.

Simply improving our special teams which we did is going to make a enormous difference. We have great LB depth and hopefully the addition of Pouncey really solidifies our offensive line. We could be in for a pretty special year even with Ben down for 4 games.