Monday, August 30, 2010
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers Preview
Expectations are always high for a team coming off a championship season. After winning the Super Bowl in 2008, The Pittsburgh Steelers had an up and down season in 2009 but still managed to finish with a respectful 9-7 record. Controversy hit the team in the offseason, as franchise QB Ben Roesthlisberger being suspended for the first 6 games due to violating the NFL's conduct policy and the team also traded troubled receiver Santonio Holmes to the Jets (as he was also facing a suspension to begin the 2010 campaign). The Steelers are hoping head coach Mike Tomlin can keep the team together and make a return to the playoffs.
The Steelers have always had the identity of a hard-nosed team that relies heavily on the running game, but that trend has shifted over the last couple of seasons with Roethlisberger under center. Roethlisberger's strong arm and accuracy has allowed the offense to incorporate more of a vertical attack and they have been quite successful with this strategy. With "Big Ben" missing the first 4-6 games, look for third year RB Rashard Mendenhall to see a lot action early & often. After sitting on the sideline for most of his rookie season Mendenhall was made the starter for '09 and responded with over 1100 yards rushing. He's a solid back with good speed and the power to move the pile so another 1,000 yard season should not be a problem.
With journeyman back up QB Byron Leftwich holding down the starting QB spot in Roethlisberger's absence, the passing game will take on a low-risk, low reward focus. Expect a ton of short passes to reliable veteran WR Hines Ward and TE Heath Miller. Despite just average speed, Ward continues to be productive with precise route running and great hands. He's also known as the best blocking wide out in the NFL. Now that Holmes is no longer in Pittsburgh, speedster Mike Wallace will start opposite Ward and it looks like he is more than capable of handling the responsibility. Wallace runs a 4.3 40 and is a deep threat on just about any down. His value should skyrocket once Roethlisberger is back on the field. The offensive line is massive and should provide good protection for whoever is under center.
The "Steel Curtain" runs a classic 3-4 defensive scheme, with their defensive ends & massive DT Casey Hampton occupying blockers and allowing their spectacular linebackers to make plays all over the field. LB LaMarr Woodley is a terror on opposing quarterbacks and finished last season with 13.5 sacks, while 2008 Defensive POY James Harrison brought pressure from the other side to account for 10 sacks himself. Middle linebackers James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons are reliable tacklers and able to get to the ball carrier in a hurry. When healthy, perennial Pro-Bowl SS Troy Polamalu technically plays like a fifth linebacker, as he is always around the line of scrimmage and in the backfield causing havoc. He has the speed to cover slot receivers, a knack for making big plays in the clutch and is still one of the most feared hitters in the game. CBs Bryant McFadden & Ike Taylor are decent in coverage and capable of getting the job done. The Steelers should again rank among the league leaders in total defense in 2010.
Even with Ben Roethlisberger missing the beginning of the season, the Steelers still have a defense that is strong enough to carry them to a few victories early. Mike Tomlin and staff seem to always do an excellent job of motivating the players and you can never count out that Steeler pride. Expect the Terrible Towels to be waving in excitement all season as the Steelers attempt to make a return to the playoffs and another run at a title. Just make sure to keep Big Ben out of the bars, clubs, family barbeques... hell, anywhere there are women present.