2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Preview
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
2008 Record: 12-4 regular season, earned sixth Super Bowl trophy
Key Additions: Draft picks—DE Evander “Ziggy” Hood, WR Mike Wallace, CB Keenan Lewis, CB Joe Burnett, RB Frank Summers, DT Ra’Shon Harris, C A.Q. Shipley, TE David Johnson
Key Losses: WR Nate Washington, CB Bryant McFadden, QB Byron Leftwich, S Anthony Smith, G Marvel Smith, G Kendall Simmons
Statistically, Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 3,300 yards and 17 touchdowns, 15 touchdowns fewer than 2007, and was sacked 46 times, one less than 2007.
The Steelers vaunted 3-4 defense, which remained solid all season ranked No.1 in all categories, except rush defense where they ranked No.2.
It has been said the Steelers have the third easiest schedule in the NFL and will face four division winners.
Yet there are still obstacles that could cause them to fall short of another Super Bowl.
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense
Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl, despite ranking 23rd in the league in rushing yards per game and 29th in yards per carry, the second-lowest standing since they joined the AFC in 1970.
The offense became uncharacteristically reliant on the pass, partly because running back Willie Parker, a 1,200-yard rusher each of the previous three seasons, lacked his usual speed and cutback ability after injuring his knee early in the season.
Steelers recorded 460 rushing attempts and averaged 3.7 yards per carry. This is the lowest since 2003 when they averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Another reason for the lack of a running game can be attributed to offensive line struggles.
The Steelers were put in the position to rebuild with the loss of All-Pro guard Alan Faneca to free agency, center Sean Mahan was traded, and guard Kendall Simmons and tackle Marvel Smith were lost early for the year with injuries.
To reinforce the line, the Steelers acquired C Justin Hartwig from Carolina; added two first-year starters at guard Chris Kemoeatu and Darnell Stapleton, a second-year starter at right tackle Willie Colon and tackle Max Starks.
Towards the end of the regular season, the line improved, enough to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
A second year with the same line should be significantly better. The Steelers insured themselves on this by spending big money to maintain the line, putting the franchise tag on Starks and signing both Kemoeatu, Colon, and Trai Essex.
The Steelers badly needed a backup tackle. One who has not seen any playing time yet is fourth round draft pick Tony Hill.
Last year's draft picks, Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed, are expected to provide a boost to the offense.
Mendenhall, who was expected to handle carries in goal line and short yardage situations and relieve "fast" Willie Parker in the backfield, injured his shoulder against the Baltimore Ravens. He is expected to be 100 percent by training camp.
Third receiver Nate Washington signed with the Tennessee Titans last March, leaving a gaping hole in the receiving corp.
Washington had 40 catches for 631 yards and three touchdowns last season, playing behind Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward.
Known as the team's fastest and most athletic receiver, and Washington had distinguished himself during one stretch in which he caught at least one pass of 48 yards or longer in four consecutive games.
This means Limas Sweed, a No. 2 draft choice last season, will move up as the third receiver and have the chance to convince Coach Mike Tomlin that he deserves a roster spot next season..
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense
There is still life in the now “aged” defensive line manned by NT Casey Hampton, and DE Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. Pittsburgh drafted DE Evander “Ziggy’ Hood and DT Ra’Shon Harris to add some youth to the line.
LB Lawrence Timmons will move into the starting "Mack" inside linebacker job, held by former LB Larry Foote.
Timmons played the nickel linebacker, and recorded five sacks last year. With Foote gone, Timmons will play his nickel position as well as the run-downs.
Moving Timmons to start will leave no experienced backup at either inside or outside. He was the top backup at all four spots.
Keyaron Fox and Donovan Woods are among the inside candidates to back up Timmons and Farrior.
Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison signed a six-year, $51 million contract extension to remain a Steeler to 2014.
Arguably the biggest free agency loss this offseason was cornerback Bryant McFadden, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals. While Ike Taylor is solid on one side, DeShea Townsend is entering his 12th season with the team.
It will be up to third year CB William Gay, who saw more significant playing time after injuries to McFadden and Townsend last season.
Gay paired with Ike Taylor helped in wins against SD, CIN, NE, and DAL recording 19 tackles and three pass defenses.
Gay finished the regular season with seven pass defenses, one INT, and 41 total tackles.
The Steelers drafted two corners to compete for a backup position Keenan Lewis from Oregon State, and Joe Burnett from UCF. Neither is expected to make an immediate impact.
The secondary remains solid led by All Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu, but the Steelers will need to find a backup free safety for veteran Ryan Clark.
Ryan Mundy is slated as backup to (unproven) Ryan Mundy. Selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Mundy has spent his time on special teams.
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Special Teams
Punter Daniel Sepulveda returns from a torn ACL he suffered in training camp.
Kicker Jeff Reed connected on 27 of his 31 field goal attempts last season.
On Dec. 28, 2008, Reed surpassed Roy Gerela as the Steelers’ second-most point scorer. Reed's 733 points trails Gary Anderson's 1,343.
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Expectations
In this year’s draft, the Steelers were looking for depth across the board, adding a young defensive end to an aging defensive line and a much needed center.
They managed to draft some impact players who can fill in some of the gaps.
The return game should improve if one or both of the drafted rookies turn out to be anything they were in college.
The offensive line, while performing exceptionally well in the latter half of the season, should improve using the same playmakers on the roster.
They allowed 46 sacks last year, one fewer than 2007, and they will need to cut that number back if they expect to connect on more deep routes and keeping Roethlisberger clean.
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Prediction
The Steelers look to be in the position to retain their AFC North title in 2009.
They may feel some heat from the Baltimore Ravens who will be looking to avenge the three straight losses last year.
Expectations are high with second year QB Joe Flacco as the Ravens are looking to upgrade at wide receiver.
In the first month of free agency, the Ravens lost three starters: linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard on defense, and center Jason Brown. They were able to keep two linebackers, re-signing Ray Lewis and using the franchise tag on Terrell Suggs.
The Browns will start the season with a new head coach in Eric Mangini and new starting QB in Brady Quinn.
The Bengals lost two of their three star receivers, T.J. Houshmanzadeh (Seattle Seahawks) and Chris Perry (released due to legal issues). The third receiver Chad Johnson is disgruntled and wants to be released.
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