Pittsburgh Steelers: Team of the Decade, Part II?

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Team of the Decade, Part II?
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

One for the thumb? Check. One for the other thumb? Check that, too.

Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a half-dozen Super Bowls in their collection, more than any team in NFL history, this is next on their to-do list: win a third league championship in the double 0's, which would allow them to lay claim to the title of Team of the Decade for a second time.

The New England Patriots own three league championships this decade, one more than the Steelers at this point. But if not for Spygate, as ex-Steelers linebacker Joey Porter would tell you, his former team would have one or two more.

Do the Steelers have what it takes to repeat for the first time since their 1970's glory days? Or will they suffer from a Super-sized hangover like they did three years ago?            

Five reasons why Pittsburgh's goin' to the Super Bowl . . .

 

5. Strength in numbers

As usual, the Steelers chose not to dive into the free-agent waters after the season. Even so, they've expanded their talent base with the returns of punter-holder Daniel Sepulveda and running back Rashard Mendenhall, who sat out either all or most of last season because of injuries.

Two years ago, as a rookie, Sepulveda averaged 42.4 yards per kick and showed an ability to pin opponents inside their 20-yard line. Mendenhall struggled in his brief debut last year, but by all accounts, he was impressive in workouts this off-season.

Enough draft picks were stockpiled to make one of the deepest teams in the league even deeper.

Defensive end Izzy Hood is expected to provide much-needed young legs for the front line. Guard Kraig Urbik will compete for time at the right side and could do wonders for the goal-line offense.

 

4. Schedule

The Steelers have the AFC West and NFC North teams on their agenda, which appears to be a much easier road than the one they took last season.

To a man, the players and coaches will tell you that the stiff competition prepared them for their Super Bowl run. Still, an easier schedule may be better for their health, and that figures to be a greater obstacle the second time around.

 

3. Ben Roethlisberger.

OK, so Big Ben didn't attend Michigan, Notre Dame, or Southern California. He doesn't date models but hangs out with dogs (his pet Rottweilers, of course). And he has that funny name.

Go ahead, ask the Arizona Cardinals if any of that matters. The guy is John Elway in a black hat, a quarterback who plays hurt, exudes leadership and wins football games. At 27, he hasn't reached his peak yet.

More good news: Big Ben hasn't been seen on a motorcycle in months.

 

2. Defense

The unit that ranked first in the league returns nine starters from a year ago. The key guys are in or near their primes. Safety Troy Polamalu is 28 years old. As a late bloomer, linebacker James Harrison is a young 31.

LaMarr Woodley, 24, has Pro Bowl potential. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, 23, represents an upgrade over veteran Larry Foote, who heard footsteps and requested a trade.

 

1. Stability

Does any organization do it better in professional sports? At a time when change is the only constant in the league, the nucleus of the Super Steelers remains intact.

That includes head coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

(Earth to Hall of Fame selectors: If LeBeau doesn't have a body of work that is Hall of Fame-worthy, then it's time to sell the busts and turn the place into condos.)

And five reasons why they aren’t, we gotta feelin' . . .

 

5. The Madden Jinx

Along with Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Polamalu appears on the cover of the Madden NFL 10 video game. Uh-oh.

Polamalu says not to worry, but didn't Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper,  Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Vince Young and Brett Favre tell us that, too?      

 

4. Wide receiver

Veterans Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward return, but the departure of free agent Nate Washington leaves the offense without a big target and deep threat.

There are whispers that Limas Sweed is ready to fill the void, but on the heels of a disappointing rookie season, that’s a lot to expect of him.

Free-agent newcomer Shaun McDonald also is available, but he does his best work as a slot receiver on short routes.    

 

3. Cornerback

Bryant McFadden was allowed to walk out the free-agent door, which left William Gay as the next in line.

The 24-year-old Gay held his own in nickel and dime coverage the last two seasons, but he has to prove that he can start on a regular basis at this level.

If Gay doesn't cut it, then 33-year-old Deshea Townsend may get thrown into the fire again.

 

2. Defensive line

Nose tackles Casey Hampton (31) and Chris Hoke (33) and ends Brett Keisel (30), Travis Kirschke (34) and Aaron Smith (33) are on the wrong side of The Big Three-oh.

The defensive philosophy has revolved around the ground game for years, and if the designated run-stoppers begin to show their age, then the drop-off may have a ripple effect on the rest of the unit.

 

1. Offensive line

You knew it would come down to this, didn’t you? After Roethlisberger was sacked/concussed/taken off the field on a gurney 46 times last season, pass protection was expected to be the top priority in the draft and/or free-agent market.

To the surprise of many, it didn't happen. According to the party line, the current group will improve with age and experience.

The O-line better get better, because if the $102-million quarterback goes down for an extended period of time, then any repeat bid goes down hard with him.

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