Consistency will once again be key for the Steelers as they look to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. As a franchise, the Steelers rarely go through large upheavals as evidenced by having only three head coaches since Chuck Noll took over in 1969.
That same model of consistency is used by the team’s front office in making personnel decisions. It’s extremely rare for Pittsburgh to make a big signing in free agency or to even consider making a blockbuster trade.
Instead, the organization makes minor tweaks and isn’t afraid to let go of players who were an important part of the team’s success. For example, Larry Foote made at least 63 tackles for the team in every season since 2004, but he did not want to compete for his job with Lawrence Timmons, who had two more tackles and 3.5 more sacks than Foote this past season.
In lieu of allowing a controversy to fester throughout training camp, the Steelers released Foote and Timmons will step into his starting right outside linebacker position this season. Timmons will add even more speed to the team’s linebacking corps.
The pass-rushing capability of the team’s linebackers could be even more important this season as the Steelers lost defensive back Bryant McFadden to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. With that loss, Deshea Townsend will once again be a starter alongside Ike Taylor. This will be Townsend’s 12th season with Pittsburgh and he does not have the strength and speed to play press coverage like McFadden.
He will need the Steelers’ linebackers to get to the opposing team’s quarterback quickly to keep him from having to cover for too long. Also, it is likely defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will look to roll safety help to Townsend’s side often to keep him from being on an island in coverage.
Other than those minor changes, though, Pittsburgh’s defense will continue to concentrate on stuffing the run early in the game. Once the opposition gets away from running the ball, they will attack the quarterback with LeBeau’s zone blitzing schemes which led to an AFC-leading 51 sacks last season.
On offense, the Steelers are hoping to improve on last year’s output when they finished 20th in the NFL in points during the regular season. To do so, they will look to get back to running the ball more effectively. They were unusually poor at running the ball in 2008, finishing 23rd in the NFL in rush yards per game.
With Bruce Arians back at the helm at the team’s offensive coordinator, there won’t be much change in the playcalling. The combination of Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall both being healthy could make them a top 10 rushing team once again.
However, the success of the Steelers’ offense will depend more on the improvement of their offensive line, a unit that struggled for much of 2008. If they can’t open holes for Parker and Mendenhall and can’t protect Ben Roethlisberger, then Pittsburgh could once again finish in the bottom half of the league offensively.
Either way, the Steelers personnel and playcalling won’t look much different this year it did last year. The Rooney family has fostered the ideal of consistency in the organization, an ideal that has led to much of the Steelers’ success throughout the years.