Steelers' 2009 Playbook Requires Singular Focus

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Steelers' 2009 Playbook Requires Singular Focus

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to overcome one of the most difficult regular season schedules in NFL history en route to their sixth Super Bowl title.

Those who have watched football for the better part of their lives know that this was accomplished in spite of a spotty offensive line.

The Black-and-Gold's playbook will undergo its annual additions and revisions, and there are a few changes that need to be made.

In order to make another deep run into the playoffs, these few changes will need to be significant to take pressure off the offensive line, and, as a result, off of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

With regard to the running game, Pittsburgh needs to cut back on running the football up the middle. That is unless the Steelers discover that second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall can break tackles on a regular basis.

According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Steelers attempted to rush up the middle (between the guards) 56 percent of the time. However, they were still ranked 24th in the league in production.

Speedy tailback Willie Parker and his third-down counterpart Mewelde Moore were not able to gain yardage reliably behind left guard Chris Kemoeatu, center Justin Hartwig, and the right guard tandem of Kendall Simmons (since cut by the team) and Darnell Stapleton. 

Most Steeler fans will also recall the problems the team had in converting third-and-short. Not to mention their struggles inside the goal line on third and fourth downs.

If Pittsburgh is unable to control the "A" gaps up front, then it has no business running more than half of its rushing plays in that direction.

There is more bad statistical data from the 2008 offensive line—they ranked a paltry 29th in pass protection. 

The Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs held the 29th position in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and won a combined seven games.

This statistic explains why Roethlisberger found himself running around, attempting to dodge linebackers seemingly every other play. It was not usually the case of him holding the ball too long. He was simply getting no support from his line on either run or pass plays.

With no significant help (at least to this point) through the draft or free agency to bolster the offensive front five, the Steelers need to design more ways to implement Moore in a role where he is very successful.

In 2008, Moore caught 17 passes for first downs. Willie Parker caught none. With a quarterback who is constantly under pressure, the team needs a reliable outlet.

As far as receivers are concerned, the Steelers should not shy away from implementing more of second-year man Limas Sweed. Despite his propensity to drop the occasional touchdown pass (see AFC Championship vs. Ravens), he has shown the ability to get behind a defense. By stretching the field, he can work wonders.

With Nate Washington now in Tennessee, the Steelers need to establish a new deep threat so that opposing defenses are less inclined to sneak eight or nine men into the box. Crossing routes with Superbowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes could help. 

If the opposing defense is able to contain Sweed and Holmes, Roethlisberger should be able to check down to a relatively open middle of the field. Either tight end Heath Miller or wide receiver Hines Ward, who would be best used in the slot position until the end of his career, could find reasonably easy receptions.

Defensively, it is difficult to improve on being ranked first in practically every category from a season ago. The personnel changes are negligible (Lawrence Timmons for Larry Foote at inside linebacker, William Gay for Bryant McFadden at cornerback), and coordinator Dick LeBeau has the respect of the entire unit. Any tweak he makes to the destructive repertoire is just for fun.

Simply put, the Pittsburgh Steelers are one good offensive line short of a true juggernaut. Adjusting the playbook for that shortfall should be the coaching staff's primary, secondary, and tertiary priorities.

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