Coming off of a Super Bowl win in the 2008 season, the expectations for the Steelers going into the 2009 season are set extremely high. After all, this is not the Cincinnati Bengals. This is a team with a rich tradition and penchant for winning.
As the defending champions of the NFL, it would only be fair to call the Steelers the best team in football until someone takes that distinction away from them. So, right off the bat, I have to say that I expect the Steelers to win another Super Bowl, until another team proves me wrong.
Now, that's not to say that there aren't obstacles standing in the way. Those pesky Baltimore Ravens are still there, and will likely cause some trouble for the Steelers in the race to win the division. However, Baltimore is the only team in the division that is standing in the way of the Steelers and a division title.
On offense, the most glaring obstacle standing in the Steelers way is the offensive line. It would be great if they could literally stand in the way of opponents, but often times, they resemble a New York Subway turnstile, and the leave Ben Roethlisberger running for his life (which he is actually good at).
Not much has changed on the offensive line. If anything, it has lost some experience with the losses of Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons, but Chris Keamatou is fresh off of a new contract, and the rest of the group has had a season to gel.
If the Steelers want to give themselves a better chance of winning a Super Bowl next season, it is imperative that the offensive line cuts down on the mental mistakes; not just for the sake of the team's success, but also for the sake of Big Ben's health. Look for the offensive line to improve slightly in 2009.
The offensive lines woes are not just limited to the passing game though. The Steelers finished 23rd in the NFL in rushing last season, and averaged a measly 3.6 yards per carry. Again, that is not going to cut for a team trying to re-peat. It may work once, but the odds of it working again are slim to none.
It would not be fair for me to place all of the blame on the offensive line though. Ben Roethlisberger also had a down year after coming off of a 32 touchdown, 11 interception season in 2007. He followed that up with mere 17 td's and 15 int's.
What does not show up in the stat sheet though is all of the improvising that Big Ben did to keep drives alive, and all of the 4th quarter comebacks that he had. Those are the intangibles, and that is what separates a good team from a great team.
If the offensive line can somehow manage to provide Ben with a little more sound protection, just imagine the numbers that he can put up. The sky is the limit for Ben this season.
Willie Parker is also coming off of a disastrous season, finishing with only 789 yards. Fast Willie is in a contract year, and will be eager to prove to the front office that last season was a fluke. Plus, Rashard Mendenhall is finally healthy after injuring his shoulder, and should provide a nice spark off the bench for the running game.
Even with the loss of Nate Washington, the receiving corps is pretty solid. Santonio Holmes is still riding the high of his Super Bowl saving performance, and should continue his success into the upcoming season.
Hines Ward just signed a new contract, and will be retiring as a Steeler, so there should be no distractions with him. Limas Sweed had an up and down season, but a strong work ethic and training camp should boost his confidence. Add in Rookie speedster Mike Wallace, and this group should be very exciting to watch.
The thing that carried the Steeler much of last season was the defense. It was a Defense that ranked number one in yards allowed, points allowed, and passing yards allowed. They just barely finished behind Minnesota for rushing yards allowed.
With a defense that dominate, it allowed the Steelers offense to make mistakes and still stay in the game. Although the Steelers suffered a couple of key losses in free agency, there is no reason to believe that this defense cannot continue to play at a high level.
When you have a defense that finished in the top five in every category imaginable, there aren't really any weaknesses to point out. If the Steelers fall short in 2009, it certainly will not be because of there defense. I fully expect the defense to pick up where they left off after the 2008 season.
The only thing that stands between the Steelers and a second straight Super Bowl at this moment is the offensive line. Big Ben's numbers will improve if he gets the proper amount of time in the pocket, and the running game will benefit from having a healthy one-two punch of Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall.
With two seasons coaching and a Super Bowl win under his belt, Mike Tomlin is wiser and better prepared to handle the team in crucial situations. The key to the defense's success though is the return of Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau.
He is always re-inventing himself, and coming up with new schemes every season. He is loved and well respected by the players. There is no need to worry about the defense as long as Dick LeBeau is there. His track record speaks for itself.
After winning a Super Bowl the previous season and with most of offensive and defensive units starters returning, the motto for this season should be Super Bow or Bust. The only thing that can stop the Steelers is themselves.
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