Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Will Be Full of Surprises In 09
Although the Steelers didn't make many changes during the off-season, the moves that were made will have a significant impact on the offensive and defensive schemes that are used in the upcoming season.
Going into the season, the Steelers most glaring weakness is undoubtedly the offensive line. Without a Pro-Bowl caliber player on the line, it will take the unit playing as a cohesive unit in order for them to be successful.
The one player that sticks out to me on the O-Line is Max Starks. He stands to make $8.5 million this season unless a long term contract is reached.
Now, I would not have a problem paying a guy $8.5 million for one season if he was a Pro-Bowl caliber player, but Max Starks simply is not.
Starks is best used as a Right Tackle, where he does not have to face as many speed rushers, but the Steelers insist on using him as Left Tackle. He simply does not have to proper foot speed to help protect Ben Roethlisberger's blindside, and often gets beat by speedy edge rushers.
Because of this, the Steelers will have to keep the runningback in to help chip block more on Third downs. This basically takes away one of our best receiving threats out of the backfield in Mewelde Moore.
For a team that gave up 49 sacks last season, leaving the runningback to help block more is the most likely scenario. Look for the Steelers to also keep Heath Miller in to help block more too.
The bottom line though is that the Steelers will likely have to sacrifice either Miller or Moore in the receiving game in order to help Max Starks out when he plays against the likes of Terrell Suggs, Jared Allen, and Shawn Merriman, just to name a few.
Another change on the offensive side of the ball will be a concerted effort to run the ball more in goal line situations.
The Steelers are stacked at runningback right now with Willie Parker, a healthy Rashard Mendenhall returning, Mewelde Moore, and ex-factor Frank "The Tank" Summers.
Early reports out of mini-camp are that Frank Summers is the real deal as a goal line back and will drag opponents with him into the endzone.
Both Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore have shown the ability to be effective in goal line situations, but with both of them carrying much of the load like they did in games last season, it is evident that the Steelers can use some fresh legs when it's time to punch it in.
With four capable backs, look for the Steelers to stick with the run more inside the redzone, and not rely on Ben Roethlisberger making a spectacular play to save them.
On the defensive side of the ball, the change in philosophy will revolve around Inside Middle Linebacker Lawrence Timmons. His speed and explosiveness will allow Dick LeBeau to use him in many different ways.
Timmons will be able to cover tightens, which will allow James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to blitz more. He will likely be used as a three-down linebacker since he was used in third down coverage last season.
With Dick LeBeau being the genius that he is, don't be surprised to see Timmons line up at different places all over the field to confuse defenses. With his superior athleticism, teams will have to stay honest, and won't be able to assume that his simply going to rush the passer.
I cannot stress to people how many different things the Steelers defense will be able to do with Lawrence Timmons on the field. They will truly be a joy to watch.
In the defensive backfield, look for Troy Polamalu to have more freedom to roam around and possibly blitz more with a healthy Ryan Clark protecting the deep third of the field.
Clark has proven to be an excellent safety in coverage, and he rarely makes mistakes. The only worry about Clark is that he doesn't get hurt from hitting someone since he loves contact so much.
As long as everyone stays healthy, you will see a stronger commitment to running the ball in goal line situations, and exciting defense that will be hard for teams to predict where the pass rush is coming from, and who is dropping back into coverage.
Teams will have to think twice before dropping back to pass on first and second downs now.
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