Lofty Expectations Await the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 Based on Soft Schedule

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IMay 30, 2009

In 2008 the Pittsburgh Steelers became Super Bowl Champions despite having to navigate through one of the toughest schedules in recent history.

Ben Roethlisberger was forced to guide the Pittsburgh offense past nine of the top 12 defenses in the NFL in regards to yards allowed per game, and seven of the top eight ranked defenses in respect to points allowed per game.

The 2009 schedule does not appear to be as daunting of a task, and for the Steelers number one ranked defense, another run at history could be on the horizon.

Pittsburgh’s 2009 schedule is as follows:

To the right of each team are two sets of numbers. The first set of numbers indicates the statistical ranking of where the corresponding team finished in terms of offense in 2008 (Yards/Points).

The second set of numbers indicates the statistical rankings of the team in regards to where they finished the 2008 season in terms of defense (Yards allowed/Points allowed).

Week     Opponent                           Offense                                                Defense

Week One – Tennessee                      (21st/14th)                            (7th/2nd)
Week Two - @ Chicago                        (26th/14th)                            (21st/16th)
Week Three - @ Cincinnati                    (32nd/32nd)                           (12th/19th)
Week Four – San Diego                        (11th/2nd)                              (25th/15th)
Week Five - @ Detroit                         (30th/27th)                            (32nd/32nd)
Week Six – Cleveland                        (31st/30th)                            (26th/16th)
Week Seven – Minnesota                      (17th/12th)                            (6th/13th)
Week Eight – Bye
Week Nine - @ Denver                         (2nd/16th)                              (29th/30th)
Week 10 – Cincinnati                      (32nd/32nd)                           (12th/19th)
Week 11 - @ Kansas City               (24th/26th)                            (31st/29th)           
Week 12 - @ Baltimore                  (18th/11th)                            (2nd/3rd)
Week 13 – Oakland                         (29th/29th)                            (27th/24th)
Week 14 - @ Cleveland                 (31st/30th)                            (26th/16th)
Week 15 – Green Bay                    (8th/5th)                                 (20th/22nd)
Week 16 – Baltimore                      (18th/11th)                            (2nd/3rd)
Week 17 - @ Miami                         (12th/21st)                            (15th/9th)

Whereas the Steelers 2008 schedule was highlighted by some of the best offensive and defensive teams in the league, the 2009 schedule is full of teams that finished in the lower half of the NFL statistical rankings in regards to both offense and defense.

The Steelers offense, which finished the season ranked 22nd in yards per game and 20th in points, will not be facing the same level of competition that they did in 2008.

In 2009, the Steelers offense will face nine defenses that finished the season ranked 20th or worse, and only two that finished inside the top 10 in terms of yards allowed per game: their two divisional games against Baltimore and a week seven matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

The offense, however will not see Baltimore until the second half of the season, and will be able to get a week off after playing Minnesota.

That same Steelers offense, which showed the ability to move the ball numerous times last season, will also be facing 10 defenses that finished 15th or lower in terms of points allowed per game.

For Ben Roethlisberger, Willie Parker, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller, they will be presented with the perfect opportunity to silence the critics and help ease the pressure off of their defense.

James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, and the rest of the Steelers defense will also be looking at a considerably drastic change in quality of opposition in 2009.

Dick LeBeau’s number one overall defense will play 12 games against offenses that finished 17th or lower in terms of yards per game and nine offenses that finished 16th or lower in terms of points; Pittsburgh also has two games against 2008’s 11th ranked offense in Baltimore, but the Ravens offensive efforts proved particularly futile against the Steelers last season.

For a defense that went up against some of the leagues stiffest competition on offense last season, one can only assume that the upcoming 2009 schedule will be a welcome change of pace.

 With 20 of 22 starters returning to the Super Bowl Champions, and two more than capable replacements filling in for the departed Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden, 2009 will be a disappointment if the Steelers do anything other than hoist their seventh Lombardi Trophy come the end of the season.

The most dangerous opposition the Steelers will face next season will be the individuals that are looking back at them in the mirror.

If Pittsburgh is to succeed in defense of their Super Bowl crown, they will need to stay humble and not get caught up in the hype that is certain to be surrounding them come opening day.

Barring injury to Ben under center, or a key component of the defense, it is hard to envision a scenario where Pittsburgh doesn’t find themselves in a favorable playoff position come January.

It will be up to the offensive line to demonstrate that a year of experience was all that was needed in order for them to display the kind of cohesiveness that has been a staple of Steelers dynasties past.

A successful unit up front will not only open up the running game for Pittsburgh, Willie Parker has the kind of home run speed that will keep any defense on their heels, it will keep Ben vertical and allow him to find receivers downfield.

No one will argue the toughness of Big Ben, but it is hard to envision a situation where he will be successful if he is sacked another 46 times this upcoming season; the image of him being carted off in the Steelers final regular season game last year is still burned into the brain of all members of Steelers Nation.

Pittsburgh’s toughest games next season will be at home as Tennessee, San Diego and Minnesota all will journey to the city of bridges, not to mention the traditional division matchup with Baltimore, but by all prognostications Pittsburgh could very easily win 13 games in 2009.

The most important factor in Pittsburgh’s success will be whether or not they get in their own way, otherwise…2009 is looking very promising for the men in black and gold.


Steelers fans should keep an eye on the Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals may have finished the 2008 season ranked 32nd in both yards and points per game, but their defense showed dramatic signs of improvement as years of building may finally be starting to pay off.

A returning Carson Palmer, along with the addition of Laveranues Coles, should make the Bengals a formidable foe in the AFC North once again, and improve on their dreadful offensive output from a year ago.

It may be Cincinnati that turns out to be the deciding factor in the AFC North based on how the team’s schedules are structured for the 2009 season.

Cincinnati and Baltimore will have played twice before Pittsburgh and Baltimore take the field for the first time in week 12; the Bengals and Steelers will also have met twice.

A clear cut favorite could easily emerge for the AFC north division title before Pittsburgh and Baltimore set foot on the same field.


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