Pittsburgh Steelers Offense to Be "Sweeder" in 2009

Todd FlemingAnalyst IJune 9, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 18:  Limas Sweed #14 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a reception against Evan Oglesby #25 of the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Championship game on January 18, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

When the Steelers lost Nate Washington in free agency to the Tennessee Titans, my initial reaction was to shrug.  I had never been that impressed by Washington.

I liked him as a player, but he seemed imminently replaceable and not worth the kind of money he was going to make in free agency. 

But, then I watched the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl video and couldn't help but notice that Washington made a ton of big plays for the Steelers in 2008, more than I remembered actually watching the games the first time.

He filled a very important role as the guy who stretched the field, and Ben Roethlisberger frequently looked in his direction for the team's biggest offensive

It was a flashback to 2006 when Antwaan Randle El left for the Washington Redskins.  I became more acutely aware of what he had meant to the Super Bowl winning 2005 squad after watching the Super Bowl DVD and noticing how many huge plays he consistently made for the Steelers that season.

Randle El and Washington were very different kind of players.  One was an excellent slot receiver made all the more valuable because of his versatility, while the other was more of a field stretcher. 

But, both played big roles on Super Bowl winning teams and the loss of both players left big holes to fill. 

The Steelers have an excellent tradition of finding very good replacements to players who leave town through free agency and the replacement is usually already on the roster. 

Limas Sweed is in line to be the biggest beneficiary of Washington's change of locations. 

He is either the big and fast receiver that Ben has been dreaming of since the incredibly talented but oft-troubled Plaxico Burress left town or a monumental bust. 

The jury is out after 2008.  My money is on the former.  I'm not going to try to make excuses for his woeful hands in 2008.  They were awful, punctuated by his biggest drop of the year during the AFC Championship game.

But, he was able to get off the line of scrimmage and get open against the league's better defenses.  Those are the types of problems that frequently derails receivers as they transition from the college to the NFL game. 

Add to that fact that most receivers don't really blossom until at least their second year and Sweed is the most likely Steeler due for a breakout year in 2009.

I also like the fact that he played for a year behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.  He saw what it takes to be a successful receiver in this league behind one of the fiercest competitors in Steelers' history in Hines Ward. 

I have to think his vicious block during the Ravens' game was inspired by Ward.

He also had a front row seat to see a receiver take a huge step forward and become "the guy" when Holmes stepped up during the playoffs, especially the Super Bowl.

I don't think the Steelers will be successful as an offense if Sweed doesn't have a good year. 

The biggest reason is that I don't think Hines Ward will make it through this season without missing some games to injury. 

He is an incredibly physical wide receiver which is what makes him the best receiver in Steelers' history. Not many receivers can claim that they had a major part in a rules change because they were too physical with the defenders.

Ward isn't getting any younger and I'm guessing his body will likely start to rebel against the brutality of his play style. 

If Ward goes down to injury, one of the other receivers will need to play a big role.  I also think Shaun McDonald may play a significant role as the slot receiver and wouldn't be at all surprised if he steps in as the No. 2 receiver ahead of Sweed if either Ward or Holmes go down to injury.

But, Sweed will need to be that guy who can stretch the field for the Steelers.  I think it is far more likely that Sweed will be the impact player than the other leading candidate, Rashard Mendenhall. 

I don't think the Steelers will be a dominant run team in 2009.  These guys will be running behind the same offensive line as they did last year.

While I think the line will definitely improve, I didn't see anything out of that much maligned unit in 2008 to make me think they will suddenly become maulers in the run game.  Running room will still be at a premium.

I expect their improvement will be more noticeable in their pass blocking.

I'm also concerned about Mendenhall's durability. The fact that he went down so early in his rookie year is a real cause for concern.

Nor do I remember him running particularly well before the injury during the pre-season and the early regular season. Plus, if Willie Parker stays healthy, he'll receive the bulk of the carries.

If Sweed falters in the field stretcher role, Mike Wallace could get an early chance.  But, I don't think this is likely.  Wallace will need time to learn the pro game and his early contributions will likely be on special teams. 

This leads us back to Limas.  If the Steelers are going to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in 2010, they'll need to be better offensively.  I doubt that they could do it as the 23rd ranked offense in the league two years in a row regardless of how many rabbits Big Ben can pull out of his helmet.

All too often, the Steelers' offensive strategy in 2008 was to lull teams into a false sense of security with 58 minutes of crummy and predictable offensive play before transforming into an offensive juggernaut that would even put "The Greatest Show on Turf" to shame in the game's final two minutes.

If the Steelers are to become a top offense in 2009, Sweed will have to be a big reason why.  And I think he'll be more than ready to assume that mantle.  My prediction:  2009 will be the year of Sweed for the Steelers.