There is an old saying in the NFL, that if your team does not improve, they are getting worse. I believe that to be true, so there is no reason not to look ahead towards the 2011 off season, and what the Pittsburgh Steelers need to do to improve their team.
In a position by position break down, we are going to explore exactly what the Steelers need to do to be successful in 2011 and beyond.
Be forewarned - There are going to be things said in this article that many of you are not going to agree with. I really don't care. This is how I see the team, and what would happen if I were running the organization.
First the obvious - Bruce Arians needs to go. His predictable play calling and horrible decisions have cost the Steelers WAY too many games over the last two years.
If I can call the formation and play at the conclusion of the previous play, then you can bet that the defensive coordinator of the opposing team can as well.
He does NOTHING to improve blitz pick ups, and to this day, refuses to employ a full back.
Dick LeBeau is going to have to either get with the program, or he is going to need to hang it up. Is there a reason that Tom Brady and Drew Brees had so much time to throw the ball? Yes - LeBeau would not call a blitz to save his life.
If LeBeau is not going to attack the good teams, and give the Steelers defense the chance to win the games, then he is going to have to go.
Keith Butler is the coach in waiting, and if LeBeau can not get it done, it is time for LeBeau to step aside.
Al Everest, on the other hand, has improved the Steelers special teams, and is deserving to keep his job for another year (at least).
There is no question that Ben Roethlisberger is the man in Pittsburgh, and baring any more off the field issues, is a lock to lead the Steelers in 2011 and beyond. The questions as to whom is going to be behind Roethlisberger, is another story.
Dennis Dixon played decent in his few starts during Roethlisbergers suspension, but did not show that he is a lock to be the back up.
Charlie Batch played decently against the Bucs, but when facing a good defense in the Ravens, he crumbled like 6 day old bread.
Byron Leftwich is most likely going to be the top back up.
That would leave the Steelers with the decision as to whom the third stringer is going to be?
Do they stick with Dixon, or do they draft a young player, later in the draft, to groom as the eventual replacement for Leftwich?
My guess is, Dixon will receive a decent restricted free agent offer, he will get picked up by another team, and Pittsburgh will use the Draft pick they get for Dixon to get his replacement.
(I hope I am wrong, because I think Dixon has some talent, and keeping him for another year, his value could go up a lot.)
Much like the QB position, the Steelers are set with the starting position, but have a TON of questions with the players behind him.
Rashard Mendenhall is having the best year of his young professional career, and showed during the Roethlisberger suspension, that he could put the team on his back, and get the yards he needs for the team to be successful.
With Mewelde Moore, he has shown that his tank is almost empty, and that he really does not have that much tread left on his tires.
Isaac Redman is showing that he is capable of the short yardage and goal line carries, but for him to replace Moore, he is going to have to be more than just that.
The Steelers need to have a second back, that can split carries with Mendenhall, so that he is not injured or tired at the end of the season. If Redman can be that guy, then the Steelers will be able to allow Moore to walk away.
Jonathan Dwyer is another player, similar to Redman, that is going to have to prove his value. Dwyer has had a lot of carries during his college days, but he is able this year to not have to put any more on them.
If Dwyer can be a spark for the Steelers, then they could be set at the position.
There were many voices when the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets, about the ability of Mike Wallace, and would he be able to be the TRUE number one receiver the Steelers needed?
Well, those questions have been answered, as Wallace leads the NFL in average yards per reception.
Wallace is the future of the Steelers, and Hines Ward is the past.
Though Ward still may have another year or two, he is NOT pulling any double teams from Wallace, and the Steelers deep passing game is not going to survive, unless and until the Steelers have another player, opposite of Wallace, that is going to make people pay for doubling Wallace.
I still see HInes Ward as a member of the team in 2011, unless the Steelers win the Super Bowl, in which case, Ward has already said that if they win another one, he will retire the same way Jerome Bettis did.
If he is a member of the team, it will probably be in the slot, where he will draw more coverage from line backers or the safeties.
The Steelers have spent a few draft picks in the last couple of years on the position, but other than Wallace, none have yet to show that they are #2 quality. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown will have the first crack at the position, and Limas Sweed will probably not be in the NFL at this time next year.
Again, the Stelers are set at the starting position, but the depth is something that is going to need to be addressed.
Heath Miller is a Pro Bowl caliber players. He does not complain when he does not get the ball, he is the best mix between a blocking/receiving Tight End in the game.
Matt Spaeth is not going to be on the roster next season, because he simply is not getting any better. And, as I said in the opening slide, if you are not getting better, you are getting worse.
David Johnson has done a decent job at playing, but he has become more of a full back (he just can not have that position title, because Bruce Arians will not have one.)
Look for the Steelers to spend a draft pick on this position, just not too early. Unless they can sign a free agent, which they might do, this will be a position that the Steelers need to address later in the draft, probably on day three.
If you think this slide I am going to do nothing but bash the offensive line, do yourself a favor, and click the NEXT button now.
The Steelers found the next great center for the orginization, in Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey, barring injury, will represent the Steelers in MANY Pro Bowls into the future, and is a great way to build an offensive line.
Mike Webster (RIP), Dermonti Dawson and Jeff Hartings can be proud that the position they once held, and was the strength of the line, is manned by a player like Pouncey.
At the guard positions, Chris Kemoeatu, when not hurt, is a quality player, that plays well enough that he does not have to be replaced. At least not yet.
Flozell Adams has been a surprise to this point. Sure, he has is occasional melt down, and forgets how to block for a play. BUT, if the Steelers believe that Jonathan Scott, Ramone Foster or Tony Hills has the potential to one day man the position of a full time basis, then another year with the Steelers for Adams might not be a bad thing.
When it comes to the two starting offensive linemen for the Steelers from last year, Max starks and Willie Colon, unfortunately, the Steelers are going to have to prepare for life without them.
Starks has an injury to his neck, and for a big offensive lineman, that is never good. I have to think of it, similar to the Marvell Smith situation (as much as I hate to). This is the type of injury that is going to have to be thought of as career threatening.
As for the Willie Colon situation, not only is he recovering from an Achilles injury, but is going to be an unrestricted free agent. Do the Steelers want to take a chance on resigning a player, that missed all of the previous season with a leg injury?
I think the only way Colon is brought back, is if the Steelers know that the injury to Starks is more serious than it is currently believed to be.
With Maurkice Pouncey showing that a rookie can not only contribute, but be successful, I look for the Steelers to use one of their top picks in the NFL Draft on one of the offensive line positions. Just not at Center.
The Steelers 2009 first round draft pick, Ziggy Hood has shown some flashes of being a quality play in the future, but his future needs to start now. Through the rest of the 2010 season, Hood needs to demonstrate that he is the future of the position.
Aaron Smith has again suffered a possible season ending injury, his second in a row, and can not be relied on for many more seasons. Hood has some BIG shoes to fill in for Smith, and hopefully, he will be able to come close.
Casey Hampton in the middle, is showing that the Steelers made the right choice by signing him to a four year contract. He is playing like the Pro Bowl player he is.
However, Hampton is getting older, and the Steelers are going to have to find SOMEONE that is capable to eventually replace him.
The Steelers also need to address the other Defensive End position.
The Steelers defensive line, as great as they have played, are also getting old, and they need to be addressed. I look for the Steelers to address this position in either of the first two rounds (maybe both) so that the players can learn the system prior to Hampton, Smith and Keisel ALL having to be replaced.
The Steelers TOP off season priority is finding a way to keep LaMarr Woodley. Regardless of the cost, Woodley is one of the top defenders on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and losing him would be as bad as allowing Troy Polamalu to leave (maybe not as bad, but close).
Paying James Harrison as much as they are, the Steelers are probably going to have to choose between Woodley and Harrison. I think the choice should be pretty clear, Woodley should be the one the Steelers choose to keep.
Harrison is not only considerably older (32 years old to 26 years old), but with the change of rules in the NFL, Harrison is not playing like the James Harrison of old.
Rookie Jason Worilds has not seen much playing time (how can he, behind Woodley and Harrison?), but in his limited action, he has shown his ability to put pressure on the opposing team.
If the Steelers lose Woodley, it will be the biggest lost to the defense the Steelers have had in years.
Though, losing Harrison would hurt, and hurt the depth of the team, I don't see the Steelers using another draft pick in 2011 on the Line Backer position.
When the Steelers selected Lawrence Timmons with their first pick in the 2007NFL Draft, they expected him to eventually become the dominant force in the middle of the Steelers defense.
Though it took longer than many people wanted it to, Timmons is now the best Inside Line Backer on the Steelers roster.
At 24 years old, Timmons is set to be the leader of the Steelers defense for years to come.
The only problem with that is, James Farrior currently is the leader of the Steelers defense.
I make no bones about how against James Farrior I was this past off season (you can read about that HERE).
Though Farrior has pleasantly surprised me with his ability this season, reality is, for Timmons to be the leader, Farrior needs to be gone. Farrior is 35 years old, and his best days are clearly behind him.
The Steelers have another young stud, in Stevenson Sylvester that could use the playing time that would be created by the loss of Farrior.
Keyaron Fox and Larry Foote are fantastic depth, so the Steelers will not have to address this position during the 2011 off season.
Ike Taylor has CLEARLY been the Steelers best corner of 2010. Some how, some way, he has learned, FINALLY, how to catch a football.
Normally, when your top corner is set to become an unrestricted free agent, is cause for worry. Not so much with Taylor.
Taylor is called by some Steelers, "Little Rooney", because his close, personal relationship with the Rooney family. It is believed that Taylor will not even entertain any offers, and any offer that comes to him, he will take to the Rooneys, and they will have the chance to come close to it, and Ike will remain in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career.
Bryant McFadden is playing decent for his first season back. He is not the top cover guy on the Steelers, but covering opposing number two receivers, McFadden has done a decent job.
Will Gay needs to be cut. Enough is enough. I don't care WHO you have to take his place, he could not be much worse.
On all three of Tom Bradys TD passes Sunday Night, Will Gay was covering the man that caught the ball. And it was not even close.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, put Steelers Nation out of our misery, and cut Will Gay!
The Steelers have some young guys that are coming up the ranks, in Crezdon Butler and Keenan Lewis.
Many people believe that the reason for the Steelers not playing Butler and Lewis is due to their inability. They would be right. But, the inability has nothing to do with their talent, but with their knowledge of the playbook.
Remember, Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend never started in their first two seasons with the Steelers. They were given time to learn the playbook, and the Steelers way.
That is what is happening with Butler and Lewis. They will be ready to go by next season, allowing the Steelers not to worry about this position in the draft.
Though Troy Polamalu does not seem to be back to 100% from his 2009 knee injury just yet, he still is one of the best in the game.
At 29 years old, maybe it is time for the Steelers to stop using him so much against the run, and start using him a lot more against the pass.
NO, I am not saying he should not have run support responsibilities, or they should never blitz him, I just think that the Steelers need to be smart in the way they utilize TAZ, to help prolong his career.
Playing next to Polamalu, is Ryan Clark. Clark decided to return to the Steelers after an off season free agent trip to the Miami Dolphins, and the Steelers are lucky to get him back.
Clark is perfect playing next to Polamalu, simply because he understands the thought process of Polamalu, and has the ability to fill in while Troy is, well, being Troy.
Clark is 31 years old, and playing the way he plays, the Steelers are going to seriously think about his eventual replacement.
Currently on the Steelers roster is Ryan Mundy and Da'Mon Cromartie Smith. If either of them have the potential to be starters in the next couple years, the Steelers will be set at this position. If not, then the Steelers will have to address this position in the draft.
With Jeff Reed officially no longer on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Shaun Suisham in, the Steelers are going to have to address the Kicking game in the off season.
Though it is hard to believe that anyone could do as poor as a job as Reed did this season, Shicham could not be that good, or he would not have been available for the Steelers to sign.
Daniel Sepulveda, on the other hand, is with the Steelers under a restricted free agent tender, and needs to be re signed by the Steelers this off season.
It is bad enough when you have to replace one kicker, but to replace both may be too much to ask.
Though the Steelers have some tough off season decisions they are going to have to make, they still have a great, young core of players heading into the future.
Most of the skill position players on the offense will return, and the defense, though getting older, is still stacked with talent, and young players up and coming behind them on the depth chart.
Every team must make tough decisions, and the Steelers are no different. If they continue to make solid decisions, the future will continue to shine for the Black and Gold.