Pittsburgh Steelers: 8 Things the Steelers Must Do to Return to the Super Bowl
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Thankfully if you learn from your mistakes, history is not always destined to repeat itself.
The vet-heavy Steelers are situated better than most teams heading into the 2011 NFL season and if they address a few key needs, there’s no reason to think that they can’t make another run at a Super Bowl this year.
Win the Games You Should
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There’s no such thing as an “easy” schedule in the NFL, however, if any team's schedule gets the “easy” label in 2011, it’s the Steelers (and unfortunately the Ravens).
The Steelers only play teams with a record above .500 back-to-back once all season—Oct 30thPatriots and Nov 6th Ravens.
The first stretch, October 2, 9, 16, 23—the best finishing record was the Jags at 8-8. Then, on Dec 4, 8, 19, 24, and Jan 1—the best finishing record was the Rams at 7-9. If this schedule can't cure the perennial Super Bowl hangover, then nothing can.
The Steelers and the Ravens, with few exceptions, always seem to the split their regular season series.
Adjust to the New Rules
Sure the new found emphasis on “player safety” by the commissioner and owners (who are locking them out, leaving them without paychecks and health insurance, as well as trying to force them into an 18 game season) seems to be singling out the Steelers.
After all, it is being referred to as the "Steelers Rule."
While name-calling in real life tends to be the most effective way to solve problems, in this case calling league officials “idiots” probably won't make the situation any better.
Like it or not, the new rules are here to stay and, ultimately, an emphasis on long-term player safety is probably a good thing.
Find Stability in the Kicking Game
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After years of inconsistent play at the position, the Steelers took a calculated risk selecting punter Daniel Sepulveda in the fourth round of the 2007 draft; even trading up in the process.
Nobody is questioning his talent, but no NFL team wants to keep an injury-prone punter on their roster, only to find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel for a replacement in December. Field position can be the difference between making the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl.
Then we have Jeff Reed’s remarkable transition from reliable goofball to city-wide pariah over the course of a single season. Concern about Reed's idiot kicker antics off the field in recent years had been building, and his sharp decline in production were more than enough reason to cut him in favor of Shaun Suisham.
Suisham, who was actually solid throughout the remainder of the regular season, came up short in the Super Bowl leaving his future with the team in jeopardy. If one ill-timed shank is enough to buy his ticket of town, the Steelers need to find a solid and long term replacement.
Stay in Shape Despite the Lockout
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The Steelers are in good shape, figuratively, to make another run at the Super Bowl—let’s hope they are in good shape, literally.
The lockout could mean no OTA’s and no training camp, which means unsupervised players would be responsible for their entire off-season conditioning program. The recent news on this front is not encouraging.
Perfect the No-Huddle Offense
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The no-huddle offense needs to be perfected due to ongoing questions regarding the Steelers’ offensive line.
Prior to the 2010 season there were concerns about the o-line, and although Maurkice Pouncey is a major upgrade, injuries and inconsistency still dragged the overall unit down.
Even if the 2011 seasons brings a marked improvement in overall o-line performance, a stand-out no-huddle offense is always beneficial.
Sign Lamar Woodley and Ike Taylor
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The Steelers organization has a knack for saying goodbye to declining, over-priced veterans at just the right time, freeing up salary to pay the indispensable play-makers.
Unfortunately they also have a knack for dragging their feet with contract negotiations, often leaving key players feeling undervalued.
LaMarr Woodley is an indispensable playmaker. He’s 26 years old and coming off another great season. He was patient through his rookie contract and has made it clear that he’d like to stay in Pittsburgh.
Why use the franchise tag and run the risk of alienating such a great talent? Why not make a good-faith effort to sign him before the lockout? Sure they can tag him and secure his service through the next season, but high profile free agents-to-be can be a season-long distraction—a distraction the Steelers don’t need when they are in position to make another run.
Ike Taylor is a solid veteran who the Steelers should make an effort to sign, even if it's a bloated short term contract. A mistake was made franchising Woodley instead of Taylor, who at 31 is solid but not an irreplaceable talent—this is exactly what the franchise tag was made for!
Keeping Taylor is critical this year because the two rookie corners are not likely to make a splash this year and William Gay absolutely needs to go..
which brings us to…..
Make a Big Free-Agent Move at Corner
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It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers never..ever..make a move to acquire a high profile player during free agency—a philosophy that has typically served them well. However, if there was ever a year to finally go after one single solitary high profile free agent, this is the year. Before you flip your lid at the mere suggestion of a high profile acquisition, hear me out!
First of all, the cap is likely to rise to some degree under the new CBA, which would provide some additional cap space to work with and means there's no need to mortgage the future to pay for the present.
Thirdly, the Steelers are the anti-Redskins, meaning that they are already in a great position to make a playoff run and one integral addition could actually be the difference between a championship and a disappointing early playoff exit.
Finally, the free-agent talent pool at corner is impressive—Nnamdi Asomugha, Antonio Cromartie, and Jonathon Joseph would all make an immediate impact on the 2011 season and be the long term solution to ultimately replace Ike Taylor and mentor the rookie corners.
Flawless logic right? Please don't send hate mail, I know the Steelers rule.
Beat the Patriots on October 30th
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I don’t want to be dramatic, but let’s just sit back for a moment and imagine a world without three-time Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Famer who is married to a supermodel and lives in a California mansion Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
Tom Brady--he of the flowing locks and unfettered 'company man' dogma. The sixth round draft pick responsible for the endless media blather about ‘who could be this year’s Tom Brady’. Would Patriots fans even exist without the tormentor of the Steelers and the bane of Peyton Manning’s existence? Before Brady, Patriots fans were just Red Sox fans who were bored in the off-season.
A world without the man who has absolutely owned the Steelers since 2001 would have the power of a beta blocker on the collective blood pressure of all who have felt the pain of losing to this smug pretty-boy. The comedy of errors that is Tom Brady vs. the Steelers permeates the collective heart and soul of Pittsburgh in the same way Buckner’s error in Game 6 does in Boston.
Steelers’ fans don’t have to be reminded of the teams’ sordid history of the last decade—each dramatic loss to an increasingly fallible Patriots team is etched in our collective psyche. Belichik and Brady have been the Steeler's Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader.
This guy has absolutely brutalized the Steelers over his career and the reality is--in his own words--he's going to be playing for ten more years. Whether he plays ten or one more year, the Steelers simply have to find a way to beat him. The Patriots of 2011 are not the Patriots of 2004 or 2007.
The Steelers need to make a statement on October 30th. Beat the Patriots with Brady at the helm.
There You Have It
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