Steelers: No Repeat for Tomlin, but Steelers Look Super Again

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IMay 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MAY 01:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches practice alongside defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau during rookie training camp at the Pittsburgh Steelers Practice Facility on May 1, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Someone in the press said it, and as quickly as the word had slipped from his lips, the man at the mic squashed it.

Mike Tomlin doesn't believe in repeats. 

In today's NFL, Tomlin says there can be no such thing because no two teams are exactly the same.

That doesn't mean he think the Steelers will finish anywhere but on top again in 2009.

But what can we realistically expect from the Steelers as they prepare to embark on another quest for the holy grail of football? 

Is a seventh Super Bowl victory too tall an order?

The short answer is that the Steelers always seem to find a way to contend, so it's only natural to assume that they can indeed win another title.

But behind that short answer are tons of reasons why. 

Here's why the Pittsburgh Steelers can be expected to contend for yet another title in 2009.

1. Ben Roethlisberger

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Like or hate his style of play, Big Ben always comes up big for the Steelers in the clutch.  While he's still in the relatively early stages of his career, he's showing a John Elway type knack for late game magic.

Roethlisberger, despite his statistical performance, was a much better quarterback in 2008 than 2007. 

He had to be. 

Ben has finally put his entire game together.  He can stay in the pocket and complete passes to his primary receiver, or he can break out and make a throw to a diving check down option while he runs away from pressure. 

He can hang back and let a play develop, or he can take off himself and gain some tough yards.

He has that "it" that coaches always talk about. 

It is the ability, whatever the circumstances, to win football games.

In 2004, Roethlisberger was a rookie not quite playing a caretaker role but also not being asked to take the team on his shoulders. 

In 2005, he was an emerging leader in a locker room full of established stars. 

In 2006, he took a step back to take half a dozen steps forward in 2007, his career year.

In 2008, he proved he could take the team on his back and win games.  He did it in almost every game down the stretch and he did it in the Super Bowl.

The most important thing about Ben is that you can't really defend him.  If you try to contain him in the pocket, he'll pick you apart from there.  If you flush him out of the pocket, he'll beat you on the run.  If you take away his primary receiver, he'll find another way to make a play.

He's the leader of the team now.  He's also a big reason why the Steelers always have a chance.

2. Defense Wins Championships

I'm not a big fan of cliches. 

I think they set fans up for failure.  Teams with stellar defenses have failed mightily to win the big game.

But in Pittsburgh, the defense forms a near devastating combination with Ben Roethlisberger's backyard style of offense. 

They feed off of each other.

Pittsburgh won more games in 2008 with shutdown defense than they did with offense. 

The Steelers won six of 12 games by less than 10 points and won several games in the final minutes.  They also held opponents to less than 300 yards of offense in all but one game.

For the first time in recent memory, the Steelers also put together three solid levels of defense.  In previous years, the team's secondary lagged behind the always stellar linebackers and defensive front. 

In 2008, the secondary was spectacular as stars Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor were joined by the steady performances of Deshea Townsend, Ryan Clark, and Bryant McFadden.

James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley emerged as the team's best sacking duo of all time, forming the core of the league's best defense.

In 2009, with an almost identical cast, the Steelers defense will undoubtedly be among the league's elite.

3. The Same Cast of Characters

Pittsburgh returns all but two starters from it's Super Bowl championship team.  In today's world of free agency that's almost unprecedented.

Bryant McFadden, not a starter for most of the season, was great down the stretch and in the playoffs.  He has developed into one of the league's better corners, but the Steelers did not lack depth behind him and will insert either Deshea Townsend, or more likely, William Gay into his place.

Larry Foote, who will be replaced by younger and more versatile Lawrence Timmons, was a serviceable linebacker who succeeded more as the product of a system than on individual talent. 

Neither loss should prove to be damaging thanks to the Steelers' dedication to depth at every position.  Their other losses, including Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons, will do little to affect the team on the field.

The most challenging replacement will be in the slot where Nate Washington had become a dependable threat for Ben Roethlisberger.

But Washington took the money and ran to Tennessee.  The Steelers didn't sweat. 

They simply expect Limas Sweed, last year's second round selection, and new arrival Shaun McDonald to step up and contribute.

Keeping a team together year to year is something that pays huge dividends.  The Steelers will be able to reap the rewards for their hard work.

4. Chemistry on the O-Line

Ben Roethlisberger said it best when, standing with the trophy in hand, he looked out over his team and said "Who's laughing now, O-line?"

Who's laughing indeed. 

The Steelers, with arguably their worst offensive line in years, still won the Super Bowl.

With many analysts predicting that the Steelers would need to upgrade the team's offensive front to go back to back, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin instead chose to keep the line together again.

Scoff if you wish, but chemistry goes a long way in football. 

Adding another lineman or two to the mix would have upset that balance.  Now the line has a chance to mesh and play as a unit for another season.  That alone should improve their performance. 

Another year of seasoning for Chris Kemoeatu and Max Starks certainly won't hurt either.

Will the line be the league's finest? 

That's doubtful. 

Will they be steady and give Ben Roethlisberger enough time to find his footing? 

That is quite likely.

5. About That Repeat

The Steelers could become the latest team to struggle with a Super Bowl hangover.  After all, many of these same players whiffed on a chance to go back to back in 2006.

This is not the same situation.  Mike Tomlin is not Bill Cowher.

Cowher, for all his fine coaching over the years, was obviously wrapping up in 2006.  He looked detached more often than in previous seasons.

He looked and sounded like a man who'd reached the top of the mountain and was now simply camping out there before going home.

Mike Tomlin? 

If anything, he looks like he's going to only use the team's 2008 successes as motivation for a better 2009.

Tomlin quickly dismissed talk of repeating, defending, or otherwise dealing with the 2008 title run.  For Tomlin, the day after the Super Bowl parade marked the beginning of a new season.

If anyone looks prepared to prevent that evil Super Bowl hangover, it's Tomlin. 

He looks like he's not only ready to win another title; he looks like he's determined to do nothing else but win.

Attitude, after all, is supposed to be everything.

6. Scheduling

Strength of schedule, in my opinion, is one of the most overblown statistics in football.  There is no way to know who will break out and who will blow up until the teams take the field for the first regular season games.

But it's hard to overlook what Pittsburgh did with the league's toughest schedule in 2008.  It's equally hard to overlook that their schedule in 2009, at least on paper, looks tissue soft.

The Steelers have the benefit of facing the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals twice each during the season. 

Fan or not, it's easy to see that those two teams have more issues than can be solved in one offseason.

Pittsburgh also has no tough stretch this season with their toughest opponents scattered widely through the year.

Could it be that after 2008's schedule from down below that the football gods have smiled upon the Black and Gold?

7. Not the Toughest Division, Either

Besides the resurgent Baltimore Ravens, who look poised to be a thorn in the side of the Steelers for years to come, the AFC North looks very winnable for the defending champions.

Pittsburgh dominated Baltimore three times last year.  They also throttled both the Browns and Bengals.  If Pittsburgh can repeat that mastery, they will repeat as division winners.

That's half the battle.  If you win a division, you're in the playoffs.

Once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen. 

We learned that in 2005.

None of the other AFC North teams look any better on paper, so the Steelers have to be the odds on favorites to at least repeat what they did last year.

The Big Finish

It's still pretty early to predict anything about the 2009 football season.  Anything can still happen. 

Realistically, the Steelers should be able to replicate last season's 12-4 record.  I would actually expect them to improve upon it by as much as two games. 

The biggest stumbling blocks on paper look to be Chicago, San Diego, and Baltimore.

The Steelers match up well with virtually all of their opponents this year and also will miss AFC heavyweights New England and Indianapolis

Will they win a seventh championship?

That will be decided on the field.

Realistically though, there is no reason why they can't do just that.


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