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lamberts-lost-tooth
08-30-2007, 03:05 PM
Steelers' preview
Aug. 28, 2007


Last season, the Steelers lost both games to the division-champion Ravens by a combined score of 58-7. The 51-point differential of defeat was the worst any Steelers team had suffered since 1945.

So what have the Steelers done to cut the gap? Well, for one, they brought in Tampa Bay backup lineman Sean Mahan to replace the retired Jeff Hartings at center. They also drafted a 4-3 outside linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, to help replace Joey Porter, even though they have kept defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his 3-4 scheme.

The biggest change is head coach Mike Tomlin, who replaced Bill Cowher after last season?s Super Bowl hangover resulted in an 8-8 record.

It?s not much, considering the drastic gap to overcome, but the Steelers are counting on a rejuvenated Ben Roethlisberger and the spark provided from Tomlin to help them catch the Ravens, who lost a few players themselves, most notably OLB Adalius Thomas.

Quarterbacks ? Is Roethlisberger rejuvenated? Yes!!! Physically and emotionally, he?s past the near calamity that was the year 2006. Roethlisberger helped new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians trim the playbook and Big Ben has been given the options of changing line calls and making audibles. He?s become a true leader, yet he continues to struggle reading the field. The staff hopes this will resolve itself with the added responsibilities and more playing time. It?s still only his fourth season in the league. Charlie Batch might be the best backup quarterback in the game and Brian St. Pierre is competent and should be able to guide the team through any rough patches. Grade: A.

Running backs ? Willie Parker proved last season that he?s no fluke. He was just missed by all 32 teams in the 2004 draft. Arians believes he can get away with using H-backs to block for Parker instead of FB Dan Kreider, but that experiment didn?t work this preseason. Arians believes that a scheme heavy in versatile tight ends and deep passes will open up the running lanes, so perhaps no one will lead-block for Parker. Najeh Davenport is an average backup who runs too tall for short-yardage duties. In fact, the team?s best short-yardage runner is undrafted rookie Gary Russell, who?s a lock to make the team. Carey Davis is a hybrid fullback/tailback who also impressed in the preseason. Grade: B.

Receivers ? The step Hines Ward lost has been gained by Santonio Holmes. While Ward is still powerful enough to take a short pass and break it long, Holmes is the team?s deep threat. Cedrick Wilson provides quality as the No. 3 man, and the inconsistent Nate Washington remains No. 4 because of his deep speed. Willie Reid rounds out the group as a return man on the rise. TE Heath Miller could enjoy a big season in Arians? offense; he?ll flex out wide more than he has ever done. Rookie TE Matt Spaeth should become a threat inside the 20 if Roethlisberger improves in making the difficult red-zone reads. Grade: B-plus.

Offensive linemen ? After this group?s poor showing this preseason, the Steelers might want to re-think the situation and make one last effort to sign OLG Alan Faneca, who otherwise is playing his last season with the club. Also expected to leave after the season are ORT Max Starks and ORG Kendall Simmons, meaning the championship line of 2005 could have only one remaining starter ? OLT Marvel Smith ? in ?08. So far, the right side remains the weaker side and the center position has not been improved. Even though OT Willie Colon will force Starks into free agency, the depth on the line is a source of unease and will be addressed next offseason. Grade: C.

Defensive linemen ? The heart and soul of this defense is the line, and it still allows the linebackers to stuff the run with ease. DLE Aaron Smith is in his ninth NFL season and might be in the best shape of his life. NT Casey Hampton has grown into the defensive unit?s bona fide leader. Don?t be surprised if he?s named team captain. Hampton is the rock in the middle and ranks as one of the best nose tackles in the league. DRE Brett Keisel differs from Smith in that he?s more athletic and will be used as a linebacker in LeBeau?s new third-down defense. LeBeau admits to copying the Ravens? use of Adalius Thomas in defining Keisel?s new role. Behind the outstanding front three are rugged backups Chris Hoke and Travis Kirschke. As of this writing, the sixth spot was boiling down to journeyman Nick Eason and fourth-round pick Ryan McBean. Grade: A-minus.

Linebackers ? James Farrior, 32, has not lost a step and is the leader of the group at the strong-side ILB spot. Next to him is ILB Larry Foote, and next to Foote, replacing Porter, is James ?Silverback? Harrison, who is one of the reasons the Steelers let the high-priced Porter go. Harrison?s bookend is LOLB Clark Haggans, who?s being pushed by second-round draft pick LaMarr Woodley. The rookie has proven to be stout at the point and surprisingly fluid in coverage. Timmons, the team?s first-round draft pick, isn?t strong enough to play the point as an OLB in this scheme, but he has shown he?s extremely fluid in coverage and could become a spot blitzer until he?s moved to inside linebacker or the team changes schemes and he moves to his natural 4-3 WLB spot. Grade: B.

Defensive backs ? This could be the position group at which Tomlin, a former DB coach in Tampa, makes his influence felt. LCB Ike Taylor had his troubles with Cowher but is responding to Tomlin and new DB coach Ray Horton. Taylor appears more confident than ever. On the other side, the physical Bryant McFadden still can?t unseat the brainy Deshea Townsend and the competition has had ripple effects throughout the secondary. McFadden and Ricardo Colclough are more than adequate nickel and dime cornerbacks. At safety, SS Troy Polamalu is primed for his best season yet. The free-safety competition between Anthony Smith and Ryan Clark again serves both the players and the team well, with Tyrone Carter adding even more depth. This unit could improve, but needs help from the pass rush that received much of the Draft-Day attention. Grade: B-plus.

Special teams ? Rookie P Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round pick, delivered on his enormous potential in the preseason. Jeff Reed booms kickoffs into the endzone and has mastered the ugly field and weather conditions in Pittsburgh. Tomlin is giving more than lip service to the coverage units, practicing them to the point of ridicule through the spring and summer, but the results in the preseason say it?s worth the while. Grade: B.

WisconsinSteelerMan
08-30-2007, 03:40 PM
So.... This looks like quite a bit of "B" average here. Based on this, do we all think that "B" will get it done this year against our competition? I would like to say, "HECK YEAH" but I am cautious....

I just CAN'T wait for the regular season to start!!!!!!!

Mike in La Crosse, WI

Atlanta Dan
08-30-2007, 04:17 PM
So the new method of measuring the "drastic" gap between teams is the points scored in last year's games rather than an analysis of the relative talent on the 2 teams?

When the Ravens win the Super Bowl I will stand corrected, but most prognosticators seem to overlook the fact that the Ravens juggernaut wet the bed in a home playoff loss to Indy.

The Duke
08-30-2007, 04:26 PM
In fact, the team’s best short-yardage runner is undrafted rookie Gary Russell, who’s a lock to make the team

And how do they know he's a lock. But yeah, it would be nice to keep him.

So far, the right side remains the weaker side and the center position has not been improved.

Kendall Simmons has improved the right side, in comparison to last year, yeah Starks is still messing up but hopefully Colon gets the job and that right side will be impressive at least

revefsreleets
08-31-2007, 07:43 PM
That's one of the better previews of the team I've seen from a national source.

steelpride12
08-31-2007, 10:42 PM
My biggest concerne is the Damn O-Line im telling you. Ben will throw less INT's with better pass coverage. He only throws stupid balls and picks when he is pressured!(philly game lat week)