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Hypocycloid
04-30-2008, 06:18 PM
Draft keeps Steelers a leg up in AFC North

By Vinnie Iyer - SportingNews 7 hours, 59 minutes ago

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Vinnie Iyer
SportingNews.com

With their win-now mentality evident during an aggressive offseason, the Cleveland Browns are hoping they will be the fourth different winner of the AFC North in as many seasons. Unfortunately, the team they are trying to dethrone, the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers, remains the best in the division.

The Steelers, as usual, didn’t break the bank to keep one of their key free agents—left guard Alan Faneca—or bring in marquee newcomers. That has been their M.O. throughout the salary-cap era; they’ve focused on building primarily through the draft. No one can argue with the results.

The Browns, meanwhile, decided not to do much drafting this year. Starting with the deal in 2007 that netted quarterback Brady Quinn, and continuing with trades for defensive tackles Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers this year, Cleveland is putting all its eggs into getting into the playoffs in 2008.
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Going back to last weekend’s draft: The Steelers had picks in each of the first three rounds; the Browns had to wait until Sunday to make their first pick—in Round 4.

The offseason isn’t quite over, but with March’s free-agent frenzy and April’s selection meeting in the books, the Steelers’ approach has won out again.

A constant focus on the future keeps Pittsburgh above most of the conference, and in contention for big things. The organization has gotten into such a rhythm with the draft that it can recognize which holes will need filling in a few years and thus can avoid having to scramble to find replacements in one short offseason.

Just look at some of their projected starters this season. Tight end Heath Miller, left guard Chris Kemoeatu, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, right tackle Willie Colon, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and punter Daniel Sepulveda were drafted over the three previous Aprils. Several other recent draftees are in place as key backups and future replacements.

The Steelers have picked up just two notable veterans this offseason, but each is atop the depth chart. Former Panther Justin Hartwig is expected to start at center; former Viking Mewelde Moore will handle kick and punt return duties.

Their biggest offseason move was locking up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—a rare talent who plays the position that’s hardest to replace—to a lucrative long-term deal.

Still, because they look ahead to add depth and the right-fitting players, the Steelers still have the best defense—both in terms of personnel and scheme—in the division. The Baltimore Ravens are behind in rebuilding their defense, and the Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals won’t immediately shoot up from the bottom tier despite their recent acquisitions.

That brings us to what the Steelers did in the first two rounds of the most recent draft.

The Browns pushed the pedal on offense last season, finding great balance with Derek Anderson’s passing and Jamal Lewis’ running. Now they’ve added speedster Donte’ Stallworth to their fine receiving corps.

How did Pittsburgh respond? It grabbed a couple more offensive players who can help the team this year—running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed.

Last season, the Steelers lacked their usual power-running ability, which hurt them in closing drives and games. The biggest reasons: so-so line play and the fact that Willie Parker is a speed back. Pittsburgh responded by throwing more in the red zone.

The physical Mendenhall is an ideal complement to Parker, and giving the rookie 10 to 12 touches a game will keep Parker fresher and healthier.

The Browns, on the other hand, didn’t get a young back; they’re counting on Lewis to somehow pound through another full load unscathed. That’s risky.

Although the Steelers still adhere to the Bill Cowher approach of pounding the ball, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has installed a more dynamic passing game. Holmes became a big-play threat last season, and Hines Ward shook off some early injuries to again be a red zone reception machine.

Sweed reminds many of former Steeler Plaxico Burress with his 6-4, 210-pound frame, but in the short term he will add more pop as a huge target in three- and four-receiver sets.

In other words, the Steelers matched the Browns’ addition of Stallworth.

Let’s go back to the relevant Steelers-Browns matchup of a season ago—we can throw out Week 1 because Charlie Frye was Cleveland’s starting quarterback then. In Week 10, with the well-established Anderson as their leader, the Browns were outplayed statistically but lost by just 3 points, 31-28, on the road.

Cleveland saw how far it had come, and it came out swinging in the offseason to close what not too long ago was a huge gap. The club certainly has improved and is much more confident than it was a year ago, but so are the Steelers under second-year coach Mike Tomlin.

The Browns were closer than they appeared in the Steelers’ rearview mirror, so the Steelers stepped on it. It’s easy to keep the right distance when you’re always looking out for what’s well down the road.

Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

43SteelCurtainRevolution
04-30-2008, 06:35 PM
Great read, I can't wait to see the Steelers dominate the division and league this coming season. Please, regular season, please come sooner!:tt:

HometownGal
04-30-2008, 06:47 PM
It’s easy to keep the right distance when you’re always looking out for what’s well down the road.


That's the Pittsburgh Steelers way and has proven time and time again to be very successful. :thumbsup::tt02:

Preacher
04-30-2008, 06:57 PM
That is a good read...

though their are a number of assumptions... like our first year players are going to play like vets.

But I still liked the read.

Hypocycloid
04-30-2008, 07:01 PM
As they say, its why they play the games. But when they're not playing it is our job to speculate and dream. It gives a nice feeling when pro sportswriters write good things, although they often simplify and are more often than not wrong. But I will take it, especially since I tend to agree.

steel65
04-30-2008, 07:05 PM
Is Timmons going to be ready this season it looked like he had trouble picking up on the steelers schemes throughout the season.

paw-n-maul-u
04-30-2008, 07:05 PM
great article.

We are pretty much set at WR, TE, QB, LB, and RB for the next few years, that is solid at a lot of positions, and some key ones. ... maybe need to address ILB if/when farrior is gone and/or Timmons doesn't pan out at ILB.

Next year ... work on the D-line and O-line (who know's, maybe some players on the o-line will step up this year ... kemo, colon ... smith healthy ... maybe Hills will come in and surprise right away who knows, all i know is that the line should be intact right from the get go ... and not too much shuffling)

... get some youth at corner (who knows, maybe b-mac will step it up) ... and there were are again, not really that many pressing needs and can take BPA ...

Elvis
04-30-2008, 08:02 PM
I dont know about being set at LB very much myself. I hope that we already have our replacement for Farrior in Timmons, he seems to have the speed and atheleticism to get the job done. But if he doesnt get some playing time this season, then I am gonna start worrying about him myself. Hey by the way, James Harrison is over 30 already and that isnt good for someone that just started his first season last season.
:helmet:

rich4eagle
04-30-2008, 08:08 PM
pretty good assessment being a fan of both teams

43Hitman
04-30-2008, 09:01 PM
pretty good assessment being a fan of both teams


I hope you don't mean that your a fan of both the Steelers and the clowns. Because that my friend, is illegal in Steeler Country.

19ward86
04-30-2008, 09:58 PM
Something i never would of figured out without this post, jk. nice post.

Davison_K
04-30-2008, 10:03 PM
I hope you don't mean that your a fan of both the Steelers and the clowns. Because that my friend, is illegal in Steeler Country.

Is that even possible in any country?:noidea:

millwalldavey
04-30-2008, 10:27 PM
pretty good assessment being a fan of both teams

There is 1 team. And 31 pretenders.

VTsteel
04-30-2008, 10:47 PM
pretty good assessment being a fan of both teams

That's not possible:tt03:

yinzer-inseattle
04-30-2008, 11:12 PM
pretty good assessment being a fan of both teams

Lucy you got some splainin to do!

SteelFist
05-01-2008, 12:41 AM
Definitely a nice read :thumbsup:. I can't wait for the season to come now.

Just curious.......How can someone be a fan of the Steelers and Brown?? :confused: Somebody help me please!!

BozMan
05-01-2008, 01:35 AM
The Steelers have a decent shot at repeating as division champs, but it IS going to be tough. As has been said many times here already, the insane schedule leaves little room for error.

Maybe these draft picks will prove to be a difference factor, but luck is still going to play a huge part. Specifically, an injury to anyone on the D-line could be a fatal blow. We all saw what happened when Aaron Smith went down last year. Any similar situation to that this year will be even worse since everyone on the D-line, including backups, is one year older.

Galax Steeler
05-01-2008, 04:32 AM
Great read I hope we are ready to rip through the division.

Dino 6 Rings
05-01-2008, 09:42 AM
I love, and I mean LOVE having my favorite team be one of the teams that every single year, you can go into the season with Hope, and I don't mean that "I'm a dumb fan and the Saints are going to win it all every year" Hope. I'm talking, flat out, our team is always a contender.

lilyoder6
05-01-2008, 10:12 AM
i think against the hard sch this is where rashard will come in handy.. instead of willie geting all the carries give 10-15 to rashard to keep them both healthy down the road against the hard sch... i hope that against the weaker teams... we can blow them out early and rest some key players...

j-dawg
05-01-2008, 11:47 AM
"Last season, the Steelers lacked their usual power-running ability, which hurt them in closing drives and games. The biggest reasons: so-so line play and the fact that Willie Parker is a speed back. Pittsburgh responded by throwing more in the red zone."

okay makes sense....

"The Browns, on the other hand, didn’t get a young back; they’re counting on Lewis to somehow pound through another full load unscathed. That’s risky."

uhh... with the good line play the Browns had last season and the sure hands of the recievers, Lewis didn't even come close to the "full load" he had to carry in Baltimore.

good read, I don't disagree the Steelers still have the advantage in the division, I just think the Browns arn't as vulnerable because of their draft decisions as he thinks.

The_WARDen
05-01-2008, 11:56 AM
"Last season, the Steelers lacked their usual power-running ability, which hurt them in closing drives and games. The biggest reasons: so-so line play and the fact that Willie Parker is a speed back. Pittsburgh responded by throwing more in the red zone."

okay makes sense....

"The Browns, on the other hand, didn’t get a young back; they’re counting on Lewis to somehow pound through another full load unscathed. That’s risky."

uhh... with the good line play the Browns had last season and the sure hands of the recievers, Lewis didn't even come close to the "full load" he had to carry in Baltimore.

good read, I don't disagree the Steelers still have the advantage in the division, I just think the Browns arn't as vulnerable because of their draft decisions as he thinks.

but the Clowns are the Clowns...

:tt03:

Rygor
05-01-2008, 12:16 PM
Good day, Steelers fans. I am an Illinois alum and die-hard Illini football fan (Bears fan, too, but I'd say the Steelers have always been my second favorite team, even before they drafted Rashard).

Having watched every game for the past 2-3 years in which Rashard played, I can say that the Steelers certainly got the steal of the draft in acquiring Mendenhall with the 23rd pick. Frankly, we in Illini country were a bit shocked that he fell that far, but I can guarantee that you will not be dissppointed with Rashard in a Steelers uniform.

Simply, he is a game-changer. He has the body, the skills, and the intellegence need to succeed in the NFL. He has succeeded as both a complimentary back and a feature back, and it is no accident that Illinois led the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two years. Rashard also set the school record for yards per carry and broke the school rushing record on far fewer carries than anyone ever had, and Illinois has had some pretty damn good backs (Red Grange, Jim Grabowski, Robert Holcombe just to name a few).

Even though a number of teams stacked the box against the run versus Illinois last year because of Juice William's relative ineffectiveness as a passer, he still managed to run over teams, find the smallest seams, and break through holes and outrun most team's defenses. Illinois has an okay offensive line but nothing special (not one O-lineman was drafted even though 2 of them declared), so it's not like Rashard was running behind blocking lines that were that excellent.

He has breakaway speed, as evidenced by his long runs against USC's speedy defense in the Rose Bowl and his 83 yard romp for a TD vs. Penn State in 2006. This past season versus Wisconsin, he had an unbelievable run wherein he ran left, realized that that read the play, reversed field and was speedy enough to run around the defense on the right side for a long gain.

While some might credit Illinois' spread option as a reason for many of Rashards great yards per carry numbers, the fact is that he was most effective running out of the backfield and finding holes in the line, or running outside of the tackles from the backfield. Also, his pass catching ability is top notch. He's got very sure, soft hands.

Some knocked him for being fumble prone. That was true his sophomore season, but the coaches corrected the way he carries the ball and he fumbled only once in his 250+ carries this past season.

Illinois went from a 10-loss team to a 9-win team in the span of one season. Rashard is a main reason why.

I was really hoping that Mendenhall might go to the Bears with the 14th pick (as a much needed replacement for Cedric Benson), but I'm also happy he went to Pittsburgh. Honestly, it's probably a better situation for him there. He'll have a chance to run behind a better O-line and learn from Willie Parker. Also, the Steelers are good at developing talent. Rashard is going to be one hell of an NFL player and should have a significant impact on the Steelers this season and beyond. It will be fun to watch!

Rotorhead
05-01-2008, 12:38 PM
As long as they can cut down on the sacks, which I think will happen, I have little doubt we will be division champs and in the playoffs. I actually think the tougher schedule will be helpful since we won't "taking the game off" against easier opponents like last season. We will not be favored in most of our games and therefore should play that much harder as the underdogs.

stillers4me
05-01-2008, 12:53 PM
but the Clowns are the Clowns...

:tt03:

And Anderson still can't hit the side of a barn. :sofunny:

DACEB
05-01-2008, 01:12 PM
Good day, Steelers fans. I am an Illinois alum and die-hard Illini football fan.
Having watched every game for the past 2-3 years in which Rashard played, I can say that the Steelers certainly got the steal of the draft in acquiring Mendenhall with the 23rd pick.
Rashard is going to be one hell of an NFL player and should have a significant impact on the Steelers this season and beyond. It will be fun to watch!

Thanks for the post Rygor, and welcome to the board.

lamberts-lost-tooth
05-01-2008, 01:21 PM
Good day, Steelers fans. I am an Illinois alum and die-hard Illini football fan (Bears fan, too, but I'd say the Steelers have always been my second favorite team, even before they drafted Rashard).

Having watched every game for the past 2-3 years in which Rashard played, I can say that the Steelers certainly got the steal of the draft in acquiring Mendenhall with the 23rd pick. Frankly, we in Illini country were a bit shocked that he fell that far, but I can guarantee that you will not be dissppointed with Rashard in a Steelers uniform.



Welcome to the board Rygor....

I live in Blooomington/Normal....nice to have a neighbor on the forum!!!!

I was just down in Urbana on the Thursday before the draft, helping one of my best friends deliver 19 barbells and 2,000 lbs worth of weights to the new athletic facility just north of the stadium....(in fact we were parked in the alley between the two facilities and I watched some of the players working out)

I never thought for a moment that we may get Rashard, but got to say that I was more than pleased to get a player that I think is going to be our starter in a very short time.

The Steelers play in Chicago next year....You GOTTA love that!!! I already have plans to take the family to that game....well, enjoy the season and glad to have you here!!1

Rygor
05-01-2008, 01:31 PM
Thanks, everyone. I, too, look forward to that game. I have a feeling that the Steerlers will run all over the Bears. Urlacher is not what he used to be.

BTW, lamberts, I work out at that "athletic facility" (currently called IMPE, going to be called the ARC when it's finished) several days a week. I wonder if I might have inadvertently seen you there where you were delivering those weights!

Also, I was just in B-N for a conference and must say I'm impressed with what's going on around there, especially in Normal's downtown. I happened to be in a relatives house in the north side of Normal when the earthquake hit, too. Fun times.

lamberts-lost-tooth
05-01-2008, 01:44 PM
Thanks, everyone. I, too, look forward to that game. I have a feeling that the Steerlers will run all over the Bears. Urlacher is not what he used to be.

BTW, lamberts, I work out at that "athletic facility" (currently called IMPE, going to be called the ARC when it's finished) several days a week. I wonder if I might have inadvertently seen you there where you were delivering those weights!

Also, I was just in B-N for a conference and must say I'm impressed with what's going on around there, especially in Normal's downtown. I happened to be in a relatives house in the north side of Normal when the earthquake hit, too. Fun times.

I slept through the quake...:doh:

Normal is really doing some wonderful things...but I have to laugh at the fact that they have had a big push to call the downtown..."uptown"....:sofunny:

When you were in north Normal...you would have been very close to my house....very cool.

If you saw two sweaty dudes pushing a large crate with a pallet jack last Thursday....one of them was me. (Not exactly the way I want to spend my day off...but it was for a friend)

I was initially hoping that we would pick up Lehman as a late round pick..and possibly Chris Norwell as an UDFA...but I NEVER thought that Rashard would be there for us. Justin Harrison was another that I would have given a chance, though most people outside of Illinois have probably never heard of him.

Rygor
05-01-2008, 02:57 PM
When you were in north Normal...you would have been very close to my house....very cool.

If you saw two sweaty dudes pushing a large crate with a pallet jack last Thursday....one of them was me. (Not exactly the way I want to spend my day off...but it was for a friend)

I was initially hoping that we would pick up Lehman as a late round pick..and possibly Chris Norwell as an UDFA...but I NEVER thought that Rashard would be there for us. Justin Harrison was another that I would have given a chance, though most people outside of Illinois have probably never heard of him.My relatives live on the very very north edge of Normal, right off Zeibarth Rd.

Didn't see anybody pushing the crate. Must've just missed you.

I too was surpsied Lehman didn't get drafted. I'm thinking if he hadn't been injured and could've performed more at the draft combine then somebody would have drafted him, but as it is the Vikings snapped him up as a free agent. A good situation for him. In fact, all the Illini who declared aside from Mendenhall ended up getting picked up as free agents.

lilyoder6
05-01-2008, 03:17 PM
honestly the only compertition i see from our division will the brownies.. cincy and balt have way too many issues going on right now

Galax Steeler
05-01-2008, 03:44 PM
honestly the only compertition i see from our division will the brownies.. cincy and balt have way too many issues going on right now

I agree the browns will give the most competion in our division but we still rule.

The_WARDen
05-01-2008, 04:28 PM
Looking at the Clowns schedule I see 6 or 7 wins max

Dallas = loss
Pittsburgh = loss
at Baltimore = loss (split home and home with this team)
at Cincy = win (I'll be generous)
NY Giants = loss
at Washington = win
at Jacksonville = loss
Baltimore = win (home and home split)
Denver = win
at Buffalo = win
Houston = win (talking heads will be predicting the Steelers doom after 4th straight)
Indianapolis = loss (back to reality)
at Tennessee = loss
at Philadelphia = loss
Cincy = win
at Pittsburgh = loss

there ya go..6 if they're lucky maybe 7 wins.

:coffee:

stlrtruck
05-02-2008, 08:55 AM
Looking at the Clowns schedule I see 6 or 7 wins max

Dallas = loss
Pittsburgh = loss
at Baltimore = loss (split home and home with this team)
at Cincy = win (I'll be generous)
NY Giants = loss
at Washington = win
at Jacksonville = loss
Baltimore = win (home and home split)
Denver = win
at Buffalo = win
Houston = win (talking heads will be predicting the Steelers doom after 4th straight)
Indianapolis = loss (back to reality)
at Tennessee = loss
at Philadelphia = loss
Cincy = win
at Pittsburgh = loss

there ya go..6 if they're lucky maybe 7 wins.

:coffee:

Actually I could see them beating Dallas and Tenessee so they could be in contention for the playoffs until the last game of the season. :tt03:

j-dawg
05-02-2008, 01:29 PM
Actually I could see them beating Dallas and Tenessee so they could be in contention for the playoffs until the last game of the season. :tt03:

Thank you Stlrtruck... the Titans entire offense ONLY scored Jamals touchdown total last year. (9)

I'll certainly be happy if the scenerio you describe comes to fruition.... that means the Browns had a competitive season... like last season.... of course I'm hoping that this year, instead of just competeing, there'll be a few games they dominate.

Wont be the Steelers though.

SteelerFanInCA
05-02-2008, 03:19 PM
Nice read. Baring any injuries I think we should have a good year.

Rhee Rhee
05-03-2008, 04:40 AM
don't get overconfident with the browns... we may win both games but i dont think it will be blowout games... they will be games where we fight to the end..

i really, really LOVE their pick of beau bell in the 4th... amazing value and great talent..
their entire draft was pretty decent... they got a future NT in athybia rubin and great recievers for quinn and anderson (rucker and hubbard)