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Old 12-21-2008, 07:09 AM   #1
mesaSteeler
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Default Steelers use 2005 as measuring stick

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Steelers use 2005 as measuring stick

By Joe Starkey
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, December 21, 2008

In many ways, these Steelers are similar to the Super Bowl champions of 2005.

They still play championship-level defense under coordinator Dick LeBeau.

They still have a solid leadership core featuring veterans such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton.

They remain a team of high character
, and they win a lot of games.

"It's still the same, man," Hampton said.

But to hear others tell it, the differences outweigh the similarities.

Start with the head coach Mike Tomlin, who replaced Bill Cowher and consider that half the starting lineup and nearly all of the special teams have changed since Super Bowl XL.

The team's personality has changed a bit, too.

Back in 2005, vibrant vets Joey Porter and Jerome Bettis neither of whom was known to shy away from the spotlight stirred the Steelers' drink.

Now, offensive tackle Max Starks says, it's a different feel.

"I think we're a lot closer of a unit than we were back then," said Starks, who played right tackle on the Super Bowl team but has replaced Marvel Smith at left tackle this season. "You have young guys who've grown together and have matured through situations, so it's more of a collective effort than having certain figureheads in place.

"I think that's what makes us unique, is that everybody in here takes equal accountability."

Sixth-year strong safety Troy Polamalu agreed.

"The younger guys who were just filling in roles then have a lot more experience," Polamalu said. "I think we really have an identity for ourselves this year."

Polamalu added that the Steelers maintain a college-like tradition, where players such as Bettis and Porter remain part of the program at least in spirit when they leave.

"They do leave something," Polamalu said. "Guys still talk to Joey (now with the Miami Dolphins). He's still a good friend of ours. He still roots for us. He's a Pittsburgh Steeler at heart and always will be. That's what's so special about being here, is that the fraternity we have is deeper than what we're aware of on the outside."

To a man, the Steelers will tell you that fourth-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has stepped into a much more significant leadership role than he had during his rookie year of 2004.

"He says a little bit more now," Hampton said.

"You always want look to your quarterback as the leader of the team," Starks said. "And he has matured into that position.
"

Roethlisberger's numbers aren't quite on par with those of his his rookie year, but he has engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks and says he feels like a much different player.

"It's easier to go on the football field. It's fun," Roethlisberger said. "Not that it wasn't fun then, but it was more panic and stress then. Now, it's just going out and doing what I love to do."

The Steelers have relied much more on the pass this season, compared to 2005, and have not been as effective offensively. They have run the ball 46.7 percent of the time, compared to 59.2 percent in 2005, and are averaging 36 fewer rushing yards and nearly three fewer points per game.

Defensively, they possess more explosive play-making ability, thanks largely to edge pass rushers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, plus second-year linebacker Lawrence Timmons. They are allowing 48 fewer yards and 2.4 fewer points per game and have the same amount of sacks (47) with two games to play.

Polamalu was asked if this defense trumps the '05 group.

"With our style of play (on offense), we've depended more on our defense," Polamalu said. "In that sense, our defense is way better than it was back then. Our run game back then was strongly enforced. Our will was strongly enforced on people with our run game. It's not really like that now.

"In that sense, the personality of our team is different."

In another sense, Polamalu agrees with Hampton: This defense - this team - has a long ways to go to before it can be compared to the Steelers of 2005.

"That defense won a Super Bowl," Hampton said. "So until we win a Super Bowl, you can't say we're better."

BREAKING IT DOWN

How does this Steelers team understanding that it hasn't yet written its playoff story stack up with the '05 Super Bowl champs? Trib columnists Mike Prisuta and Joe Starkey take a position-by-position look:

QUARTERBACK

Ben Roethlisberger's numbers don't match those of his historic rookie season of '05, but he has become a master of the fourth-quarter comeback. Byron Leftwich has replaced injured Charlie Batch as the backup.

Prisuta: Roethlisberger is much more confident, and his game is more versatile. If he gets there, his Super Bowl passer rating will exceed 22.6. Edge: 2008

Starkey: I'll take Ben the wily veteran, even if he has absorbed more punishment than a hockey puck since his rookie season. Edge: 2008

RUNNING BACK

Willie Parker's still the starting tailback. Gary Russell is the short-yardage back, and Mewelde Moore the third-down back, compared to Jerome Bettis and Verron Haynes, respectively, in those roles in '05.

Prisuta: Parker's the same in name only. Third-and-1 has become a passing down. Edge: '05

Starkey: I like Moore better than Haynes, but I'd take a fresh, young Parker (he's averaging a yard less per carry these days) and a punishing old Bus. Edge: '05

TIGHT END

Heath Miller's still the man, but the Steelers use two tight ends much more often, with Matt Spaeth complementing Miller. Jerame Tuman was the second tight end in '05.

Prisuta: The Steelers want to feature Miller more, and though Tuman had his moments, Spaeth is a pass-catching upgrade. Edge: '08

Starkey: Somebody should ask Parker about the use of two tight ends. Looks like a wash to me. Edge: Even

RECEIVERS

Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington are the top three, as compared to Ward, Antwaan Randle El and Cedrick Wilson in '05.

Prisuta: Ward was better in '05. Randle El was more consistent than Washington and Holmes have been this season. This year's WR corps also misses Randle El's arm. Edge: '05

Starkey: Randle El and Wilson came on in playoffs, but Holmes' explosiveness makes this a better overall unit. Edge: '08

OFFENSIVE LINE

Four of five starters and all five positions have changed. From left to right, the Steelers go with Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapleton and Willie Colon, compared to Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings, Kendall Simmons and Starks at right tackle in '05.

Prisuta: Think the short-yardage/goal-line problems have anything to do with Faneca's absence? Edge: '05

Starkey: This year's group has begun to jell, but as we sit here today, it's not close: Edge: '05
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Old 12-21-2008, 07:10 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers use 2005 as measuring stick

DEFENSIVE LINE

Nose tackle Casey Hampton and left end Aaron Smith are manning their old spots. Brett Keisel has replaced Kimo von Oelhoffen on the right side. Chris Hoke remains Hampton's backup. Keisel was a reserve in '05. Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason play a lot for this year's team.

Prisuta: Keisel's an upgrade on Kimo, and the veteran backups have been solid contributors, especially Kirschke, who has been more prominent than in '05. Edge: '08

Starkey: Tough call, but I'll take Big Snack (Hampton) when he was just an oversized Hors' d oeuvre, plus Kimo and Keisel alternating. Edge: '05

LINEBACKERS

James Farrior and Larry Foote remain the inside starters. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison have replaced Clark Haggans and Joey Porter on the outside.

Prisuta: The outside rushers are obvious upgrades — no offense to Porter — but the real difference-maker is Timmons, who is, in effect, a fifth starter. Edge: '08.

Starkey: Two maniacal edge pass rushers are better than one. And, yes, Timmons is a beast. Edge: '08.

SECONDARY

Ike Taylor (cornerback) and Troy Polamalu (strong safety) remain starters. Bryant McFadden has replaced Deshea Townsend at one corner, and Ryan Clark has replaced Chris Hope at free safety. Townsend still plays a major role. McFadden was a rookie spot player in '05 and provided depth at the corner with Ricardo Colclough.

Prisuta: Tyrone Carter played an underappreciated role in the sub-packages in '05; William Gay is doing the same. Hope was better than given credit for, much as McFadden is now. Edge: Even

Starkey: More quality depth, playmaking ability with this group. Edge: '08

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jeff Reed remains the kicker. Mitch Berger is the punter, compared to Chris Gardocki in '05. Gary Russell is the No. 1 kick returner, compared to Ricardo Colclough/Quincy Morgan in '05, and Santonio Holmes is the primary punt returner, compared to Antwaan Randle El.

Prisuta: Reed's a little better, as is coverage, but lack of a breakaway threat on kickoff returns — something Morgan and Colclough provided in 2005 — is a glaring weakness. Holmes needs to continue popping big punt returns. Edge: '05

Starkey: Gardocki had a great playoff, so the punting needs to improve radically to measure up. The return game is much worse, but the coverage units are much better. Edge: '05

TALE OF THE TAPE

The 2008 Steelers, through 14 games, compared to the 2005 Steelers through 16 regular-season games:

OVERALL

Category — 2008/2005

W-L — 11-3/11-5

Home — 5-2/5-3

Road — 6-1/6-2

Opp. record — 98-95-2/126-124

OFFENSE

PPG — 21.6/24.3

Total yds — 303.4/321.8

Rush — 102.9/138.9

Pass — 200.5/182.9

TOP — 31:24/31:44

Third-down — 39.7/35.0

Sacked — 44/32

DEFENSE

PPG — 13.7/16.1

Total yds. — 239.1/284

Rush — 75.8/86.0

Pass — 163.3/198.0

Pass rating — 63.8/74.0

Third-down — 32.7/40.0

Sacks — 47/47

INT — 18/15

Turnovers — +7/+7

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punting avg. — 39.2/41.7

Punt ret. — 6.5/10.2

Opp. punt ret. — 6.1/9.1

Kick ret. — 20.4/21.6

Opp. kick ret. — 19.4/21.9

FGs — 26-29/24-29

Joe Starkey can be reached at jstarkey@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.
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