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Old 02-19-2009, 05:16 PM   #1
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Default Pittsburgh Steelers: Up for an Encore?

Pittsburgh Steelers: Up for an Encore?

Posted Feb 19th 2009 4:52 PM by JJ Cooper (author feed)
Filed Under: Steelers, AFC North
SteelersBecause the NFL season never ends, we present our 2009 Offseason Roadmaps for front offices to navigate through the summer.

Because the NFL season never ends, we present our 2009 Offseason Roadmaps for front offices to navigate through the summer.

For the second time in four years, the Steelers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, which means no matter what happens this offseason, Steelers fans have plenty of reasons to be happy. But with an easier 2009 schedule on the horizon and few big names hitting free agency, Steelers fans are ready to start thinking repeat, even if Mike Tomlin won't use that word.

The Steelers won in 2008 with an outstanding defense and an offense that did just enough. If the Steelers can fix their offensive line problems, the offense could make some significant strides forward in 2009 -- although it's hard to believe that the defense won't take a step or two back after an amazing run that saw them lead the league in scoring defense, pass defense and total defense while finishing second in run defense.

The Steelers may not be a better team in 2009, but a schedule that replaces the NFC East and the AFC South with the NFC North and AFC West may give the Steelers a better record.

Free Agents: Unrestricted - Bryant McFadden, Marvel Smith, Max Starks, Trai Essex, Chris Kemoeatu, Nate Washington, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Mitch Berger, Fernando Bryant, Keyaron Fox, Andre Frazier. Restricted - Willie Colon, Arnold Harrison, Anthony Madison, Sean McHugh, Anthony Smith.

Draft Picks: 1 (32), 2 (32), 3 (32), 4 (32), 5 (32), 6 (32), 7 (18), 7 (32)


1. Quality Linemen - By winning the Super Bowl, the Steelers may have killed forever the adage that the key to a Super Bowl champion is a strong offensive line. Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl in spite of its linemen. Pittsburgh gave up 49 sacks, worse than everyone but the 49ers, Lions and Bengals (considering those other teams maybe the adage is generally true). And the Steelers line also opened no holes for the running game. Pittsburgh's 3.7 yards per carry was also one of the worst averages in the league. Pittsburgh either faces an opportunity or an apocalypse, as the team's top four offensive tackles and a starting guard are all free agents (Update: Pittsburgh franchised Max Starks on Thursday). That could give the team a chance to revamp the offensive line, or it could lead to the team overpaying for mediocre lineman for lack of any better alternatives.

2. Wide Receiver depth - If Nate Washington leaves in free agency, which seems likely, Pittsburgh will have a pair of quality starters in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, but very little behind them. Limas Sweed is the most likely No. 3 receiver on the roster, but he has to prove that he can actually catch the ball, hopefully by erasing any memory of his rookie-year drops. Dallas Baker is the only other receiver with any real experience, and if he's more than a No. 4 receiver, the Steelers are in trouble. Expect to see the Steelers add an inexpensive veteran receiver to give the team some insurance in case Sweed can't get the job done.

3. Cornerback - Bryant McFadden is one of the few quality starting cornerbacks hitting the free agent market, which means he'll likely land a bigger contract than the Steelers are willing to pay. Pittsburgh does have several options to replace him, most notably third-year corner William Gay. Gay ranked No. 1 among nickel backs in Football Outsiders' game-charting cornerback stats and he played well as a fill-in starter. Also Deshea Townsend, a former starter, is still around as a veteran who can be counted on to be in the right place, even if physically he's on the downside of his career. The Steelers could add a cornerback in the draft, but do remember that the Steelers went 15-1 in 2004 with an aging Willie Williams starting at cornerback, so Dick LeBeau's defense can figure out ways to cover for less-than-exceptional cornerback play.
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