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Old 07-23-2009, 11:13 PM   #1
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Default ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news;_yl...=tsn&type=lgns
’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

By Gerry Dulac and Vinnie Iyer, SportingNews 9 hours, 34 minutes ago

On the way to winning their NFL-record sixth Super Bowl trophy, the Pittsburgh Steelers debunked the myth that games are won or lost along the line of scrimmage. That is, at least as far as their offensive line is concerned.

The Steelers also reinforced what they believed all along: Even when faced with the NFL’s toughest regular-season schedule, you are never out of any game when you have a dominating defense and a marquee quarterback.

So why should 2009 be any different?

Of the 22 starters who combined to beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers lost only two: cornerback Bryant McFadden(notes), who signed with Arizona, and inside linebacker Larry Foote(notes), who was cut this spring.

Look for more clutch play from Ben Roethlisberger(notes), 27, who is just entering his prime. And there’s no reason to think the defense, which dominated the NFL in just about every facet last year, won’t be just as good.

The running game, which was ravaged by injuries, should be better. So should the offensive line, which returns all five starters after a season that began with four players at new positions.

“It’s a different year,” says coach Mike Tomlin, who has been to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. “We know that things that happened in the past are things that happened in the past, and it may affect how we’re judged from a perception standpoint. But it’s not going to dictate how we work or how we approach our business.”

WHAT’S NEW

Offense: Second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall(notes), who missed most of last season with a broken scapula, is ready to become an integral part of the offense. That alone should help a rushing attack that produced an average of 105.6 yards per game in 2008.

The team has to find a replacement for No. 3 receiver Nate Washington(notes), who signed with the Titans. Limas Sweed(notes), last year’s second-round pick, has the size and speed but needs to improve his route-running and consistency to be a factor in the passing game. Mike Wallace(notes) was drafted in the third round and has been clocked at 4.28 in the 40-yard dash.

Defense: The evolution of inside linebacker Lawrence Timmmons brings even more athleticism and explosiveness to the unit. Timmons spent most of last season playing in the nickel and dime schemes, but when the team cut Foote, it cleared the way for Timmons to start alongside James Farrior(notes).

The biggest problem for the secondary is replacing McFadden. William Gay(notes), a fifth-round NFL draft pick in 2007, should step in as the starter at left cornerback, something he did for four games last season when McFadden was injured. Gay played so well that he split time with McFadden the remainder of the season, including the Super Bowl. Gay is not as solid against the run as McFadden, but he has superior cover skills and breaks better on the ball.

BURNING QUESTION

Are the Steelers the team to beat?
“That defense – everyone will look at that as the reason. Two things stand out as they made it to the Super Bowl: a great quarterback and a great coach. [Ben Roethlisberger] was great in the clutch last season, allowing them to overcome a lot of late deficits. They played and won so many closes games that it makes you a little nervous to pick them.”
– CBS analyst Phil Simms

OPPONENT’S VIEW
(anonymous opponent breaks down the Steelers)

“This team is so strong defensively, and one of the reasons they are is because they run to the ball better than any other defense. They get to spots where they are extremely hard to cut off. They’re always staying ahead of you. Every year, when you look back at all their games and who ran best against them, you still have a tough time figuring it out.

[Defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau has them put together extremely well. They have developed a sense of pride. You have a lot of teams who have more individual interests in mind. But when you get it like the Steelers get it, when you have 11 guys gang-tackling and running to the ball, that’s what’s special about them.

They have such a great combination of strength and speed. They close so quickly. There are very few explosive plays. They just recover so well because of their team speed.”

BOTTOM LINE

The Steelers had few defections in free agency and the core of their Super Bowl-winning team remains intact. Roethlisberger proved last season that as long as he is the quarterback, the team is not out of any game, particularly when he has a defense that can shut down the run and pass with equal aplomb.

The offense will be better with a more-seasoned line, and the return of Mendenhall will help the running game. Granted, the defensive line is beginning to age, but not to the point where it is affecting production. Another division title and a run at the Super Bowl are within this team’s grasp.

Prediction: 14-2 (first, AFC North)
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Old 07-24-2009, 03:31 AM   #2
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

14-2 I will take that any day. I would love to see the running game come back to take the heat off of Ben. Hopefully our line will play better then last year. It is just around the corner can't wait.
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Old 07-24-2009, 08:10 AM   #3
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

Yes this is the team to beat and this year is a year they will be even better than last year. In week 16 you will hear the naysayers talking about how could anyone not be thinking the Steelers would not be poised to make a repeat run of their super bowl title.
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Old 07-24-2009, 09:28 AM   #4
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

With the schedule that we have and the fact that we haven't really lost anyone irreplaceable we will definately be the team to beat!!!!
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Old 07-24-2009, 10:28 AM   #5
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

20 of 22 starters coming back, I like our chances.

Steelers roadmap - stay healthy! - get hot at the end of the year and carry it through the playoffs.

As long as the O-line can keep Ben from getting killed we should be in the mix.

Mendenhall should be ready to carry the load, can't wait to see what he's got.

Steelers were really lucky the defense stayed healthy all year - that was the key.
They never let up.

Training camp is only a week away! Woo-hoo!

C'mon Sweed, show us something. We need that 5 wide!
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Old 07-24-2009, 11:38 AM   #6
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

14-2 is totally reasonable.

I think even modest improvement of the team's weak points will result in a much better team.

I'd like to see the Steelers be able to execute the short passing game a little more. I expect teams to bring blitz pressure and protect vs the long ball. If we can take-what-they-give-us in terms of a better running game and using short passes, I think this team would be unstopable.

I forget which game last year ...we were moving the ball really well with short passes to Heath and Hines for one series and then just stopped for the rest of the game and went back to these long passes and ineffective runs.
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Old 07-24-2009, 11:46 AM   #7
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

Pre-season predictions are poo.

One or two key season-ending injuries and it all goes kerplunk.
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Old 07-24-2009, 01:32 PM   #8
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

Quote:
Originally Posted by Killer View Post
Pre-season predictions are poo.

One or two key season-ending injuries and it all goes kerplunk.
Yes. This year, it'll be Peyton Manning and Randy Moss' turn for that.
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Old 07-24-2009, 04:31 PM   #9
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Default Re: ’09 Steelers preview: Defense, clutch QB lead way

The Steelers are definately looking good going into it. I see injuries as the key to making it deep into the playoffs. If this team stays healthy they will be very hard to beat.
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