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Old 01-14-2010, 06:08 PM   #1
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Default Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

Mike Tomlin made three relatively small moves in his coaching staff and has not hired anyone to replace them yet. His more important mission is to remake his defense, if he can.

The Steelers defense that so dominated the NFL in 2008 on the way to winning a Super Bowl was not the same in 2009. It ranked fifth in the NFL, which was the most overrated number used to describe the Steelers the past season.

That defense slipped to 16th from No. 1 the previous year against the pass and teams threw at them at will. They allowed nine pass completions longer than 40 yards after giving up just two in 2008. They have some looming major problems — in the secondary, where they need to find corners and at least one starting safety; in the defensive line, where age and possible free agency could be devastating; and at linebacker, where age and lack of depth also could do them in.

Other than that, they ranked fifth in the NFL on defense last season.

Tomlin did not make one change on his defensive staff, and Dick LeBeau, 72, announced he would return as coordinator. That defense reached its peak in 2008 when it ranked nearly No. 1 across the board — overall, against the pass and in points allowed, and No. 2 against the run.

This season, they blew leads in five of their seven losses in the fourth quarter. Protecting leads has been a hallmark of Steelers teams; Bill Cowher's record with a lead of 10 points or more anytime during a game was 109-1-1. Tomlin's team in 2009 blew one 13-point lead and another 10-point lead in losses.

The Steelers offense set all kinds of records in 2009. Pittsburgh had its first 4,000-yard passer in Ben Roethlisberger and for the first time had three receivers with 70 catches or more (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller). Rashard Mendenhall topped 1,000 yards rushing. Yet, the Steelers ranked 17th in converting third downs and 21st in scoring touchdowns once they reached the opponent 20 (27-for-56).

"I feel like we had our moments where we were unstoppable," Roethlisberger said. "We had moments where we stopped ourselves, and moments when the defense stopped us. I think it's a building block for us, I think we're still very young on offense and I really think that the sky can be the limit for us."

They have the skill position players to do it but not the offensive line. That line did not blow anyone off the ball in the run game and Roethlisberger was sacked a career-high 50 times.

"There are going to be some hard decisions made in the offseason," left tackle Max Starks said. "This unit has been pretty intact for a lot of veterans but you have to realize there are going to be changes and you have to embrace those changes and move forward."

Ward, who turned in his sixth 1,000-yard season and led the team with 95 catches, agreed.

"The makeup of this team is going to change."


—Omar Khan, one of the Steelers' top executives, interviewed with the Seattle Seahawks this week for that team's general manager job. Khan, 32, spent the past nine seasons as lead contract negotiator in Pittsburgh and handled their salary cap.

—Center Dermontti Dawson made the finals for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the second straight year. Former Steelers assistant head coach Russ Grimm also made it for his playing days as a guard in Washington. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is one of two seniors candidates for his playing days in Detroit as a cornerback.

—LB LaMarr Woodley turned in all but two of his sacks in the second half of the season. Coach Mike Tomlin issued an explanation:

"He's a guy that's come on the late part of the season all three years he's been here; evidently, that's a part of his game. It's about rhythm, his moves come together, he develops a feel for it, and he sharpens his sword over the course of the season, which is good. You look for guys who are on the rise as the season goes on, and he's proven through his first three years in the league that that's kind of how he plays the game. And that's what you need; you need guys whose arrows are pointing up at the end of the road."

—QB Ben Roethlisberger appeared to be favoring his right arm in the team's final game of the season at Miami but Tomlin said it's nothing serious.

"No, I don't think that it is, but I don't have specific, detailed information regarding it. But I don't think it's anything that's going to require a medical procedure of any kind."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You need to stay after him. He does move around a little bit, make some plays with his feet and with his arm running around, extending plays. You just have to keep rushing. The scramble rules apply on the back end, stay with your receiver, and hope the front gets there in time." — Miami DE/LB Jason Taylor on how to stop QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked a career-high 50 times in 2009.


Mike Tomlin is interviewing coaches for the three who departed: QBs Ken Anderson retired, and Tomlin fired special teams coach Bob Ligashesky and offensive line coach Larry Zierlein. It is the first change in Tomlin's staff since he was hired in 2007.

Tomlin interviewed Bobby April for special teams but it appears April will pursue other jobs.

The Steelers signed nine players to future contracts, including seven from their practice squad: K Piotr Czech, DT Scott Paxson, TE Eugene Bright, WR Jason Chery, S Tuff Harris, DT Steve McClendon, RB Isaac Redman, RB Justin Vincent and CB Trae Williams. C A.Q. Shipley, their seventh-round pick last year who spent the season on the practice squad, signed this week with the Philadelphia Eagles.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Ben Roethlisberger. Backups — Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch.

Roethlisberger had his best statistical season, setting club records for yards passing 4,328 and a 66.6 percent completion rate. He had 26 TDs and 12 interceptions but he was sacked a career-high 50 times and many believe he does not throw the ball away enough. Dixon wound up as the backup after Batch broke his wrist in the 10th game, and he likely will stay No. 2.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — RB Rashard Mendenhall. Backups - RB Willie Parker, RB Mewelde Moore, RB Carey Davis. Injured reserve — RB Frank Summers.

Mendenhall got better as the season progressed and showed he can be a premier back. Parker likely will move on as a UFA. Moore lost his third-down job to Mendenhall, a better receiver. Davis and Summers are RB/FB types but the Steelers claim they do not have one of those; Davis played little and Summers spent most of the season on I.R.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Heath Miller. Backups — Matt Spaeth, David Johnson. Injured reserve — Sean McHugh.

Miller set a franchise record for the position with 76 receptions, third on the team and tied for the lead with six TDs. He also is a prime blocker at the position. Spaeth plays often because the Steelers use a lot of two tight end formations, but he's not a good blocker and they threw to him infrequently. Johnson played H-back. McHugh spent the season on IR.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes. Backups — Mike Wallace, Tyler Grisham, Joey Galloway, Stefan Logan. Injured reserve — Limas Sweed.

Ward caught 95 passes and had his sixth 1,000-yard season. Holmes caught 79 and led the Steelers with 1,248 yards, his first 1,000-yard season. Wallace had an outstanding rookie season as the No. 3 receiver and was their primary deep threat, catching 39 passes and leading all NFL receivers with a 19.4-yard average. Sweed may never make it. He ended up on I.R. with emotional problems at the end of the season in which he caught one pass for 5 yards. The others do not figure into the plans, including Galloway, who was signed late to replace Sweed.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Max Starks, LG Chris Kemoeatu, C Justin Hartwig, RG Trai Essex, RT Willie Colon. Backups — G Darnell Stapleton, G Ramon Foster, G/C Doug Legursky, G Kraig Urbik, T Tony Hills.

Not a powerful line or one that protects the passer particularly well. The Steelers had trouble running the ball when they wanted to, particularly in short yardage and the red zone because the line could not move anyone off the ball. Their best short-yardage play was the QB sneak. Not much change will occur because four starters received new contracts in 2009 and Colon will be a RFA if there is no CBA extension.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LE Aaron Smith, NT Casey Hampton, RE Brett Keisel. Backups — NT Chris Hoke, DE Travis Kirschke, DE Ziggy Hood, DE Nick Eason, DE Sunny Harris.

Hampton made another Pro Bowl but is a UFA at 33. Smith spent much of the season on IR and turns 34. Keisel was steady but will be 31. Hoke is 32 and Kirschke 35. Hood could be pressed to play NT with Hoke if Hampton leaves. Harris could develop but did not play in '09. The line got less pressure on QB this season and teams ran at will toward the end of the season.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — LOLB LaMarr Woodley, ILB Lawrence Timmons, ILB James Farrior, ROLB James Harrison. Backups — ILB Keyaron Fox, OLB Andre Frazier, OLB Patrick Bailey, ILB Rocky Boiman.

Woodley had a slow start and then finished on fire with all but two of his team-high 13.5 sacks over the final eight games. Harrison did the opposite with none of his 10 sacks in the final six games. Farrior, who just turned 35, slowed down although he again led the team in tackles. Timmons showed brilliance on some plays, but also was out of position and missed tackles on others. Fox proved a good backup to Timmons and started three games. None of the backups on the outside is good and they need to find some.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB William Gay, RCB Ike Taylor, SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark. Backups — CB Deshea Townsend, S Ryan Mundy, S Tyrone Carter, CB Joe Burnett, CB Keenan Lewis, CB Anthony Madison.

Polamalu missed 11 games, including the final seven, with two separate knee injuries and the secondary fell apart without him. Clark may leave as a UFA. Taylor did not have a good season. Gay was terrible and Townsend replaced him in the final two games. Carter started for Polamalu and was exposed many times. Burnett played some as the nickel and was poor in coverage. The cornerbacks had no interceptions until the final game. Lewis had a back injury that held him back.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jeff Reed, P Daniel Sepulveda, KR/PR Stefan Logan, LS Greg Warren, LS Jared Retkofsky.

This group went south in many areas and special team coach Bob Ligashesky paid for it with his job. They allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns and a 9.8-yard average against them on punt returns. Sepulveda averaged only 42.7 yards gross and 37.1 net. Jeff Reed again was a bright spot, making 27 of 31 field goal tries, two of the misses beyond 50. Reed, though, does not kick off deep and that hurts the kickoff coverage. Warren tore an ACL for the second straight season and Retkofsky finished up the final two games as long snapper.
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