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Old 02-12-2011, 10:06 PM   #1
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Default What's next for the Steelers?

What's next for the Steelers?
February, 12, 2011
Feb 12 11:00 AM ET
http://espn.go.com/blog/afcnorth

By James Walker
Pittsburgh will need to improve its secondary and offensive line if it wants another shot at the title.

As the confetti fell at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, a look of despair and disappointment immediately came over the faces of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The newly crowned Green Bay Packers were in full celebration mode, while Pittsburgh felt the sting of falling short of its seventh championship.

History weighs heavily against the Steelers -- seven of the past 10 Super Bowl runners-up have failed to make the playoffs the next year.

How do the Steelers avoid becoming another statistic? It will take some smart moves and solid upgrades in the offseason.

"Our goal is to try to get into [the Super Bowl] again, and just don't be on this side again," Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said. "Just get back in the lab and work harder. That's all."

Here is a preview of what's next for the Steelers:

Where are Pittsburgh’s biggest needs?

Aaron Rodgers took advantage of Pittsburgh's secondary
-- completing 24-of-39 for 304 yards and a 111.5 passer rating. (I wish we had drafted another CB or Safety with our second pick instead of another linebacker. - mesa)

Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Steelers are in better shape than most teams. But they are by no means perfect.

Three losses this season -- to the Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints -- have provided a blueprint of how to beat the Steelers. It takes a top-flight quarterback and a precise, short and intermediate passing game to put enough points on the board against Pittsburgh's vaunted No. 2 ranked defense.

Forcing the Steelers' offense to play from behind makes the team one-dimensional and susceptible to the pass rush
. Pittsburgh's offensive line is one of the weakest areas of the team. Those three losses to Green Bay, New England and New Orleans all played out in similar fashion.

To counter these tough matchups, the Steelers need to improve their roster in several areas.

Pittsburgh's two biggest needs are at cornerback and offensive line. Upgrades to both positions would help the Steelers combat opponents like New England and Green Bay. The Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (304 yards, three touchdowns) beat Pittsburgh's defense by running a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, which exposed the Steelers' lack of depth in the secondary.

Pittsburgh starting cornerback Ike Taylor is solid, but he will be an unrestricted free agent (we will get to that later). After Taylor there is a dropoff to Bryant McFadden and backups William Gay and Anthony Madison. High-powered passing offenses will continue to give Pittsburgh fits unless it addresses this issue. I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers draft a cornerback in the first two rounds.

The Steelers need to improve at guard and tackle on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Max Starks is solid and returning from a season-ending neck injury. He will replace the inconsistent Jonathan Scott. Right tackle Flozell Adams, 35, is under contract for one more year with Pittsburgh and is uncertain about his future. Guard Chris Kemoeatu and center Maurkice Pouncey are set, but the Steelers could use another starting-caliber guard.

The Steelers traditionally are not big players in free agency, so don't expect a lot of turnover. Most of their needs will be addressed in April's NFL draft.

"I think we still have a core group of players that we can build around and hopefully make another run at it," Steelers president Art Rooney II said after the Super Bowl loss. "I don't think we'll be sitting there saying we're going to make a lot of changes. We'll prepare for the draft and add some players here and there, and be ready to go."

Who are the Steelers' key free agents?

Where Pittsburgh does spend its money is retaining its key free agents. The Steelers have two big ones this year in Taylor and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

Pittsburgh has every intention of retaining Woodley, who was one of the NFL's best bargains after making just $550,000 in the final year of his rookie contract. Including playoffs, Woodley recorded 60 tackles, 13 sacks, two interceptions and got stronger as the season went on.

The Steelers are expected to use their franchise tag on Woodley, 26, while trying to negotiate a long-term deal. The deadline to tag Woodley is Feb. 24. But it will be challenging for Pittsburgh to work out a large extension until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Under the current CBA, the 30-percent rule is a major holdup in working out an extension with Woodley, who is a former second-round pick.

Taylor's situation is more fluid. The unrestricted free agent will be 31 in May and has spent his entire career with Pittsburgh. Returning will be Taylor's first preference, but he will certainly garner interest from other teams. Pittsburgh has to determine what is the right price to try to keep its No. 1 cornerback.

Other free agents of note for Pittsburgh include backup quarterback Dennis Dixon, tailback Mewelde Moore, kicker Shaun Suisham and offensive linemen Willie Colon and Trai Essex.

Can Pittsburgh remain a contender?

As we mentioned earlier, history is not kind to Super Bowl runners-up. Pittsburgh also will have to overcome its own negative history. The last two times the current Steelers made the Super Bowl -- both victories -- they missed the playoffs in the following seasons, 2006 and 2009.

The Steelers are usually at their best as underdogs. That was the case this season; most experts wrote off Pittsburgh because of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension at the beginning of the season. But the Steelers showed they could overcome setbacks and made it to Super Bowl XLV.

Expectations will be high for Pittsburgh next season, because a lot of talent and veteran leadership remain. But is it enough to get to Super Bowl XVLI in Indianapolis?

"I love this group; I think it is a heck of a group," said Steelers linebacker and captain James Farrior. "There is a lot more football left in us. We just have to stay together. Hopefully, everything works out in the offseason and we get back here next season."
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Old 02-14-2011, 09:13 AM   #2
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Default Re: What's next for the Steelers?

I absolutely agree that we need to improve in our secondary, particularly at cornerback. But the article stops short of addressing one other key point which is linebackers who can drop into coverage.

The teams we've had the most trouble with are all teams that run a West Coast style of offense whose stock-in-trade is the quick release pass and that was brought to light in the SB by the fact that we never really got to Rodgers before he got rid of the ball.

The most obvious reason why a West Coast works against us is poor play at the corners but the less obvious reason is that we don't have linebackers who can really cover the deep middle. Our whole defensive scheme is based on aggression -- the zone blitz -- and being able to either get to the QB or at least blow up plays. But with a West Coast offense, there simply isn't time to do all of that and we consistently get beaten over the middle to deep-middle because Harrison, Woodley and Timmons and Farrior are not built to present adequate coverage in that area.

We've depended on Troy and Clark to help fill that gap, but in 4 and 5 receiver sets, we don't have enough bodies to adequately cover the middle, which is partially due to poor corners needing help but mostly due to the fact that our linebackers aren't quick enough for anything other than zone coverage.

This is why I take issue with LeBeau paying too much attention to the Front Seven and his adherence to an aggressive, blitz-oriented style. In LeBeau's present style, the secondary seems to exist to help the front seven in blitz packages while the reality is that in today's more pass-oriented game, it should be the other way around.

Having a powerful front seven is great as long as we can get into the offense's backfield in time to make a difference. But if it takes us three seconds to get there and the ball is gone in two seconds, what good is it? With more agile linebackers (built more like Troy than Harrison, for example), we'd have a little less in the bulk department but a lot more in the agility and speed department which would allow us to become more aggressive in coverage -- man-to-man instead of just dropping into zones and I believe that would do more good for us overall than all of the "Front Seven Toughness" we seem to be in love with now.

Like I've said before, LeBeau is a great coach, but he favors the front seven at the expense of the back four but he also doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that the league is changing and that the West Coast style is not only here to stay but is becoming very sophisticated and the old "Three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" days are over.
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Old 02-14-2011, 10:30 AM   #3
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Default Re: What's next for the Steelers?

That was a really good,encouraging article! Im sure the team will be poised to make another run.We have a favorable schedule next seaso,playing the weak NFC west.I certainly hope we do go after the best corner available!!!
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Old 02-14-2011, 10:55 AM   #4
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Default Re: What's next for the Steelers?

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Originally Posted by mesaSteeler View Post
What's next for the Steelers?
February, 12, 2011
Feb 12 11:00 AM ET
http://espn.go.com/blog/afcnorth

By James Walker
Pittsburgh will need to improve its secondary and offensive line if it wants another shot at the title.

Three losses this season -- to the Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints -- have provided a blueprint of how to beat the Steelers. It takes a top-flight quarterback and a precise, short and intermediate passing game to put enough points on the board against Pittsburgh's vaunted No. 2 ranked defense.
Hasn't this bluepring been out there for the past 10 years?
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Old 02-14-2011, 11:05 AM   #5
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Default Re: What's next for the Steelers?

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Originally Posted by FanSince72 View Post
This is why I take issue with LeBeau paying too much attention to the Front Seven and his adherence to an aggressive, blitz-oriented style. In LeBeau's present style, the secondary seems to exist to help the front seven in blitz packages while the reality is that in today's more pass-oriented game, it should be the other way around.
I see a lot of posts like this. I was under the impression that LeBeau is working with what he was given (playing to the strengths of his people). Not sure what we expect him to do that he hasn't already tried. It doesn't help that BMac was playing injured and their roster contains only so many quality CBs therefore, required adjustments in coverage schemes. Was it the Patriots or the Saints game that LeBeau called coverage schemes and the Steelers got torched? He basically said he would never do that to his players again. You have to play the game you are good at.

Also, I wouldn't expect to see anyone drafted this year to be the solution in next year's season. We have to hope that Butler and someone else already on the roster will step it up and become a playmaker for the team. Getting a Revis isn't going to be in the cards at the 31st spot of the draft and trying to trade up far enough to get an immediate starter will require a huge sacrifice (something Colbert doesn't do very often).
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Old 02-14-2011, 01:13 PM   #6
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Default Re: What's next for the Steelers?

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Originally Posted by kirklandrules View Post
I see a lot of posts like this. I was under the impression that LeBeau is working with what he was given (playing to the strengths of his people). Not sure what we expect him to do that he hasn't already tried. It doesn't help that BMac was playing injured and their roster contains only so many quality CBs therefore, required adjustments in coverage schemes. Was it the Patriots or the Saints game that LeBeau called coverage schemes and the Steelers got torched? He basically said he would never do that to his players again. You have to play the game you are good at.

Also, I wouldn't expect to see anyone drafted this year to be the solution in next year's season. We have to hope that Butler and someone else already on the roster will step it up and become a playmaker for the team. Getting a Revis isn't going to be in the cards at the 31st spot of the draft and trying to trade up far enough to get an immediate starter will require a huge sacrifice (something Colbert doesn't do very often).

All fair points and I understand what you're saying.

But what I'm getting at is not a quick fix kind of thing but rather long term neglect.

Let's face it, we haven't had a really solid secondary in a long time and part of that was because we didn't need one since only a couple of teams ran a really good West Coast style. But these days many teams are adopting West Coast offenses in various forms and it's certainly no coincidence that those are the teams against which we have the most problems.

I've seen this as a trend in the last few years and I guess I'm just surprised that LeBeau / Colbert / "The Team" hasn't and now I think it's coming back to haunt us. The image of the Steelers has always centered on linebackers and that may make for great visuals or tough-guy images but the realities of modern football are drifting away from the battle in the trenches to speed in coverage and I think we need to address that.

It seems that every draft we add more linebackers and we tend to look at DB's as an afterthought and I'm just suggesting that we need to change that viewpoint and recognize that our secondary is our weakest link and has been for a while.
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Old 02-14-2011, 01:38 PM   #7
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Default Re: What's next for the Steelers?

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Originally Posted by FanSince72 View Post
All fair points and I understand what you're saying.

But what I'm getting at is not a quick fix kind of thing but rather long term neglect.

Let's face it, we haven't had a really solid secondary in a long time and part of that was because we didn't need one since only a couple of teams ran a really good West Coast style. But these days many teams are adopting West Coast offenses in various forms and it's certainly no coincidence that those are the teams against which we have the most problems.

I've seen this as a trend in the last few years and I guess I'm just surprised that LeBeau / Colbert / "The Team" hasn't and now I think it's coming back to haunt us. The image of the Steelers has always centered on linebackers and that may make for great visuals or tough-guy images but the realities of modern football are drifting away from the battle in the trenches to speed in coverage and I think we need to address that.

It seems that every draft we add more linebackers and we tend to look at DB's as an afterthought and I'm just suggesting that we need to change that viewpoint and recognize that our secondary is our weakest link and has been for a while.
It makes me wonder what we would have seen in this SB had BMac not been hurt. During the regular season, we saw Troy roaming all over the place and making those spectacular plays. Once BMac got injured, Troy became a "normal" safety. The year we beat the Cardinals, our secondary was rated near the top of the league with this same set of starters.

The AFC North is a tough place to play. We were losing guys against Cincy and Cleveland. Seems we just couldn't walk over some of the bottom of the division without paying a price. It would have been nice to see what type of secondary we would have had if we could have kept healthy.
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Old 02-14-2011, 01:49 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by SoCalFan View Post
That was a really good,encouraging article! Im sure the team will be poised to make another run.We have a favorable schedule next seaso,playing the weak NFC west.I certainly hope we do go after the best corner available!!!
I take no team lightly and im sure the Steelers dont either. Not harpin on u just saying, we lost to other so called teams that were supposed to be a cake walk. The books may indicate favorable but you know how we play down to some team....lol
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