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Sunday August 31, 2008 8:36 am

NFL Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers




Posted by Scott Sargent Categories: NFL,

Troy Polamalu needs a bounceback season

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
2007 RECORD: 10-6

Overview: Finishing the 2007 season with the same record as the Cleveland Browns, the tiebreaker lofted the Pittsburgh Steelers to the top of the AFC North and into the postseason.  2008 brings a bit of a different situation as several key members of the offensive line and linebacking corps have gone elsewhere, while their possession receiver in Hines Ward is a year older.  The Steel Curtain has a tough road ahead of them in 2008, but they do have one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  Can they capitalize on his prime?

Offense: Known primarily for their defense, head coach Mike Tomlin came into Pittsburgh and created one of the better offenses in the league.  Ben Roethlisberger is coming off of a career year in terms of touchdown passes as now third-year receiver, Santonio Holmes, appears to be ready for the big-time after hauling in 18 yards per catch in 2007.  Willie Parker will continue to receive the carries in between the twenties, but it remains to be seen if he can get the job done at the goal line.  Heath Miller, Hines Ward, and rookie Limas Sweed will provide some of the best possession-based targets in the entire NFL.  The Steelers will just have to hope that their numbers last season were not the result of an easier schedule as they will play the tough defensive teams in the NFC East during the 2008 campaign.  The question will remain: Can they survive with the loss of Alan Faneca?

Defense: Hands down, the best defense in the AFC North.  Though the Steelers lost linebacker Clark Haggans to the Arizona Cardinals, Casey Hampton will more than anchor down the defensive line while James Farrior and James Harrison provide the leadership with the linebackers.  Second-year linebacker Lamarr Woodley could surprise plenty of people, as will Lawrence Timmons if he can pass Larry Foote on the depth chart.  The stopper in the defensive backfield is All-World strong safety Troy Polamalu.  Coming off of an injury-hampered 2007 campaign, Polamalu should be back with a vengeance to make up for lost time.  Haggans’ departure will not hurt the Steelers as much as Faneca’s, being that there is still plenty of veteran leadership for Woodley and Timmons to use as a crutch.  Assuming that this crew can stay healthy, they will still provide the opposition with a very tough time when it comes to moving the ball downfield. 

Rookies: Unlike their rival Browns, the Steelers drafted plenty of talent at the skill positions.  Running back Rashard Mendenhall appears to be in line for goal line carries, and wide receiver Sweed is the tall target that Roethlisberger desired.  Despite Dennis Dixon’s success at the collegiate level, I would not anticipate his playing time to go anywhere north of zero once the season begins. 
Prediction: The consensus has the AFC North toting the toughest schedule of the 2008 season as they get to lock up with the toughest top-to-bottom division in the NFC in the East.  The end of October through November brings the Giants, Redskins, Colts, Chargers, Patriots and Cowboys – easily one of the toughest strings over the entire league.  However, the Mike Tomlin-led offense is improving under their second year of his tutelage, and a fully healthy Troy Polamalu will cause opposing offenses fits.  Another 10 win season is not out of the question, but a 9-7 year seems more likely.

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