Pittsburgh Steelers Preview
David Campanelli, one of my best friends and a Steelers fanatic, was kind enough to review his Steelers for me.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a moderately successful year, especially considering it was Mike Tomlin’s first season as coach, replacing long-time coach Bill Cowher. But what will happen in his second season? The team, more and more, is taking on his personality, where many of the mainstays from the Cowher years (Joey Porter, Alan Faneca, Clark Hagans, etc.) are gone. but as Tomlin molds the franchise to “his team” rather than the team he inherited, he has a tough challenge in 2008.
The challenge begins with the schedule. The Steelers have the toughest schedule in the league this year (based on opponents winning % from 07), and play in an increasingly tough division. The Browns are the “it” team of the moment, the Ravens are always dangerous, and even though the Bengals seem to be in some disarray they always play the Steelers tough. The Steelers also play the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Colts, Titans and Patriots. Ouch. They should win the division, but it will be a tough battle.
The second challenge is rebuilding the offensive line. The Steelers biggest offseason move was letting Alan Faneca walk in free agency. Now Alan Faneca is an all-time great Steeler , go back to Week 14 in 2005 when the Steelers beat the eventual NFC North Champ Chicago Bears. That win set off a string of 8 straight wins, culminating in a Super Bowl victory. Alan Faneca starred in that game, dominating more than i have ever seen an offensive lineman (particularly a guard) dominate a football game. Without that performance they do not make the playoffs and do not win the Superbowl. You always hate to see a franchise guy and future Hall of Famer leave the team, but the contract the Jets gave him was ridiculous. He’s turning 31, and he’s not the dominate force he once was. The Steelers line, particularly in pass protection was terrible last year. This unit, minus Faneca will be the key to what the Steelers are able to accomplish this season. But Left tackle Marvel Smith is reportedly back to full strength after off-season surgery finally fixed a lingering neck problem. Faneca’s replacement Chris Keomeatu is their secret weapon. He’s nasty and will show it on the field this year.
The reason why the offensive line development is so key is because the Steelers have as much talent at the skill positions as they have in ages. Ben Roethlisberger is turning into an elite QB. Hines Ward is still Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes is poised for a huge breakout year. Newly drafted wide out Limas Sweed is the big target Big Ben was looking for, although he might be a year away from being a contributor. Heath Miller is the best pass catching TE the Steelers have had since the days of Eric Greene. The RB corps should be good again this year. Fast Willie Parker is coming off a broken leg, but he seems fine. He’s been overused the last couple of years so having Rashard Medenhall spell him and work the goal line should be great for both backs. Mendenhall could be the steal of the draft at the 23rd pick. Also, for the first time in ages the Steelers have a legit pass catching 3rd down back in Mewelde Moore.
Defensively the Steelers will be solid, if not outstanding. They need to develop a pass rusher, other than James Harrison who can get to the QB without too many “gimmicky” blitzes to help them get there. That man should be LaMar Woodley, their 2nd round pick from last year. If the two OLBs can apply pressure on their own, this D gets immensely better. Also, watch out for Lawrence Timmons, their 1st round pick from last year, who has been flying around camp hitting anything that moves. The Steelers moved him inside and he should challenge Larry Foote for the starting spot at some point this season.
Fantasy Focus: From a fantasy perspective the two guys to go after are Big Ben and Santonio Holmes. Roethlisberger is the best of the 2nd tier of QBs, and should really be the 5th QB off the board. His only drawbacks are the numbers of picks he throws and sacks he takes. But both of those should improve this year. Santonio Holmes is going to be the breakout WR in fantasy this year. I’ve been taking him just after the top 10 WRs are off the board, right after a guy like Plaxico Burress. The RB situation is one I’d stay away from. Willie Parker was a yards horse, but has never scored a lot of TDs. With Mendenhall stealing carries, and yards, Parker’s value drops. Mendenhall will get the goal line carries, but i don’t know that he’ll get enough touches in between the 20′s to be a huge fantasy factor. Finally, Jeff Reed remains one of the most overlooked kickers in fantasy football. The Steelers will score a lot of points this year, and he’s always been consistent, despite kicking at unfriendly Heinz Field. Let everyone else draft a kicker and then take Reed with your last pick in the draft.