2007 Season Previews
RB Kevan Barlow, G Sean Mahan, DE Nick Eason.
WR Dallas Baker, TE Matt Spaeth, G Cameron Stephenson, DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, DT Ryan McBean, OLB Lawrence Timmons, CB William Gay, P Daniel Sepulevda.
WR Sean Morey (ARZ), WR Lee Mays, G Barrett Brooks, C Jeff Hartings, DE Rodney Bailey (ARZ), OLB Joey Porter (MIA), OLB Chad Brown, S Mike Logan, S Andre Lott,
Offense This Year: Pittsburgh's post-Super Bowl campaign was ruined before it even started. Of course, I'm referring to Ben Roethlisberger's near-death experience in a motorcycle accident. Fortunately, Roethlisberger survived, but he was shaky at best the entire 2006 season. And understandably so; following his accident, his appendix burst during preseason, and he suffered a concussion late October. Looking back, I'm shocked he wasn't attacked by Michael Vick's diseased dogs as a coup de grace. Roethlisberger consequently threw more interceptions (23) than his first two years combined (20). His completion percentage dipped below 60, despite the fact that he maintained a 66.4 rate as a rookie and 62.7 in his sophomore season.
Still, you have to give Roethlisberger a lot of credit for playing 15 games. A lot of other signal callers would have sat out half the year. He's tough, and I expect him to bounce back with a solid 2007 season. I bet Hines Ward is hoping I'm right; Pittsburgh's No. 1 receiver saw his touchdowns drop from 11 to six. He did, however, match his yard total at 975, marking the sixth consecutive season he has either maintained that number or surpassed it. Heath Miller, a talented third-year tight end out of Virginia, also saw some of his production drop; his touchdown totals remained pretty static, but he had less yards this season (393) than he did as a rookie (459). Santonio Holmes, meanwhile, will look to continue the torrid streak he put together at the end of his rookie year. Holmes caught 33 passes for 559 yards in November and December. He started the final four weeks of the season and made the most out of it, notching 90 yards against Baltimore and 124 yards and a touchdown at Cincinnati.
One player whose production definitely didn't decrease was Willie Parker, who scampered for 1,494 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, taking advantage of Jerome Bettis' absence. That said, the Steelers failed to acquire a short-yardage back to fill Bettis' role. The best they did was obtain Kevan Barlow and re-sign Najeh Davenport. Both are fringe Arena Football players, at best.
Pittsburgh really needed to make a move in the short-yardage-back department because its offensive line isn't what it used to be. Center Jeff Hartings retired and will be replaced by the overpaid Sean Mahan. Guard Alan Faneca, meanwhile, is severely underpaid, but the team won't show him the money, forcing him to hold out. Marvel Smith, meanwhile, has always been somewhat of a liability at left tackle. It's no wonder the front surrendered a whopping 49 sacks in 2006 - and that number was with Faneca and Hartings.
Defense This Year: Pick a formation, any formation. Please. And stop confusing us. Many of the fans this offseason were puzzled as to what defensive formation new head coach Mike Tomlin was planning on utilizing this year. The Steelers have been running the 3-4 for eons, but Tomlin's cover-2 was extremely effective in Minnesota. While Pittsburgh's long-term plans still seem a bit hazy, it appears the team will be sticking with its traditional scheme for another season; management drafted players such as LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons who can play in either system.
The Steelers made a run on those linebackers for two reasons: Their sack total dropped from 47 in 2005 to 39 in 2006, and Joey Porter is gone. No, I'm not going to go into some swan song about how much they'll miss last year's sack leader. In my opinion, Porter is vastly overrated and now extremely overpaid. I was in awe when the Dolphins gave him $32.5 million for five years, including $20 million guaranteed. Why not just pay $50,000 for a pack of gum? Sure, Porter can get to the quarterback, but any competent outside linebacker is capable of doing that in the Steelers' scheme. That's because their three-man line, one of the best in the business, takes care of everything up front and permits the linebackers to do all the dirty work. Casey Hampton is a monstrous beast and makes running the ball in between the tackles virtually impossible. Ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are severely underrated, although the former just turned 31. Fourth-round rookie Ryan McBean could take his place down the road.
Although James Harrison is currently penciled in as a starting outside linebacker, I expect Timmons to fill that role by September. Playing across from either Harrison or Timmons will be Clark Haggans (76 tackles, 6 sacks), although the aforementioned Woodley is waiting in the wings. I do have some concern regarding the inside linebacker position, however. Larry Foote's fine, but James Farrior just turned 32. Farrior led the team with 126 tackles in 2006, but he's at that age where his production will begin to sharply decline. I think we can safely assume Pittsburgh will be looking for a long-term replacement following the conclusion of this season.
In the past, the Steelers always brought a hectic pass rush to the table, allowing their secondary to play the aerial attack more efficiently. So, it shouldn't be a shock that the defensive backs struggled when Pittsburgh couldn't get to the quarterback last season. The guy who disappointed most was Ike Taylor, who recently received a lot of money to be the team's franchise corner for years to come. After struggling mightily, Taylor was forced to come off the bench for five games late in the season, replaced by Bryant McFadden. Deshea Townsend, the team's other corner, turns 32 in September. Like Farrior, Townsend may look a bit slow this year. In fact, the only reliable player in the secondary is strong safety Troy Polamalu, who, like Roethlisberger, was banged up in 2006. At free safety, a battle between Ryan Clark and second-year Anthony Smith will determine the starter. How exciting.
Schedule and Intangibles: The Steelers knew they would need a boost in the special-teams department in the wake of Antwaan Randle El's departure to Washington last offseason, which was another reason they drafted Santonio Holmes. Holmes scored a touchdown off a punt. Unfortunately, the Steelers allowed a return themselves. ... Jeff Reed is the best kicker Pittsburgh has had in a long time. However, he hit only 74.1 percent of his attempts in 2006. I expect him to rebound with a solid campaign. ... Chris Gardocki was a complete disaster last season, so the Steelers drafted punter Daniel Sepulveda in the fourth round. He better be worth it. ... Excluding New England, no one in the AFC has a better road record than Pittsburgh since 1996; the Steelers are 47-41 as visitors in that time frame. They're not bad at home either (59-28-1). ... A game to watch will be a Sept. 30 contest at Arizona. Pittsburgh will be reunited with their beloved former linebacker Rodney Bailey. Oh, and Ken Whisenhunt too. ... The Steelers start off with a four-game stretch against Cleveland, Buffalo, San Francisco and Arizona. Seems easy, right? Well, it gets tougher. Seattle, Denver, Cincinnati and Baltimore loom after that. Pittsburgh concludes its 2007 campaign with Cincinnati, New England, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Baltimore.
Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.
Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Divisional Rival History:
Baltimore Ravens: While records show that the host has won eight of the previous nine matchups, the two battles between Baltimore and Pittsburgh weren't even close last year. The Ravens were triumphant, 27-0 and 31-7.
Cincinnati Bengals: The road team has mysteriously claimed the past five meetings. Go figure.
Cleveland Browns: Pittsburgh has won 13 of the last 14 meetings. Yawn.
Ben Roethlisberger: Not much to like in the fantasy department; Ben Roethlisberger has never thrown more than 18 touchdowns in a single NFL season.
Projected Stats: 3,300 passing yards. 21 passing TDs. 110 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 314.
Willie Parker: OK, so maybe he can get into the end zone. Willie Parker took Jerome Bettis' red-zone opportunities and capitalized, scoring 16 total touchdowns in addition to his 1,494 yards. Parker is one of the top running backs in the game - whether it's real or fantasy.
Projected Stats: 1,520 rushing yards. 200 receiving yards. 14 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 256.
Heath Miller: Heath Miller's numbers dropped, but maybe that was in connection to all of Ben Roethlisberger's complications. If so, look for him to rebound in 2007.
Projected Stats: 475 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 83.
Hines Ward: I'd love to have Hines Ward on any real football team, but he may be overrated in the world of fantasy. Ward hasn't notched more than 1,004 yards since 2003. If Ben Roethlisberger is completely healthy, he could pass that mark, but who knows the status of Pittsburgh's quarterback?
Projected Stats: 1,050 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 153.
Santonio Holmes: Santonio Holmes had a nice rookie campaign (49 receptions, 824 yards, 2 TDs), with most of his production coming in late December when he was inserted into the starting lineup. If Ben Roethlisberger's at 100 percent, expect more from Holmes.
Projected Stats: 1,000 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 130.
Nate Washington: Nate Washington and Cedrick Wilson will battle for the No. 3 wide out position. I think the former will win it, but that has no bearing on fantasy football, unless you're doing an AFC-only league, or something.
Projected Stats: 600 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 78.
Jeff Reed: Has an average of only five kicks from 40-49 the past three seasons. Heinz Field is not a friendly place for kickers.
Projected Stats: 24-30 FG (1-2 50+). 42 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 122.
Pittsburgh Defense: Will the Steelers be able to put their usual pressure on opposing quarterbacks? That remains to be seen and is dependant on how well Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley play. I don't know about you, but I don't want to count on a pair of rookies.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 15 Defense.
Analysis: The Steelers' success in 2007 depends on two things: Roethlisberger's health and the defense's ability to get to the quarterback. It's as simple as that.
Projection: 10-6 (Tied 2nd in the AFC North)
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