Until now. Both the NFL draft and free agency put a possible end to that. The Steelers had a few needs to fill after last season. The most glaring were at defense.
Of the defensive needs, the Steelers judged strong safety Lee Flowers the harshest. He was great against the run but helped give quarterbacks Rich Gannon, Tom Brady, and Steve McNair great passing yardage. The fact that the Steelers let backup quarterback Kelly Holcombe throw for 400+ yards was embarrassing and, although it made the playoff game exciting, it was a real reality check for the secondary. Had Lee Flowers been faster and better against the pass, the cornerbacks would have had more help.
But that wasn't what happened. So Flowers was not re-signed. Troy Polamalu from USC will take his place and his backup will be Mike Logan, who is recovering from the injury he suffered in Heinz Field's most recent game. Chris Hope also rounds out the spot. Even Bill Cowher said that the safety problem looks solved.
Another glaring problem was the lack of a pass rush. This was addressed with the drafting of Alonzo Jackson, who is an excellent pass rusher. This will help the defense overall because another reason someone like Kelly Holcombe could throw so well was that the Steelers gave him too much time in the pocket. Jackson may provide some spark on third down.
Cornerback was addressed for a future replacement for Hank Poteat, whom Holcombe targeted relentlessly. Another need that was addressed, though not as important, was a backup quarterback to compete with the No. 2 man, former Lions starter Charlie Batch. I think that Brian St. Pierre's senior year, which was negatively judged by people as a step backwards in his development, won't harm his NFL career. After all, he performed well in Boston College's bowl game.
Running back Jerome Bettis is supposed to be looking the best he's been in ages, and that's saying a lot. Bettis has been criticized of recent for his weight and ability. The same was said last year, but he was ready to start by the first game. I think he and Amos Zereoue will be a great team at running back, like wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Heinz Ward are at receiver. Expect them to rush for 1,500 or more yards as a team.
These were all issues of discussion during the off-season and now that the Steelers have dealt with them, I think that Bill Cowher's team will now go all the way in the playoffs, which they will without a doubt reach. Baltimore and Cleveland, with Kyle Boller and Lee Suggs, will be a challenge, but can be easily handled. Cincinnati under Marvin Lewis is getting better, but don't expect a Jon Gruden-like push to number 1.
Am I like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers and "feel like I'm taking fricking crazy pills"? I think not. The Steelers in free agency and the draft have brought in the right players to handle the competition. I would expect to see them in Super Bowl XXXVIII, which is not a long shot.
As for who will challenge them there? I don't want to make a guess, but if I have to, I would say Philadelphia would be a safe pick. I can safely say, though, that the Steelers will not be watching the Super Bowl on TV.
12th Man articles are those submitted by the Steel City Sports online community.