2004 Pittsburgh Steelers Season Preview

<b>Head Coach: </b> Bill Cowher (120-82-1) <br><br><b>Last Season's Record: </b> 6 - 10 <br><br><b>Last Playoff Appearance: </b> 2002 <br><br><b>Key Match-up(s): </b> Oakland (Sept. 12), Baltimore (Sept. 19), New England (Oct. 31), Buffalo (Jan. 2) <br><br><b>Star Power: </b> WR Hines Ward (5-11, 197, 7th yr), Duce Staley (5-11, 220, 8th yr), James Farrior (6-2, 242, 8th yr), Aaron Smith (6-5, 300, 6th yr)<br>

09/12/04 Oakland
09/19/04 @Baltimore
09/26/04 @Miami
10/03/04 Cincinnati
10/10/04 Cleveland
10/17/04 @Dallas
10/31/04 New England
11/07/04 Philadelphia
11/14/04 @Cleveland
11/21/04 @Cincinnati
11//28/04 Washington
12/05/04 @Jacksonville
12/12/04 NY Jets
12/18/04 @NY Giants
12/26/04 Baltimore
01/02/05 @Buffalo
Casey Hampton #98 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to toughen up the defense, but the pass defense is the big hurdle for Pittsburgh to overcome.
Getty Images/Doug Pensinger

Notable Additions: CB Ricardo Colclough (2nd Rnd pick 2004 Draft), QB Ben Roethlisberger (1st Rnd pick 2004 Draft), DE Travis Kirschke (Free Agent San Francisco 49'ers), RB Duce Staley (Free Agent Philadelphia Eagles), WR Sean Morey (Free Agent Philadelphia Eagles)

Notable Subtractions: TE Mark Bruener (Houston Texans), DE Rodney Bailey (New England Patriots), LB Jason Gildon (Buffalo Bills - Released), CB Dwayne Washington (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Notable Returnees: LB Clark Haggans (Starter), FB Dan Kreider (Starter), S Mike Logan (Backup)

Offensive Overview: The Pittsburgh Steelers offense must get back to its basics and jump-start the run game. Duce Staley opening the season will give the Steelers a much more versatile back. Jerome Bettis will see limited action the first 6 weeks, but as the season progresses and the playoff picture is in sight, look for a healthy and fresh Bettis to start rolling and split time with Staley. Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress are the "fear factor" for any opposing defenses. If Burress' preseason dedication continues on into the regular season, it can mean big things for the Steelers offense, as well as a big contract in the offering for the soon-to-be free agent. The key however is the offensive line. The rock of the line is Pro-Bowl guard Alan Faneca, but he will need some help from his friends. Over the last two seasons, the health of the line has been comparable to that found in a MASH unit. Oliver Ross has started looking like a solid RT, but will get tested early vs. the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. OG Kendall Simmons is already on IR, and the line can't afford to lose another starter, as the depth is unappealing. The best backup may be OG Jim Jones (UDFA Baltimore), a free agent signing in 2004.

Defensive Overview: The pass defense in 2003 was the greatest downfall of the entire team. They could not stop teams from converting on 3rd down and this usually resulted in scores. It appeared that the Steelers' top priority for this season was to upgrade, but replacing Dewayne Washington with Deshea Townsend, who came in for an injured Washington midway through 2003 to provide only a modest improvement, and keeping RCB Chad Scott as a starter has the potential to be a situation that will only get worse. Scott is a safety playing CB and, while his run defense is above average, CB's are supposed to stop the pass, something Scott only does after the receiver catches the ball. The drafting of Ricardo Colclough looks to be a solid pick, but won't make a real impact until next season. CB Ike Taylor had a rough training camp, and has been demoted and replaced by Colclough. Both are expected to be starters in 2005. The best hope for this group of corners is for new defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to rewrite the playbook and use a New England Patriots type pressure defense, utilizing some of the depth in the defensive line that flashed in the preseason games. DE Aaron Smith and LB James Farrior will have to carry the defensive line and linebacker corps, as LBs Joey Porter and Kendrell Bell have not been impressive since their rookie seasons. Teams will continue to work away from Smith and attack Kimo Von Oelhoffen like last season, when Von Oelhoffen had his best year but the defense had the worst year overall. Bottom Line... If the Steelers don't attack with the front 7, defensive backs will only be able to see the back of receivers' jerseys, as they head to the end zone.

Special Teams Overview: Recently-signed WR Sean Morey will prove to be the Steelers' most important move on special teams by year's end. The former Eagles special teams MVP could wind up with the same honor this season with the Steelers. LB James Harrison, after a great preseason, will be able to wreak havoc on kick coverage units if the Steelers decide to dress him. Add DB Chidi Iwuoma and LB Clint Kriewaldt to Morey and Harrison, and look for the Steelers special teams to be one of the league's best by season's end, especially if they get lots of playing time due to a struggling defense, as happened last season. However, there is a weakest link - the Steelers will hold on to PK Rob Bironas's number, as many don't have much confidence in second year PK Jeff Reed

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be in the playoffs if...... Their defense becomes aggressive and smart, and the offensive line stays healthy. The Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens will have solid seasons, but both have glaring weaknesses on offense.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview

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