Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Record: 12-4 Home: 6-2 Away: 6-2 Division: 6-0
Coaching Staff – B
Tomlin's so aggressive it can be scary at playoff time (remember the 12-yard 2-point conversion last year?). He has a brilliant defensive coordinator in the veteran Dick LeBeau, but an offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians who seemingly has run amok. Couple that with some key injuries on offense and a major defection and we see where there might be some problems in the Steel city.
Offensive Line – C-
The Steelers lost All Pro Alan Faneca to the Jets via free agency and Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons to injuries. Max Starks has come a very long way from being a $7 million dollar joke to the team's best lineman. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu is John Hannah on one play and Hannah Storm on the next. G Darnell Stapleton a free agent by way of Rutgers is without question the weak link in an already depleted offensive line.
Wide Receivers / Tight End B-
The Steelers have employed a lot of 2 and 3 tight ends in their offensive schemes this season, but surprisingly Heath Miller has put up career lows in both yards after catch and touchdowns. Veteran Hines Ward has been an outstanding player for the Steelers for over a decade while Santonio Holmes has become a far more consistent player in the last two seasons. Nate Washington a deep threat and a very solid number three receiver. Rookie Limas Sweed, has been a major disappointment and is a very long way from helping anyone at wide receiver position.
Running Backs – B-
Willie Parker after sustaining a serious injury in 2007 is just now, more than a year later, begun to show that burst in the hole. The bye week off should help immensely. Mewelde Moore an off season pick up is without question a quality runner and pass receiver. Fullback Carey Davis is a journeyman fullback who does not factor within the offensive system of play.
Quarterback – B+
Ben Roethlisberger has certainly proven to be a talented performer, but at certain critical times he has hurt this football team with his all or nothing approach to the game. You have to admire his courage (will look down the barrel of a gun), but needs to take fewer sacks and dump the football when things aren't there. His back-up Byron Leftwich has played exceptionally well in a support role and if pressed into service, I like his approach and believe he would do a commendable job if big Ben were to be injured or can't go during the playoffs.
Defensive Line – B
Three field oxen. No one runs on Big Snack (Casey Hampton) and Aaron Smith is far and away the best 3-4 end in NFL. The Steelers have a veteran presence in Orpheus Roye, Nick Eason and Chris Hoke, but if something were to happen to a key starter along their front, I would have to say the Steelers are in deep trouble. Remember sports fans the keys to success when employing a 3-4 scheme is not the outside backer position but rather the up the field push of the teams' five techniques.
Linebackers – A
The Steelers are particularly deep at the linebacker position and a number of their back-ups would be welcome additions throughout the NFL. Harrison and Woodley should really be rejuvenated given the off week. Bruce Davis is a good looking rookie back-up. ILB's James Farrior and Larry Foote are also quality football players and Lawrence Timmons is a very talented reserve with a great deal of ability.
Secondary – A
Tomlin's coaching strength shows here, as does the Steelers talent -- CBs go four deep and backup FS Carter had two picks and a TD in place of Ryan Clark two weeks ago. Clark should return for first round after shoulder injury sustained in the Steelers victory over the Titans. Troy Polamalu has never been better during his professional career. He may well be as intense as anyone I have ever seen at the position.
Special Teams – Holmes beginning to flash a bit as punt returner, while Gary Russell has looked very ordinary as a kick off return man. Coverage units been outstanding with Anthony Madison and James Harrison and Keyaron Fox and William Gay and Patrick Bailey leading the way. The kicking game has been steady with Jeff Reed connecting on 27 of 31 field goals. The much traveled Mitch Berger has been serviceable as a replacement to Daniel Sepulveda.
Injury Factor – Parker getting healthier with each passing week; Ben's concussion should be OK, but if not we feel that Byron Leftwich has the skills and playing experience that could carry the Steelers to the AFC Conference title and quite possibly beyond.
Team Offensive MVP – Ben Roethlisberger
Team Defensive MVP – James Harrison.
Top Rookie – Patrick Bailey (special team's coverage).
Top Free Agent – Mewelde Moore.
Team Strength – Defense (at every level), quarterback.
Team Weakness – Risky play calling, injuries to Roethlisberger and Willie Parker, a pedestrian offensive line.
Final Word – Offensively this team will do or die with Big Ben at the quarterback position. Defensively the team is very sound and deep at all positions. I like this teams make up, but I question its offensive philosophy and the loses along the offensive are going to be very difficult to overcome.