Needless to say, this offseason was like no other. But in Pittsburgh, it felt pretty regular. Minus the sexual assault charges.
The Steelers don’t know the meaning of free agency. They once again refused to join the frenzy, adding depth via the draft and re-signing the majority of their free agents. They refuse to toil with what ain’t broken, and that’s why the defending AFC champs are probably the conference’s favorite to return to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in seven years.
The formula is in place. They’ll eliminate running games with a smothering front seven, force quarterbacks into panic mode with a dangerous pass rush and allow prototypical system corners Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden to take care of the rest. And when their star-studded D is off the field, they’ll ball out on offense with a wide array of weapons.
And unlike last year, they’ll have their Pro Bowl quarterback from the get-go in 2011.
2010 in a nutshell: They allow just 62.8 yards per game on the ground, which is nearly 30 yards better than the No. 2-ranked run defense (Chicago). They survive with a 3-1 record without Ben Roethlisberger, hang on to win the AFC North and edge Baltimore and the Jets en route to another Super Bowl appearance. I’d imagine everyone knows the rest of the story.
Three predictions for 2011:
1. If they don’t get back to the Super Bowl, it’ll be the offensive line’s fault: I already talked about how stellar the defense is. On offense, Roethlisberger quietly had a phenomenal 2010 season and the running game is solid. But the team’s biggest weak spot continues to be the offensive line, and it might have gotten worse in the offseason. For now at least, Max Starks and Flozell Adams are off the roster, which puts a lot on the shoulders of mediocre players such as Jonathan Scott and Ramon Foster. The team did draft two offensive linemen in Marcus Gilbert and Keith Williams, but it could take some time for both to catch on. In the meantime, Roethlisberger will be scrambling away.
2. LaMarr Woodley will officially become the top defender: James Harrison is still a stud, but he’s 33 and has reportedly lost some serious leg power following dual offseason back surgeries. The benefactor of that situation could be Woodley, who is just entering his prime at 26. It certainly won’t hurt Woodley to have a healthy Aaron Smith in front of him, either.
3. You’ll be introduced to Isaac Redman: Okay, this isn’t an exciting prediction, but the Steelers don’t have a lot of drama or change surrounding them so this is all I’ve got left. I think Redman will build off of a solid second season to earn the backup running back job behind Rashard Mendenhall. On about 15 percent of the backfield workload, Redman averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2010, almost an entire yard better than Mendenhall, who had some duds as the season wore on. Look for his workload to increase in his third year.
The final word(s): It’ll once again be all about the Steelers and the Patriots in the battle for AFC supremacy. I’m giving Pittsburgh 13 wins.