All 22 starters from the 2009 season will return next year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Get out your sad faces Pittsburgh fans, you're going to have to use them again come January 2011.
The Steelers used the first few days of free agency to sign an old face and bring back a familiar one. Additionally, a few fresh faces made the headlines as the team brought in role players and insurance policies.
Yes, Ryan Clark is a solid contributor at the safety position.
Admittedly, Antwaan Randle El solidifies a deep talent pool of receivers.
Will Allen and Arnaz Battle strengthen a special teams squad who set a new standard for underperforming in 2009.
But what do these signings do in terms of taking this team to the next level?
Yeah, most of the players on this team were part of their latest Super Bowl triumph in February 2009.
But teams get better, organizations make changes for the good, and staff adapt and further improve their strategies and game plans. Schemes evolve.
The Steelers have achieved none of the above for quite some time.
Listen, the moves the Steelers made so far have been decent. The underlying issue is, well, the Steelers have yet to figure a solution for the overall problems that resulted in a mediocre season in 2009.
The problem is not the players.
The problem is not the staff.
It is a combination of both, and with the recent free agent signings, it seems as if problem areas are not getting addressed.
1. The Aging Defense
Yes, you have heard it before, so why not hear it again?
Listen, everyone respects Dick Lebeau, and embraces all that he has accomplished, but what new wrinkles has he implemented on the defensive side of the ball recently? It seemed as if he over-relied on Troy Polamalu in his defensive scheme, and without him, the team became vulnerable, and LeBeau's adjustments were mediocre.
With everyone returning, will Lebeau conjure up a solution next season to what turned out to be a significant problem?
Everyone watched the Steelers get a year older last season and struggle when it came to clutch moments. The fourth quarter became the teams enemy, whereas it used to be its stronghold.
The Steelers are yet another year older. How embarrassing will it be the second time around?
2. Insurance Policies on the Defensive Side
Aaron Smith went down midseason. Like 2007, he was sorely missed.
Polamalu was dinged most of last year. We all know how successful Tyrone Carter filled in. Clark was lost without Troy at his side.
Some will say to give Allen the chance to prove himself or that the Steelers are good at pinpointing talent when other teams don't.
Is he better than Carter?
Honestly, how good do you have to be to perform better than Carter?
Don't be too excited to find out.
Discounting LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, the average age of the defensive front seven is 32.4 years old.
By the time the season rolls around, it will average 33.2.
Now that doesn't say Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, and James Harrison all don't have qualities that describe defensive excellence, it only shows a number that carries a load of baggage.
Endurance and injury questions are stapled onto an aging player. The Steelers have a solid collection of these players.
In 2010, who is to say these questions won't arise again?
The defensive substitutions, currently, have talent.
But can they fill the role and performance of a starter if one goes down? Well, some had their chance last year, and fans formulated the answer to the question.
The Steelers have no effective backup plan should Polamalu go down.
Ryan Clark is most effective with Polamalu in the lineup. Clark is nothing without Polamalu.
Will Allen, for the most part, is untested as a safety.
Steeler fans should worry if he is tested.
And what about William Gay? Do they expect to find someone in the upcoming draft to surprise everyone and be the likes of Roethlisberger, Miller, Wallace, and Polamalu by being an impact during a rookie campaign?
Honestly, Gay is horrible. The majority agrees. The minority is simply unintelligent.
Of all the 22 starters returning next season, Gay is at the bottom of the barrel. Replace him or become exposed once again.
And do the Steelers have talented young players that can challenge Gay in training camp this year? Will the draft provide additional competition?
Joe Burnett, Keenan Lewis, Anthony Madison, and Trae Williams; do any of those names represent a budding star in the making?
Mike Tomlin assured roster changes would be made when the team suffered through its losing stretch, but Gay remained a constant. Why?
Because there just wasn't a better option.
3. Bruce Arians' Scheme
Listen, the passing game was great last season. Statistically speaking.
But the overall scheme had fans frustrated at times.
Sure, Rashard Mendenhall ran for over 1,100 yards, with a solid average to boot.
The problem was when it was time to run the ball, Arians chose to rely on Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, Ben is a solid quarterback, but the chances he takes sometimes overtakes the reward, especially in fourth quarter situations.
When Arians chose to employ a pass-happy game plan against the Cleveland Browns towards the end of the season last year, it left many fans wondering.
What the hell was he thinking?
It was raining. It was windy. The Browns, with one win the entire season, absolutely stunk as a run defense.
Ben threw 32 times, while Mendenhall and Willy Parker carried a combine 19 times.
Fans vomited then, and they still regurgitate now.
And that's what Arians is made of.
For the majority, it is pass first, run second. No matter the score, no matter the conditions.
Sure, Ben threw for over 4,000 yards. Sure, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes each had 1,000 yards receiving.
All of that production for 12th in the league in scoring average.
Bottom line is, the Steelers look as if the pass-happy trend will continue next season. The signing of Randle El confirms the belief.
Going back to the power running game? Yeah, that is what the organization said they want to do, but is that what Arians, Roethlisberger, and a plethora of wide receivers plan on executing?
These questions are only a few of many for Pittsburgh fans, and this article hasn't even mentioned the current Roethlisberger situation.
Anyone can win a Super Bowl while still having weaknesses as a whole. A prime example is of the Steelers latest Super Bowl, a team that had its flaws but made it all the way to the top anyway.
Agreed, it can be done again, but rest assured, if these problems are not addressed, Steeler fans will be watching football that isn't showcasing a sea of black and gold come February 2011.
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