May 21, 2008

Playoffs? Don't Talk About Playoffs!


"This year, expectations are high again—especially with the Bengals imploding, the Ravens rebuilding, and the Browns generally regarded as overrated. In other words, the stage is set for the Steelers to fail."
Uh oh, Steeler fans. Don't look now, but Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com doesn't think the Steelers will make it back to the post-season in 2008. Not only that, but he made them the first of six teams he thinks won't be back.

Of course, he may not have meant to present his list in any particular order. But for the sake of the impending "analysis" homerism, we'll assume he really thinks the Steelers are the team least likely to be playing in January, 2009.

Let's examine his reasoning then, shall we? In addition to the top notch speculation you see above, Florio also had this to say about the Steelers playoff chances ~
If they do, it will happen because of an offensive line that got much worse after the departure of left guard Alan Faneca. Although the team used its first two draft picks on high-profile skill-position players (Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed), these rookies won’t make much of an impact with no one to block for them. The defensive line received no real upgrade despite the team’s desire to do so, and the linebackers and defensive backs are getting older but not necessarily better.

In all, six of 11 starters on defense will be 30 or older by the end of September. That’s not a good sign for a team that will need strong performances from the traditional strength of the franchise to prop up an offense that might not score points in bunches.
So first off, good for him that he criticized the Steelers Offensive Line. That pretty much has not been done at all over the last year. Like, really. Never.

And I'll have to agree with him on the Defensive Line. That was one of the key positions where we needed depth and it went completely ignored in last month's draft.

And yes, you COULD say our Defense is cumulatively rather geriatric.

However, where I must respectfully disagree is on the team's Offensive potential. Florio opines that the Offense "might not score points in bunches" next year. Well, I just have kind of a hard time believing an Offense that averaged roughly 25 points in 2007, and that added two premier talents in Mendenhall and Sweed "might not score points in bunches" in 2008. Yes, that distinct possibility exists. And no, I don't think we should get ahead of ourselves. But in my admittedly misguided mind, this Offense can only be MORE productive. Then again, last season we didn't exactly face the awfulness of playing 75% of the previous year's playoff teams. Nor were we sans-Faneca. So I'm what I would call "cautiously enthusiastic."

All in all, I have to say Florio makes some good points. But what do you guys think? Do you agree? Do you think the Defense can still dominate given it's collective age? Do you think the Offense will blossom further in '08? Do you think Mendenhall and Sweed will have a bigger impact than Florio suggests? And perhaps most importantly - Isn't it a tad early to be talking about next year's playoffs?

Before you answer that, elsewhere on the interweb - this Cleveland writer thinks the Browns have a shot at the AFC North simply because of the Steelers heinous schedule. All I know is, if I were a Cleveland writer, I would be careful about talking Division titles in May. Especially since the last time the Browns won the division, the first George Bush was President and Milli Vanilli had a hit single.

Ok, NOW let the commenting begin...

REFERENCE MATERIAL:
Six NFL Teams Unlikely to Make Playoff Returns in '08 [Sporting News]

8 comments:

domski43 said...

The offensive lines' ability to run block last year was still pretty good...to the tune of helping Fast Willie lead the league in rushing prior to his unfortunate leg injury late in the season.

Losing Faneca sucks, but with a variety of formations, such as more two tight end sets, the Steelers can mask a lot of weaknesses in their interior line.

Hopefully KemoEATu will be effective (he was an addition to the Steelers under Cowher's regime), so he should have pure run-blocking ability...Will Kemoeatu and Hartwig be as good as Hartings and Faneca? Probably not, but Big Ben has matured a lot as a passer and the additions of Sweed and Mendenhall will only mean the Steelers' offensive will be more balanced than any in recent history.

Simpson said...

He has some points about the o-line and depth at d-line, and the strong schedule they will play this season. But beating good teams doesn't seem to be a big problem for the Tomlin-era Steelers. It is the basement dwellers that we had issues getting ramped up for.

A couple counter points, though.. First, we upgraded at center, which was the most glaring problem on the line, and Faneca's backup Kemoeatu show good promise to step up as a starter this season. Also we did get a potential starter at tackle with the third round pick in Tony Hills. So things aren't as dire as he makes them out to be.

On D-Line, if Booger McFarland gets healthly and signs as expected that would provide much needed relief, and McBean also shows potential when healthy. If not, there are bound to be others available over the next few months as as other teams make their cuts. I will be shocked if that position isn't addressed before the season, though.

So the lines should be at least as good (or at least average) as last year, but likely better. And with the infusion of talent at the skill positions I don't see any reason to believe we won't be able to reach the playoffs again.

marc said...

The longer last season is a memory the more optimistic i am about the O-line. I think that a healthy Smith will be a major plus to make him better than average, Kemo could be average or a slight plus, colon will be average, but Simmons and Hartwig are the ?

The D-line will be good but the depth is scary because it's not there. hopefully some undrafted rookie will impress us all. I'm excited for football, but luckly we have hockey to pull most of our interest away. That and the facination with Crosby's "beard"

Random Asshole said...

The Browns have a shot because the Steelers have a heinous schedule? Don't the two teams have the exact same schedule except for two games? Sure, the Steelers have the play the Pats and Chargers, but the Browns have the play the Steelers twice; that should even things out.

Cotter said...

Domski ~ You're right! With more weapons, hopefully meaning more production, teams will have to respect our offense weaponry more. And if all goes to plan, this will take some of the heat off Big Ben.

Simpson ~ Thanks for commenting! I agree with you on the schedule. Maybe if they see the challenge they're up against they'll rise to the occasion. Though I can't say I see the same potential in Booger McFarland. I think we'd be better off trying to bring along Ryan McBean when he's healthy (though he certainly doesn't seem like the answer either). We need youth along the D-Line, and HEALTHY youth at that. But also, as you said, I'm sure the team will be watching cuts come July/August for other potential solutions.

Marc ~ I definitely share your optimism. I'm certainly not trying to get ahead of myself but I'm excited to see how the new additions improve (hopefully) the O-line.

random asshole ~ good name man, I dig it! Thanks for commenting! The Browns indeed only have two different games on their sched - against the Bills and Broncos. But remember, the way this division goes, one game could make the difference. Of course, that definitely doesn't mean I think the Browns will win it...

All this said, if one thing is for certain in this league, it's that nothing is certain. Speculating is fun. But success will ultimately be determined on the field come September.

And yes, I am the king of throwaways.

John (Columbus, Oh) said...

I think he raises some good points, but really they are unknowns as to how things will unfold.

The Def does look like it will have an infussion at the LB position, I am concerned about the DBs, the Def line is solid, the problem there is depth, but I think we can do some damage, I just want to see us get back to attacking instead of sitting back too much.

As for the offensive line... I see people talk about the lose of Faneca so much, but many people don't get it. The O-line isn't abut one guy, it's a unit that is only as good as the weakest link. So if the new center from Carolina is better than Mahan, then our line should be better than last season... period!

And yes I thing Sweed and Mendenhal will both make sizable contributions this season, maybe not all star sized contributions, but sizable contributions non the less. I think with the 4 wide we can put out there now Ben should be a mad bomber!!! lol

Will we make the playoffs...? WAY tooo early to tell... ask me after the 3rd game... but I will say if we do make it, we will have earned it with the schedule we have this season!!!

I am cautiously optimistic, and I look for a fun season.

tobiathan said...

Like everybody else i see ggood things in a tough schedule. Our Steelers are traditionally weak against "underdog" teams and generally perform better AS the underdog. So i don't worry about a "tough schedule". Only NE gets a weak schedule in the NFL, being in the AFC East and CHEATERS.

As far as losing Faneca goes: i say "buh-bye". I think Big Red was an AWESOME run blocker. But, he was a mediocre pass-blocker on good days. He even admitted regularly to disliking pass coverage. So we might actually see some improvement in pass this year.

The new guys at WR and RB will help more than most realize, i say. It was the lack of a big target outside Heath and/or Hines in the pass and Willie in the run that made our offense so easy to predict and defend last year. Basically, if one of those three didn't get open the offense suffered. Adding two more big-playmakers will make a huge difference and improve the line by making the defense work harder at diagnosing the call.

Cincy's implosion will culminate this season in a total disintegration(3-13 w/ a few arrests). Baltimore will break about even, but will struggle on defense with an aging and unrealistic lineup in Reed and Lewis failing to accept their own physical declines. Cleveland will play hard, see some success, and possibly challenge the Steelers until late in the year when their inexperience and immaturity will again catch up to them.

The age of our defense will only help us this year. McFarland will contribute a lot if he gets healthy and plays sparingly. Our d-backs are some of the cagiest., toughest in the league; if Anthony Smith can get ahold of his intensity things could go well for him.

There is a high degree of likelihood that we do pick up some high-profile defensive player before the year starts, probable a d-line guy. A proven pass-rusher would make me feel better. Or a veteran LB/DE type.

All that said, i still think there is the potential for our own kind of implosion here. I know it's heresy to admit it, but in the second year of his tenure Tomlin will face a far truer display of the REALITY of his actions. If things go well, he'll be a hero. If not: a goat.

Time will tell.

Again, i think the tough schedule will keep our Steelers focused and performing at a high level without the temptation to overlook teams like we did last year.

ABQSteelerfanatic said...

The Steelers will be fine in 08. Granted Faneca is gone but he was so busy helping Mahan... Ben & Bruce will call more spread formations to lighten the load on the line if needed. With the 1-2 punch of FWP and Mendenhall defenses will be worn down by half time and the Steelers will play smashmouth football, imposing thier will. They will run the ball, the defense will know they're going to run the ball but won't be able to stop the run. The Steelers D was ranked in the top 5 in Passing, running and overall for most of last season. 'The grandfather' Dick Lebeau will have it no other way.

Lastly, we can be 7-9 and still make the playoffs because all we have to do is win the division. Cleveland will have thier moments but the Steelers have thier number.