Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Drafting For Need Is Not Overrated - Just Ask The Steelers Now

Last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens. However, the win came with potentially greater losses. First, they lost 1st-round pick Rashard Mendenhall (shoulder fracture), whose name I often altered due to his tendency to put the ball on the ground. Second, starting right guard Kendall Simmons suffered a right Achilles injury. Both players are done for the season and will be placed on injured reserve. In the meanwhile, either Darnell Stapleton or Trai Essex will start in Simmons's place. As for running backs, Mewelde Moore is the only healthy one on the roster, so do not be shocked if the likes of Shaun Alexander, Cedric Benson, Najeh Davenport, Barry Foster, Franco Harris or Rocky Bleier get a call.

After the end of last season, one thing was clear for Pittsburgh. They needed to strengthen the offensive line. In short, that did not happen. Alan Faneca did not re-sign and the Steelers gave a backup tackle (Max Starks) Lee Majors type money. At the NFL Draft, all signs pointed to beefing up the O-Line; however, the first two picks were spent on ultra-talented skill position players who slipped in the eyes of many. In the third round, the Steelers selected speed rusher Bruce Davis with the intention of moving 2007 first-round pick and Ricky Williams shoulder crusher Lawrence Timmons to the inside. Offensive tackle Tony Hills was selected in the 4th round, but was that enough? No.

If the Steelers cannot run the ball with authority, then the team loses the identity that the city of Pittsburgh has come to know and love. Furthermore, the team becomes one-dimensional and predictable, resulting in their big investment, Big Ben, to be on his back on Sundays and in the trainer's room on Monday through Saturday. With a physical defense like the Jacksonville Jaguars (Pittsburgh's Week 5 opponent) anxiously waiting in the wings, I am curious to see how the Steelers will alter their passing game to avoid situations early in the game in which Big Ben is in the pocket for long periods of time. Earlier in Big Ben's career when he was less established, the Steelers used more wide receiver screens to get the ball out of his hands and let teammates makes plays. Perhaps, this will be a strategy employed to reduce the predictability of a team led by a dropback passer who lacks the privilege of a firm run game. No matter what strategy they use in the coming weeks to win games, the Steelers will need to rely on defense and special teams.

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