May 15, 2011
The AFC North much like it’s NFC North counterpart has great rivalries and an ongoing tradition of playing smash mouth defensive football. Players like Ray Lewis, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are the faces of this division on defense, while Ben Roethlisberger and Ray Rice fit the bill on offense. The majority of the players in the AFC North aren’t glamorous, but are scrappy and hardworking, much like the people of their cities. No team preaches hard work and dedication more than the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are the class of this division. Pittsburgh won the AFC title last season, only to lose to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh’s biggest challenge each year comes from the Baltimore Ravens, who have made the playoffs in each of Joe Flacco’s first three seasons in the NFL. He has that franchise heading in the right direction. The bottom feeders of the divisions are the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns have put together just one winning season since 2003, however with Mike Holmgren running the front office they seem to be on the rise. As for the Bengals, they have talent, but look to rebuilding after their star players Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco both want out of town.
Despite not having Ben Roethlisberger (suspension) for the first four games of the 2010 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished with a record of 12-4 and won the AFC North last season. The team would comeback to beat the Baltimore Ravens and then the New York Jets to reach Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers would end up losing to the Green Bay Packers, but they are primed to make another Super Bowl run this season. Except for the majority of the offensive line, the Steelers have strengths at virtually every position.
1. Strong Defense Line Play — Where would the Steelers be without having a hard hitting, ferocious defense? The defensive line allowed the least rushing yards in the NFL last season and aided the team in allowing a league low 232 points last season. This group is well coached and should remain one of the top defenses at defending the run in 2011.
2. Ben Roethlisberger — He’s might not be as popular as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but Roethlisberger excels at the one category in football that matters most, wins. Big Ben owns the fourth highest career regular season winning percentage (.704) and is 10-3 in the playoffs. The way he plays the game isn’t pretty, but Roethlisberger is this leader of this team and gets results more often than not. Regardless of what he chooses to do off the field, Big Ben is a valuable asset to the Steelers on the field.
3. Rashard Mendenhall —Mendy is developing into one of the better running backs in the league. In just his third year in the NFL, Mendy ran right through defenders and accumulated 1,273 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010. The best part about Mendenhall is there is room to grow. He is just 23 and has been running behind an offensive line that is arguably one of the worst in the NFL. If he can stay healthy, Mendenhall could put together a fine career in a Pittsburgh uniform.
4. Mike Wallace — Wallace strikes fear into opposing defenses because of his ability to stretch the field and connect with the big play. In his second season with Pittsburgh, Wallace was outstanding hauling in 60 receptions for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns. As long as he’s on the field opposing defenses have to account for him, as he can score from anywhere. Look for Wallace to continue to progress into a complete receiver and become a force to be reckon with for years to come.
5. Troy Polamalu — The reigning defensive player of the year was once again instrumental in the Pittsburgh Steelers run to the Super Bowl. He kept an otherwise mediocre pass defense respectable and was second in the league in interceptions. Polamalu is a true leader and without him the defense is just average, as they’ve shown when he has suffered injuries.
1. Better Cover Cornerbacks — The team doesn’t have great talent at the position and it showed. The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary allowed the fifth most receptions (363) in the league in 2010. Whether they address their need in free agency or the NFL Draft, Pittsburgh needs a physical cornerback that can make an impact in press coverage.
2. Bulk Up The Offense Live — With the exception of center, Maurkice Pouncey the Steelers had one of the worst lines in football and have needs at virtually every position. The offensive line nearly got Ben Roethlisberger killed, as they allowed opponents to sack the quarterback 48 times last season. The team would be wise to use one of their higher draft picks on an offensive lineman, but most of the good ones will be gone by the time they make a selection with the No. 31 overall pick in the upcoming rookie draft.
3. Defensive End Help — Aaron Smith has only played 11 games over the past two seasons and will turn 35 before the 2011 season starts. The Steelers should be looking to draft a healthy young defensive end in the middle rounds of the draft and continue to add depth through free agency. The Steelers’ scouts have a knack for finding solid defensive talent, like James Harrison, in the middle rounds of past drafts and we wouldn’t be surprised if they do the same this year.
**Note: All Offseason Needs Articles Were Written Before the 2011 NFL Draft**