Sunday, September 13, 2009

2009 AFC NORTH team previews

AFC north

Pittsburgh 11-5
Baltimore 10-6
Cincinnati 8-8
Cleveland 6-10

Pittsburgh Steelers- 11-5 winning the division and losing in the playoffs

Overview- 6 Superbowl titles set them apart from Dallas and Frisco ( 5 Lombardi trophies each) and makes them the model for other NFL franchises. Perhaps the fact that they have had only 3 coaches in the last 40 years is a big part of that success. The Rooney family seems to understand that teams have bad seasons, and building through the draft is the way to ensure lasting success. They reload year after year, despite losing many high profile free agents. A rabid fan base, hard nosed approach, and strong tradition define this franchise. To maintain that success they need to go back to running the ball more. Their current O-line isn't great individually ,but they play well as a unit. Teams will be ready for the pass now and until they can prove they can run the ball well again, I expect them to come up just a bit short. Need to avoid the post superbowl champ blues, as they had a 1rst round playoff exit last time .

Coaching- While it's true that Mike Tomlin took over a already successful team, he immediately won over the locker room, and earned the organizations respect. Only 37 years old and coming off his first Superbowl title . Many new head coaches try to change everything to fit what they want. Tomlin instead kept many of former head coach Bil Cowher's assistants. Instead of forcing Pittsburgh into a Tampa 2 defense( his specialty as he is a member of the Tony Dungy coaching tree) he blended his ideas with longtime 3-4 genius Dick Lebeau's into the NFL's best defense last year. Lebeau is one of the few guy's who should bein the HOF as a player and an assistant coach. Offensive Cordinatoor Arians made the best of what he had last year , and since he is a QB ( helped make Peyton Manning into who he is) guy , they were lucky to have him last year.

QB- Big Ben has 2 rings at a very young age. A big strapping lad with a cannon for an arm. Hard to bring down and extends many plays with his movement in the pocket, but does hold onto the ball far too long sometimes. Has developed a good pump fake recently and throws a great deep ball. Take a lot of chances, but he has had so much success its kind of hard to rein him in. Spreads the ball around like few young QB's do. Trust his receivers and will air it out if they have a crease deep , or are 1 on 1. Veteran backup Charlie Batch is a team first guy and a valuable resource off the bench. A former starter in Detroit who has performed admirable when called upon to play. Won't lose them many games if he needs to step in for awhile, but won't win a ton either. More of a bus driver type. 2nd year player Dennis Dixon is a projectable athletic QB who might develop into at least Kordell Stewart /slash type in time, but needs to get bigger if he wants to be a starter somewhere.

O-Line- A group who's whole is greater than the sun of it's parts, as the have no pro bowl caliber guys , but still generally get the job done. Mammoth LT Max Starks finally showed some consistency last year when he stepped back into the starting lineup.Marvel Smith is gone and retired now, so they need him to realize his potential fulltime. Has the abilty to be what Flozell Adams was in his prime, and he sometimes engulfs defenders the same way Adams does, but like Adams his mean streak only comes in flashes. Long arms and decent feet. When he is on he's a top notch left tackle. Would be an even better RT, but he is what they have, and that's not too bad. LG Chris Kemoeatu would be a better fit as a RG,but I suspect it is because he pulls so well on the short trap to his right that they keep him on the left side . A short area mauler who struggles in space, and doesn't change directions well. If he locks on or gets to his man he will drive him back with a will, but isn't a quick twitch athlete. Definitely prefers to run block, and is too often off balance in his pass sets. If he hits his hand punch he will stop a defender in his tracks. If he misses his punch he lacks the abilty to recover well. C Justin Hartwig started every game after signing as a FA last year. i thought they might move him to guard, but he is a serviceable center. Definitely at his best running the ball against bigger DT's. Struggles with quick penetrators but never gives up on a play. A big smart lunch pail type center who gets the most out of what he has. Former undrafted FA Darnell Stapleton was a surprise when he took over as the starting RG last year , but is on IR for the season. Was also the backup center and will be sorely missed. The battle for RG will probably between former swing tackle Trai Essex and rookie 3rd rounder Kraig Urbik. Essex has mostly been a reserve for 4 years but has some starts at LT due to injuries. He profiles better on the left side, so it might be best if he switched with Kemoeatu, but I doubt they will do it. Doesn't really have the feet to be on a island anyway, especially on the left side, and if he develops more of a mean streak he may find his niche inside. Urbik has the mean streak and is a lot like Kemoetu. Has some RT experience in college , but definitely fits better inside. A short area mauler, who needs work on technique and balance. RT Willie Colon is another guy who would fit best inside, and has played there some in his young career. Doesn't have the feet to be on an island alone, and he needs help too often in passing situations. Often holds when he doesn't get help, and is off balance too often. If he played with better knee bend consistently he might be an above average RT, but he doesn't. Has a mean streak and gives his all, but he's sloppy right now.2nd year OT Tony Hills has great athletic ability , but lacks the size and mean streak to compete for starting job right now. A projectable player if he bulks up and gets nastier, but was an underachiever in college and may never actually reach his potential . 2nd year undrafted FA Ramon Foster looked good in the preseason and will probably back up LG and RT for now.

Tight end- Heath Miller is one of the leagues most underrated players. A complete TE, who is a strong blocker. Stays with his blocks in the run and passing game, Solid in -line , on the double team, and at the second level. Runs good routes ,but is mostly a safety valve for Big Ben underneath. Tough to bring down after the catch , but lacks long speed, and has only average quickness. Basically a less sudden Jason Witten, and a key player on this offense.Matt Spaeth is also a good blocker, and one of the leagues bigger TEs, with room to put on even more size.After 3 TD's on only 5 cathces in 07, he saw a rise in catches, but not one touchdown. Pittsburgh runs a lot of 2 TE sets and he is the last guy a defense is likely to focus on, so the most likely to be open. A valuable player to have as a backup. 7th rounder David Jhonson wil at least be a practice squad player, and is faster than the other 2 TE's. Only 6"2", but 260 pounds with the abilty to stretch the field. Will probably be active at least some of the time , given the amount of 2 TE sets they run, and can probably play some H-Back too.

Wide receivers- Hines ward is a future HOFer ,and the kind of player coaches love. A tough guy mentality, strong work ethic, leadership skills, big heart ,fearless over the middle, and one of the few players who seems to get the most out of his abilities. A former QB with a high footbal IQ. Is in his 12th season now, and not quite as fast as he was, but he still gets open .Good hands and runs hard after the catch. although he isn't a threat to run away from a lot of people anymore. Crisp route runner and quick out of his breaks. Probably the best steeler ( and the way Ben holds onto the ball they all have to be aware of it) at coming back for the ball when the QB is in trouble. A punishing blocker despite not being very large. Most likely WR to crack back on a LB with maximum force, and they have to be aware if him because of it. Not overpowering blocking in -line but has good technique and gives max effort. A throwback type and former Superbowl MVP. Santonio Holmes is the current Superbowl MVP and may have finally come imno hjs own. Ward may catch more balls( most of them will be underneath) but Holmes is more likely to be the primary receiver this year,and bust the long ones . Explosive after the catch with great long speed. Quick out of his breaks and turns DB's around. Great vertical threat who has the chance to be the true # 1 guy now after his great Superbowl performance. Has explosive return abilty , but is now deemed too valuable to be risked there much. )8 2nd rounder Limas Sweed got open when he was on the field, but had way too many drops when it was thrown to him, even in the post season. The big receiver Ben was asking for didn't do much as a rookie. His biggest contributions last season came on special teams. Caught some passes in the preseason this year, but was overshadowed by 3rd round pick Mike Wallace. Wallace is a lot like Holmes although, taller, and less polished. A big play waiting to happen, with explosive ability after the catch and deep threat speed. Needs work on his routes , but could be a 3rd receiver this year, and eventual replacement for Ward. If they paired him with Stefan Logan on kickoffs , Pittsburgh could have a lot of big plays, and strong field position out of the return game this season.

Running Back- Willie Parker always seems on the verge of being replaced nd somehow escapes with his job intact. This may be the year his luck runs out. Rashard Mendenahll was drafted in the 1rst round last year to at leas split time with him , but missed the year with an injury. Parker started an finished the regular season strong but the rest of his season was marred by inconsistency and injury. He then started out the playoffs with bang only to tail off again in th AFC championship game and in the Superbowl. It seems readily apparent he at least needs someone to share time with him in order to get the most out of his skills. Has home run speed but not much wiggle. Looks like a 3rd down back ,but he is an inconsistent receiver and pass protector. Probably best as a change of pace back if Mendenhall steps up. If Rashard Mendenahll does step up the job is his for the taking. A bruising runner with good speed, but he has reportedly taken a long time to learn the offense, injury aside. Also had ball security issues as a rookie , and nothing makes a team and coaching stuff lose faith in a unproven player quicker than turning the ball over. If he fixes those 2 things he looks like a 300 carry workhorse type back, and the type of hard nosed players steelers fans will love. If not they are in trouble. Mewelde Moore has found his niche as a 3rd down back . A smart pass protector and excellent receiver with big play capabilities out of the backfield and in the flats. Not a threat to be an every down guy but can have a big game or 2 if he needs to be the main guy for a short period of time. Is also a return man but he has never taken one in for a score.

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