PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after the Steelers defeated the New York Jets 24 to 19 during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Steelers weren't supposed to be dominant. Good, but not dominant. How could they be? They lost Santonio Holmes to the Jets and Ben Roethlisberger was suspended the first 4 games.
In the end, it didn't really matter. With 3 super bowl appearances and 2 super bowl wins in the past 5 years the Steelers are making a strong push to unseat the New England Patriots as the league's premier franchise of late (they already might be the best all time).
Only a red-hot Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay could keep the Steelers from enjoying a NFL record 7th Lombardi Trophy.
Season In Review: Another strong season
The mark of an elite team is that it can 1. overcome adversary and key injuries and 2. that it doesn't lose to lesser teams.
Pittsburgh satisfied both those requirements on the way to a 12-4 record and yet another AFC North crown.
The 4 losses Pittsburgh did suffer were to quality (all playoff caliber) competition: Baltimore, New England, New Orleans and NYJ.To go 3-1 over a tough opening schedule without Roethlisberger was certainly impressive. As were wins over Atlanta and Baltimore but to be honest, Pittsburgh was a relative unknown heading into the playoffs. One of the advantages of being in the AFC North is the joy of drawing Cincinnati and Cleveland twice each season. Cleveland has been historically awful and besides one or two more years recently, Cincy has always been right there with them.
To pad the 4 games of fluff, Pittsburgh faced the might Carolina Panthers and the Buffalo Bills, a game they should have lost. So with the best win on their resume a win over Baltimore (another contest they should have lost), questions remained.
The thing is, having previously won 8 of their last 10 playoff games, once Pittsburgh reached the postseason everyone knew they were going to do serious damage. After slugging it out with Baltimore for the third time, Pittsburgh took it to the overpowered Jets and advanced to the super bowl.
Only this time, Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh couldn't pull off the miracle drive. Maybe it was Karma for Big Ben's bad deeds or maybe it was just Green Bay's moment, but another heroic comeback wasn't in the cards.
Still for a team that many experts were picking to finish 3rd in their own division, a trip back to the super bowl was more than a successful season.
Another deep playoff run next year and the Steelers reign supreme as best team of the past decade.
Offseason Momentum: super bowl runs build momentum
It's hard not to have momentum coming off a trip to the super bowl, but for Pittsburgh that hasn't always been the case.
In fact, the one knock on Pittsburgh has been consistency. A year after winning the super bowl in 05, the Steelers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. 3 years later, coming off another super bowl victory, the Black and Gold stumbled again this time finishing 9-7, which wasn't good enough to qualify for the post season either.
Going forward, the Steelers should have all the momentum. They have a great young and fiery head coach, a douchey but a winner of a quarterback, young talented receivers, a sturdy offensive line and a badass defense (James Harrison joins big Ben in the douchey category).
As a Colts' fan, I just hope the consistent inconsistency keeps up as facing Pittsburgh in the post season gives me stomach ulcers.
Offseason Anxiety:Should be smooth sailing
One of perks that comes along with reaching the super bowl is that you know you are a good team and that baring retirements of key players or coaches, you should stay that way.
The Steelers have all the pieces in place. While I hope that James Harrison lives up to his word and retires, that seems highly unlikely. Ben Roethlisberger knows he can't get away with assaulting any more women so he'll probably stay out of trouble and Mike Tomlin loves his job and the Rooney family loves him so know one seems to be going anywhere.
Basically life is good in Pittsburgh. In fact, I read an article in Delta's Sky Magazine that said Pittsburgh was experiencing a cultural revival and was one of the up-and-coming cities in America so life is evidently very good.
Draft Desires: Offensive Line
So far I've painted a pretty rosy picture, and deservedly so. Pittsburgh went to the super bowl after all.
However, there are areas which the Steelers need to upgrade, particularly on the offensive line. Ben Roesthlisberger took a beating last year (unfortunately not from a federal judge). Granted he holds onto the ball much longer than the average quarterback therefore bringing some of the hits upon himself, but even still, last year big Ben must have spent a lot more time in the ice tub than in previous seasons.(Remember the Baltimore game when he took a vicious shot to the nose and was bleeding everywhere?)
Anyway... The Steelers face the additional possibility of key free agents departing along the line, so bolstering the offensive tackle and offensive guard positions will be key. One possible replacement that would be cool to see (yes, even as a Colts fan), would be if the Steelers drafted OG Mike Pouncey out of Florida thus reuniting him with big brother and current Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey.
Otherwise look for the Steelers to draft an offensive tackle. Rumor has it, that the Steelers are particularly enamored with Tyron Smith out of USC.
In the later rounds, the Steelers need to concentrate on adding depth at wide receiver and possibly replacing free agent kicker Shaun Suisham.
Free Agency Farewells: Work to be done
If the Steelers want to remain dominant, they are going to have to invest a lot of money in key players.
This year's major free agents are:
Willie Colon, OT
Trai Essex, OT
Chris Hoke, DT
Mewelde Moore, RB
Shaun Suisham, K
Ike taylor, CB
The Steelers cannot afford to lose both Colon and Essex nor can they do without Ike Taylor. Defensive tackle Chris Hoke would also be a loss, but considering the Steelers gave up a league low 67 ypg on the ground, they'll probably be ok.
Threat to the Stampede: Obviously
Do you want to play them? Think about it. A hard-nosed, smash mouth defense that flaunts a take-no-prisoners style and is known for playing and hitting dirty. Thats the Colts worst nightmare. No thank you.
Do I think the Colts could take them? Yeah, I believe in our guys. Am I hoping Pittsburgh trend of super bowl and then bust continues? Absolutely.
Unfortunately, the Steelers probably win another 11 games and make the playoffs.