In order to repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2009, the Steelers must answer these six pressing questions below:
Is Limas Sweed ready to fill the shoes of Nate Washington?
Over the last 3 years, Nate Washington averaged nearly 35 receptions for 568 yards and 4 touchdowns. Pretty big shoes for the second year Sweed to fill. He has the size and speed to get separation, but needs to show consistency to make every catch when called upon. If defenses do not respect him fully, it will cause more attention to be put on both Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Sweed needs to catch everything in sight during both training camp and pre season games and show he can live up to his second round draft status.
Can William Gay be an every down corner?
Gay is the heir apparent to replace Bryant McFadden. He needs to show he can play at a high level on every snap and not just in spots as he did in 2008 when he started on a part-time basis because of injuries. Teams will look to test the Steelers on the opposite side of Ike Taylor early on. If he can\’t play consistent, the Steelers will be forced to play either a rookie or an aging Deshea Townsend more than they would like.
Can the offense keep the opposition guessing more on third downs?
The Steelers were very predictable on third downs in 2009, running the ball just 30 times out of 224 third down opportunities. Keeping third down to three yards or less and converting on the ground in some of those situations will help keep defenses honest. The Steelers ranked 14th in the league in 3rd down conversions and last in the league in 4th down conversions.
Can the kick and punt return game improve?
The Steelers ranked 31st in the league in punt return average and 29th in the league in lick off return average. One of the 2009 drafted rookies must step up to be a counted on return man and special teams blocking must give him lanes to run in.
Can the offensive line keep Roethlisberger off the turf?
The sacks allowed were indeed extremely high in 2008. There were a few nightmare games along the way last season, but all in all I think the offensive line gelled a bit more later in the year. Allowing that many sacks and still winning the super Bowl was indeed an anomaly, but I think you will see an improvement over last year.
Is either Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon ready to step in?
God forbid if Ben Roethlisberger goes down to injury in 2009, can either Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon step right in without a hitch? Although we really will not know for sure if last years backup, Byron Leftwich, could have continued the march to the Super Bowl, he seemed more than adequate. Batch is aging and Dixon is still very green and very young. Should Roethlisberger go down, I suspect a journeyman to be signed and a short leash put on the designated number two guy. I just do not think Batch or Dixon are up to the task, long term.