The longest current tenure among all NFL
head-coaches belongs to the Steelers' Bill Cowher, who has amassed an impressive 115-76-1 record in his 12-years, including eight postseason
appearances. However, his run may be coming to an end, as last year, the Steelers struggled to a 6-10 mark, and it doesn't look like they'll be much
better in 2004. Despite having a solid defense, their running-game was atrocious, as evident by ranking dead-last in the AFC with only 93 RYPG. They
made an effort to improve that this off-season, signing free-agent Duce Staley, but if he has to share carries with aging RB Jerome Bettis, then he
won't be of much help.
As for their passing, QB Tommy Maddox followed up his break-out season from 2002 with mediocre numbers, not to mention an AFC-leading 17 INTs. He's
expected to post better numbers than that, especially since WR Hines Ward has established himself as a real threat, so if he doesn't improve, rookie
QB Ben Roethlisberger could take over. The defense is okay, and the special teams has been upgraded by the addition of P Chris Gardocki, but this is
just a very unspectacular team that won't be going anywhere.
CB Ricardo Colclough (2nd Rnd pick 2004 Draft), QB Ben Roethlisberger (1st Rnd pick 2004 Draft), DE Travis Kirschke (Free
Agent San Francisco 49'ers), RB Duce Staley (Free Agent Philadelphia Eagles), WR Sean Morey (Free Agent Philadelphia Eagles)
TE Mark Bruener (Houston Texans), DE Rodney Bailey (New England Patriots), LB Jason Gildon (Buffalo Bills - Released), CB
Dwayne Washington (Jacksonville Jaguars)
LB Clark Haggans (Starter), FB Dan Kreider (Starter), S Mike Logan (Backup)
The presence of Roethlisberger officially puts two-year starter Maddox (3414 passing yards, 18 TD, 17 INT) on the clock. Maddox will get the nod this
season, unless the team's fortunes dip sharply with him at the controls. With Charlie Batch likely out for the season with a knee injury, Pittsburgh
picked up Kurt Kittner (391 passing yards, 2 TD, 6 INT with Atlanta) to serve as the third quarterback. Brian St. Pierre, the team's fifth-round pick
last season, will have to beat out Kittner or settle for a spot on the practice squad.
Pittsburgh's biggest offseason signing was that
of running back Duce Staley (463 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 7 TD with the Eagles), who will be counted on to bolster the league's second-worst
rushing offense of a year ago. Jerome Bettis (811 rushing yards, 7 TD) is slowing, but will still see some carries. Cowher's team is thin at running
back behind Staley and Bettis, with second-year players Verron Haynes and Dante Brown competing with undrafted free agent Willie Parker (North
Carolina) for a spot on the depth chart. Haynes also has a chance to back up Dan Kreider at fullback. Hines Ward will be Hines Ward: the hardest
working wide receiver in football. On the other hand this might be the "Swan Song" for Plaxico Burress, so look for a him to finally live up to his
potential. Randle El is fun wrapped in a jersey. Every play that he is involved in, even the ones that net negative yardage, arepositively exciting to
watch. Hopefully, the Steelers can get the ball into his hands a lot more this year...although I hope it is not due to Plaxico's ubiquitous mid-season
The Steelers certainly lost some winnable games during their 6-10 campaign of 2003, but they were also drilled by two or more touchdowns five
different times. From a personnel standpoint, Cowher's team doesn't look to have gotten much better, though they've certainly gotten younger following
the dismissal of veteran players like Gildon and Alexander. The offense is solid but unspectacular, the defense should be okay within the front seven
and a liability in the secondary. And in an improved division, there is little to suggest that Pittsburgh will be able to win consistently enough to
reach the playoffs. Nine or 10 wins are a remote possibility if the team gets some giant breaks, but it will probably be more like seven or eight.
[Edited on 13/9/04 by TRD]