After warming up the season against cupcakes Tennessee and Houston, Pittsburgh suffered a tough home loss last week to the Patriots. Incredibly, it was Ben Roethlisberger’s first regular-season loss, after beginning his young career with an unprecedented 16 straight wins. The biggest reasons for Big Ben’s historic early success have been a punishing running game and good protection from the offensive line. This is an effective combination that boosted the fortunes of many fantasy teams last year, and will continue to do so in 2005. There is solid fantasy value at nearly every position on this team, as we will see in this week’s microscope.
|Team Stats (numbers in parentheses are NFL Ranking)
NOTE: Until week 5, we will be using 2004 season stats.
|Rushing Offense||154.0 (2)||16 (t6)|
|Passing Offense||170.0 (28)||20 (19)|
|Rushing Defense||81.2 (1)||8 (t5)|
|Passing Defense||177.2 (4)||14 (t1)|
|32 takeaways (t12)
21 giveaways (t6)
+11 overall (t6)
The numbers show a picture of complete domination, especially on defense. It’s extremely rare for a team to be ranked in the top 5 in both rushing and passing defense, because teams that stuff the run will usually give up a lot of passing yards in garbage time. When you combine a stifling defense with the league’s #2 rushing attack and a positive turnover ratio, it’s easy to see why the Steelers were 15-1 last year. Most of the major pieces of this team are still in place, so expect this year’s stats to fall into the same range.
Average Opposing Defensive Ranking: 13.7
The Steelers’ schedule is fairly easy outside of their division. There are a lot of opportunities here for good fantasy numbers, and things get even better in the last four weeks of the season for your fantasy playoffs: Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, and Detroit are on the bill. All of this looks absolutely fantastic for the offense, so think about adding a Steeler to your roster if you can scoop one off the waiver wire or take advantage of an owner selling low in a trade.
Antwaan Randle El
Roethlisberger is quietly putting up some very nice stats, with 6 TD’s, no INT’s, and a 131.8 rating. He has three solid targets in the passing game and he’s worth a look if your starting QB isn’t working out. Willie Parker appears to have the running back job locked up for the moment, as Duce Staley was ready to play but did not see the field against the Patriots. Staley has also publicly stated that if Parker is performing well, he should keep the job. But it’s a long season and Bill Cowher is a smart coach who wants to keep all of his players healthy for the playoffs. Expect to see some small-to-medium doses of Staley and Jerome Bettis from time to time. Long-term, Verron Haynes doesn’t really figure into this equation unless there are further injuries to the top RB’s. Antwaan Randle El leads the team in receiving yards, although Hines Ward is clearly the top receiver with more catches and 4 TD’s to Randle El’s 1. Expect both Randle El and Cedrick Wilson to contribute a few big receiving games this year. Wilson is available on the waiver wire in most leagues, and he could be a great guy to have on your squad come playoff time. There is nothing to see here at tight end currently. Heath Miller was expected to contribute, but he has only 2 catches for 16 yards so far. One of Miller’s catches did go for a touchdown, but you should be able to find a better option with a healthy crop of breakout tight ends this year. Obviously, the defense is one of the best you can get, and with Randle El in the return game, we might see a few special teams TD’s this year as well.
Next Week… we get up close and personal with the incomparable Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons.