Back in the Saddle Again: The Steelers Head to the Post-Season

MIAMI - OCTOBER 24: Linebacker James Farrior #51 returns an interception against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on October 24 2010 in Miami Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

In Michael's preview of the Wild Card round he expressed great confidence that the Steelers would defeat the Broncos handily. He then said:

Hopefully that confidence rests only in our minds, and not in those of the players and coaches. Considering how many experienced veterans there are on the squad that want nothing more than a chance to win another Super Bowl as their careers wind down, I don't think that will be a problem.

One of the constant comments made by the talking heads at the beginning of this season was the veteran nature of this team and how their experience was going to benefit them. Then after the Game of Shame (Steelers @ Baltimore) the talking heads famously turned on the squad, declaring them "old, slow, and done," to quote one of the more pompous among their number.

In retrospect we know that the veteran nature of the team wasn't an advantage, but neither were the Steelers "done." In fact, to use a Tomlinism, "it is what it is." This team has its own distinctive character, although so many of the players are the same as the previous Super Bowl team.

But not only are many of the players the same from 2010's title run, but it turns out that a substantial number of both the 2008 and 2005 teams are still on the roster. An astonishing one third of the 2005 Super Bowl team are on the present roster:

QBs, Receivers:

Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch

Hines Ward, Heath Miller

Offensive Line:

Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, Max Starks

Linebackers/Defensive Ends:

James Farrior, Larry Foote, James Harrison

Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith [IR], Chris Hoke [IR]

Defensive Backs:

Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, Troy Polamalu

Special Teams:

Greg Warren

[Note: I'm including players on IR because in the case of the veterans they continue to provide mentoring and veteran experience to the players who have taken over for them, and I think that is worth a good deal.]

Every single category of player except RB, that most ephemeral of positions in the NFL, is represented on the current team.

Here are the players that were on the Super Bowl roster in 2008, in addition to the players above:

QBs:

Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich [on IR]

RBs:

Mewelde Moore, Rashard Mendenhall [who is about to go on IR]

Offensive Line:

Willie Colon [on IR]

Linebackers:

LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons


Defensive Backs:

William Gay, Ryan Clark, Anthony Madison [about to be re-signed]

Special Teams:

Daniel Sepulveda [on IR]

The players that played on the 2010 team, in addition to the above, are:

Wide Receivers/TEs:

Arnaz Battle, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders

David Johnson

RBs:

Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer (on IR)

Offensive Line:

Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, Jonathan Scott

Linebackers/DEs:

Stevenson Sylvester, Jason Worilds,

Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon

Defensive Backs:

Will Allen, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy

Special Teams:

Jeremy Kapinos, Shaun Suisham

In short, these are the only players that have not been on a Super Bowl team prior to this year:

Wide Receivers/TEs:

Jerricho Cotchery (from Jets)

Weslye Saunders

RBs:

John Clay

Offensive Line:

Marcus Gilbert, Jamon Meredith

Linebackers/DEs:

Chris Carter, Mortty Ivy

Cameron Heyward, Al Woods

Defensive Backs:

Cortez Allen, Damon Cromartie-Smith (Cromartie-Smith was on the roster for part of 2010 but wasn't active during the playoffs, IIRC)

Most of these players are rookies, many of whom have seen significant playing time this season. (Marcus Gilbert is the only rookie to start from Week 1.) The remainder are recent signings. Jerricho Cotchery is, of course, a signing from the Jets with considerable experience, including playoffs. (The Steelers saw to it that he didn't make it to the Super Bowl...)

I thought it would be interesting to see how many games of playoff experience are represented on this current team. It was just as impressive as you would think. Here are the number of playoff games the veterans have been in:

15 or more games:

James Farrior: 1997-2001 Jets: 1-2; 2002-2010 Steelers: 11-4

Larry Foote: 11-4 (Foote went to Detroit for the 2009 season, but it was a non-playoff year for the Steelers anyhow)

Casey Hampton, Hines Ward: 12-5

James Harrison, Brett Keisel: 11-4

10 - 14 games:

Charlie Batch: 1999 Detroit Lions, 0-1 2003-2010 Steelers: 10-3

Ryan Clark: 2002 NYG, 0-1; 2005 Redskins, 1-1; 2006-2010 Steelers, 5-2

Trai Essex, Chris Kemoeatu, Heath Miller, Greg Warren: 9-2

Bryant McFadden: 9-2 (Went to Arizona for the 2009 season)

Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Max Starks, Ike Taylor: 10-3


5 - 9 games:

Will Allen: Tampa Bay 2004-2009, 0-2; 2010 Steelers, 3 playoff games, 2-1

Jerricho Cotchery: 2004,06,09,10 Jets: 5-4

Dennis Dixon: 5-1

William Gay, Anthony Madison, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley: 5-2

Mewelde Moore: 2004 Vikings, 1-1; 2008-2010 Steelers, 5-1

Less than 5 games:

Arnaz Battle, Antonio Brown, Ramon Foster, Ziggy Hood, David Johnson, Doug Legursky, Keenan Lewis, Steve McLendon, Ryan Mundy, Maurkice Pouncey, Isaac Redman, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Scott, Stevenson Sylvester, Mike Wallace, Jason Worilds: 2-1

Jeremy Kapinos: 2009 Packers, 0-1; 2010 Steelers, 2-1

Shaun Suisham: 2007 Redskins, 0-1; 2010 Steelers, 2-1

This gives us a total figure of 340 playoff games (which excludes the games played by the vets on IR such as Aaron Smith and Willie Colon.) Of those 340 playoff games, the total win-loss figure is 244-96. (That figure is pulled down a bit by players who spent part of their career on other teams. In no case did a player signed from another team have more wins in the playoffs than they would have on the Steelers during the same time.)

These are pretty awesome figures, but most of us on BTSC are well aware that experience and veteran leadership only takes a team so far. And veterans can have a distinct downside, at least when they are as veteran as some of the players from the 2005 team. James Farrior had already been in the league for nine years in 2005, and Hines Ward had been in the league for eight. In a position that requires a certain amount of speed, being very definitely on the wrong side of 30 isn't going to be an advantage.

But one of the heartening things this season has been seeing young players stepping up to fill the shoes of injured players. In some cases those injured players will, at least in theory, be back, and the experience that the backup has gotten will be invaluable in allowing the coaches to sub players in and out as makes sense. Jason Worilds playing for an injured LaMarr Woodley is one of the cases that may well pay big dividends during the postseason.

Unfortunately, now some of those rookies are injured and may not be back. The question is who is going to step forward and make their presence felt? If no one can, this team may not make it far into the playoffs. And if they make it to the Super Bowl, veteran leadership and character may not be enough to secure the seventh Lombardi. But it's exciting to see what they can do, and to see what is probably the final hurrah for some storied players that will be remembered with the great players in the Steelers pantheon. Win or lose, it's a great time to be a Steelers fan!

To be continued - I'm working now on comparing stats for key individual players from both teams. It is absolutely fascinating to me that two teams separated by only a year and comprised of so many of the same players can have turned out to have such a different "look," and I'm hoping that looking at some of the key individuals will tell us more about what was so very different.

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