Steelers regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
1/05/11
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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Final Power Ranking: No. 3
Preseason Power Ranking: No. 18

[+] EnlargeTroy Polamalu
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesTroy Polamalu had an MVP-caliber season, with 7 interceptions, 63 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Biggest surprise: The first surprise was Pittsburgh's going 3-1 to start the season without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That set the tone for the rest of the year and eventually led the Steelers to a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. In terms of players, not much was expected this year of rookie third-round pick Emmanuel Sanders. He showed some flashes in training camp, gradually kept working and eventually became the Steelers' No. 3 receiver. That's an important role in Pittsburgh's offense, and Sanders finished the regular season with 28 receptions for 376 yards and two touchdowns. He joins 2009 draft pick Mike Wallace as a pair of great finds at receiver in the third round.

Biggest disappointment: The Steelers thought highly enough of kicker Jeff Reed to give him the franchise tag this season. But Reed's year in Pittsburgh was so tumultuous that the Steelers cut ties with their kicker in midseason. Reed had some off-the-field troubles and also complained publicly about his contract. After getting off to a poor start, missing seven field goals, Reed was released and replaced by Shaun Suisham, who has done very well, making 14 of 15 field goals in seven games.

Biggest need: The Steelers fixed their center position by using their 2010 first-round pick on Maurkice Pouncey, who was a Pro Bowler in his first year. Now Pittsburgh needs to work on the guard and tackle positions. Roethlisberger took another pounding this year, despite missing four games. He was sacked 32 times in 12 games, which is an average of 2.7 sacks per game. Roethlisberger also had his nose broken this year and suffered a significant foot injury. Adding a blue-chip offensive tackle or guard would help.

Team MVP: Troy Polamalu. The dynamic Pro Bowl safety made game-changing plays all season for the Steelers and is the only defensive player in the conversation for Player of the Year in the NFL. Polamalu (Achilles) looked good in the final game of the regular season against the Cleveland Browns, and his health will play a major role in Pittsburgh's chances to win its second Super Bowl in three years.

Draft Watch: The Steelers do not have a lot of holes, but look for them to try to add depth to their offensive line and secondary. As we mentioned earlier, Pittsburgh could use an upgrade at the guard and tackle positions on offense. No. 1 cornerback Ike Taylor is solid, but he will be a free agent, and Pittsburgh has to decide whether to bring back the 30-year-old or go younger at the position. The Steelers have tried drafting younger corners recently and missed on players like Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis. Pittsburgh already has the NFL's best defense. But if it ever lands a couple of shutdown corners, the Steelers will be extremely difficult to score against.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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