If you have any interest in going deeper into understanding the game, you should be reading the Football Outsiders. FO’s annual book, simply called Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, is a must-read for fans who want to go deep into the numbers.
I talked with FO recently about the 2010 Steelers and the Q&A is after the jump.
SL: Even with the Ben Roethlisberger suspension, the Santonio Holmes trade and Willie Colon’s injury, the KUBIAK projections have the Steelers as one of the best teams in the league. Does it come down to the Steelers’ special teams being so bad last year that you expect a bounce back from the coverage teams to make up for decreased production elsewhere?
FO: Surely, the kickoff coverage has to improve, and by definition it almost can’t get worse. So that’s a factor. But more importantly are the perennial factors that keep the Steelers good even when they lose seemingly key personnel through injury, free agency, etc. The defense is extremely strong, especially with Troy Polamalu out there. The coaching is very good. The running game should be potent. And 12 games from Roethlisberger is still plenty, while his replacements should be OK. One caveat — the projection was done before the Colon injury. But the projections factor in historical precedent, not just single offseasons. The Steelers’ ability to overcome changes in the past indicates they will be able to do so again.
SL: Considering the Steelers’ drop-off when Polamalu is out of the lineup, do you think he’s the team’s most important player, even more so than Roethlisberger?
FO: Yes, we certainly feel Polamalu is the lone irreplaceable player, at least on a game to game level, even though Ben is outstanding.
SL: You all are predicting quite a year for Rashard Mendenhall, what makes you so optimistic?
FO: Mendenhall has several things going for him. He’s an excellent receiver, and was the most efficient back in the passing game in the NFL in 2009. He was well over 1,000 yards on the ground as well, established himself as the main back, and at 23 is entering his prime. Despite the loss of Colon, the Steelers line should be fine, at least in the running game. It all points toward a big season.
SL: Your write-up seemed to indicate that the loss of Colon isn’t as bad as many in the national media may believe. It seemed to me that Colon was much improved in 2009 and will be a huge loss, what about his game leads you to think that the Steelers won’t miss him too much?
FO: I think Colon’s injury feels greater because the depth behind him is so questionable. Yes, he improved last season, and he is better, at least at present, than anyone the Steelers can replace him with. But we’re not talking about Mike Webster in his prime here. Colon was dreadful in 2008–his play got him to mediocre. He is fine when engaging the man in front of him, but struggles to get to the second level, or with multiple or changing assignments. His punch is soft, and his feet aren’t too nifty. It’s a loss for the short-term, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the backups reach his level by season’s end.