Welcome back to my 2013 mid-season breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With this NFL season now officially half way behind us, let’s now take an in-depth look at a unit that used to be the backbone of this team: the defense.
The jury is still out on this unit for me. While they have the least observed job on a routine Steeler defense, their tasks mainly revolve around pressuring the QB and creating gaps to the get LB’s inside. Kiesel has been solid in his leadership role and comprises the Steeler way. Our two early-round draft picks of the past few years, Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood have been models of inconsistency. Both have shown flashes of brilliance in spurts, but neither have been able to stand out or claim the starting job as their own. One of them may not last past this year, and it may be time to take another shot at drafting there. Steve McLendon has done an admirable job taking the spot of Casey Hampton from last year. He’s quiet, but more athletic. He’s not a star, but fills the caps and crowds the line. They need a splash player on the end for sure.
Pittsburgh has always done a great job at drafting this position and keeping stars in these spots. With James Harrison and James Farrior gone and Larry Foote out for the year, Lamarr Woodley has had his best year in the last 3. He’s doing his job of getting sacks and pressures, but he doesn’t have much help from the other side. Vince Williams is one of my unsung MVP’s for Pittsburgh this year, an unknown filler from Tennessee that has done more than expected from him so far. Jason Worilds has been adequate, but hasn’t stepped up to being a starter as he was hoped to be. Lawrence Timmons is a tackling machine, but is having a much more quiet and uneventful season than I thought. I still think he’s a star and needs to be stuck with, but this is a bit of a fallback season. I was huge on rookie Jarvis Jones when we drafted him, but something hasn’t quite clicked with him yet. His reads and coverage are a step slow, and he’s been quiet in pressure after the first 3 weeks. He’s another guy I’d bet all-in on, but rookie growing-pains are expected. I suspect this core will stay together and finish strong this year, going into next season.
Ike Taylor is still our ace, but like a lot of Steelers this season, is having a slightly down year. He’s been a star in some games (Cincy, Baltimore, Oakland) and awful in others (Minnesota and New England). His contract will be evaluated, but I still think he’s a piece we need, as our best defender. William Gay has stepped into the #2 spot, much to my dismay. He can be a ball-hawk at times and has a knack for deflecting balls, but the “master of the holding penalty” (royalties go to me) has still had a rough year getting beat deep. I’d suggest he be gone after this year, but someone in the front office seems to owe him a favor. Cortez Allen is the Nickel back (the position, not the band), and I think he has the best upside of the bunch. He creates turnovers better than anyone else on the staff, and I’d like to see him as a starter next year (if healthy). I’d like to see more of Dime back Curtis Brown, but he’s fairly average in his brief body of work thus far. This is the number one area I’d focus on signing or drafting next year, as we desperately need another CB on this team.
Age has a way of slowing us all down, and never has that been more evident in Pittsburgh than with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Troy has been having quite a solid comeback year, and at moments looks like the Pro-Bowler of old. But he still gambles and misses a lot, and his health and speed go down each game. Clark is also not the hitter nor coverage man he used to be, and while his efforts are still solid, his tackling has not been. Shamarko Thomas was drafted out of Syracuse this past year, and we need to see more of him to see if he’ll be an air-apparent. But we will need to draft at least one other safety to fill the void left when this tandem calls it quits in the near future. Until the next opening kickoff, valued readers…