Steelers Today - A Pittsburgh Steelers blog


Archive for March, 2012

Steelers position-by-position review: cornerbacks

March 29, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 13 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 8 (nose tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 9 (defensive ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 10 (linebackers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 11 (linebackers part 2), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 12 (safeties), click here.

Today we look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerbacks.  Despite what you may have heard, 2011 was actually a good year for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerbacks.

The Steelers were the #1 passing defense in the NFL last year.  And that was in spite of not getting much pressure on the quarterback due to injuries to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.  So it was the defensive backs who had to step up their game to offset injuries to the rush linebackers.

Let’s take a look at the cornerbacks, starting with…….

Ike Taylor

Ike has been the best cornerback on the Steelers for quite some time.  But despite being the best cornerback on the best defense in the NFL, Ike has never gotten the recognition that he deserves.  This is primarily because Ike doesn’t get interceptions like premier cornerbacks are expected to.  It’s no secret; Ike can’t catch.  But that doesn’t stop him from guarding the opposing team’s best receiver week after week.  And Ike usually shuts him down.

Statistically, 2011 didn’t look like a good year for Ike.  But numbers can be deceiving.  For example, Ike had one of the worst seasons of his career in terms of the number of tackles that he made.  But does that mean that he was ineffective, or that quarterbacks have learned to not throw in his direction?

‘Ike only had 2 interceptions in 2011.  That’s nothing to write home about, but by Ike’s standards, that’s a pretty good year.  In fact, he’s only exceeded it one time in his entire NFL career.

To get a true sense of how Ike played in 2011, let’s look back at the game against the New England Patriots where Ike played man-on-man against Wes Welker.  Ike shadowed Welker all day, and he only allowed him 39 receiving yards and no touchdowns.  Anytime you hold Wes Welker to 39 years, you’ve had a tremendous day.  Ike also held Larry Fitzgerald to 78 yards and no TD’s.  And he held A.J. Green to 36 and 87 yards in their two meetings.

I know that Ike let Tim Tebow burn him for a game-winning play in the playoffs.  But who expected Tebow to throw the ball the way he did?  I’m not excusing Ike, but I don’t think the Steelers’ coaching staff expected, or prepared for Tebow to play the way he did.

So don’t believe what you’ve been reading.  Ike is as good as he’s ever been.  Just don’t expect him to intercept the ball.

William Gay

William Gay signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals this week, so he’s no longer a Steeler.  Nevertheless, he was on the squad in 2011, so I have to evaluate his play.

I was very hard on Gay throughout his career.  And he deserved it.  He got burned early and often during his time with the Steelers.  But 2011 was a different story.

Gay won the starting position, and he played well.  Whether fans want to admit it or not, Gay was a starting cornerback on the #1 passing defense in the NFL.  He obviously played a role in that.

Gay had the highest number of passes defensed and interceptions of his career in 2011.  But even more importantly, he had quite a few game-saving plays.

As much as fans may have hated William Gay over the years, you have to admit that he earned his paycheck in 2011.

Bryant McFadden


McFadden gets burned again.

 Keenan Lewis

Like William Gay, Keenan Lewis had his best season in 2011.  He got more playing time than he had ever received before, and he logged his best statistical season by far.

But more important than what Keenan Lewis did on the field, was what he didn’t do.  He didn’t have the stupid penalties that plagued him during his first two seasons.  That’s an important change.

As Keenan Lewis heads into his 4th season with the Steelers, it might seem that he is the obvious guy to replace William Gay.  But when asked about replacing Gay, Mike Tomlin mentioned Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.  In fact, he had to be prompted before he mentioned Keenan Lewis.  That may be a telling sign.

I like what I saw from Keenan Lewis last year.  But he didn’t impress me enough to want to see him as a starter.  I’m glad that coach Tomlin is going to give the two rookies a chance to win the position in 2012.

Curtis Brown

I love Curtis Brown.  Last year, when every mock draft was saying that the Steelers should take Texas CB Aaron Williams in the first round, I said that I didn’t want Williams, and that I wanted the Steelers to take his teammate Curtis Brown in the 3rd round.  The Steelers obviously heard me, because they did exactly that.

Curtis Brown was a dynamo on special teams.  He seemed to make every tackle.  And that definitely got Mike Tomlin’s attention.

Unfortunately, Brown injured his knee and was lost for the season.  He had surgery in December, and should be ready in time for training camp.

Cortez Allen

Cortez Allen was the guy who really surprised people in 2011.  He was an unknown commodity to most fans, having played at the Citadel.

But Allen worked his way up, and by the end of the season, he was seeing action in the Steelers’ dime packages.

At 6’1″, he’s a big cornerback.  Moreover, he has a lot of athleticism.  He was raw coming out of college, but I’m extremely excited about what we’re going to see from Cortez Allen in the years to come.

Anthony Madison

Though listed as a cornerback, Anthony Madison was primarily a special teams player in 2011.  He has 1 start in his 6 year NFL career.  I don’t think that he’s going to be in the mix for a starting job in 2012.


Steelers position-by-position review: safeties

March 26, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 11 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 8 (nose tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 9 (defensive ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 10 (linebackers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 11 (linebackers part 2), click here.

Today we talk about a position that is one of the most dire needs for the Steelers; safeties.

Some of you are probably saying, “Safeties aren’t a need for the Steelers.  We have good safeties.”  And you’d be partially right, and partially wrong.

The Steelers have a pair of very good starting safeties in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.  However, age is starting to creep up on them.  If we don’t want the Steelers to have the same situation at safety as they have at nose tackle, then we need to start drafting young replacements.  And we need to do it now.

Lets look at the Steelers’ safeties, starting with…….

Troy Polamalu

Troy is still All-Universe when it comes to NFL safeties.  I don’t have to spend much time explaining to anyone how good Troy is.  Moreover, Troy had a pretty good season in 2011.  His interceptions were down drastically from what we’ve come to expect from Troy, but he had a very good season in just about every other statistical category.

The only problem that I see with Troy is that he’ll be 31 during the 2012 season.  That’s not ancient, but Troy is getting older.  And that may become a real problem based on the way Troy plays the game.  We all know that Troy throws his body around like a human wrecking machine.  Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re in your 20′s than it is to do it in your 30′s.  And Troy paid the price for his style of play even when he was in his 20′s.

Troy Polamalu

2011 was only the second time that Troy has managed to stay healthy for all 16 regular season games since 2006.  That’s right, Troy rarely makes it through an entire season without getting hurt.  I know that fans hate hearing that, but it’s true.  And we all have to start preparing for the day when Troy’s body just won’t be able to handle the physical pounding anymore.  I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine Troy doing what he currently does when he’s 34 or 35.  Few players can play at a high level at that age, regardless of how good they were when they were younger (e.g. consider Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Hines Ward, and James Farrior).

Knowing that Troy’s career is winding down, I’m concerned that his replacement isn’t currently on the roster.

Ryan Clark

2011 was probably the best statistical season of Ryan Clark’s career.  He was a tackling machine out there.  Moreover, the Steelers had the #1 passing defense in the NFL.  So Ryan Clark’s production was undeniable.

A part of Ryan’s increase in tackles was due to the decline of the Steelers’ run defense.  More guys were getting to the second level, and Ryan had to help stop them.  But regardless of why his stats were up, Ryan still had a great season.

However, like Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark is getting up there in age.  He’ll be 33 years old next season.  That’s pretty old for an NFL player.

While his statistics say that he’s playing as well as he ever has, Ryan has nevertheless looked like he’s starting to lose a step to me.

And just like with Troy Polamalu, I don’t think that his replacement is currently on the roster.

Now are you starting to see why I think safety is a dire need for the Steelers?

Ryan Mundy

Ryan Mundy has been a solid backup for the Steelers since 2009.  But the key is that he’s been a backup.  Ryan has made some good plays, but he’s never done anything spectacular.  He’s never made me feel like he was ready to step in and be the starter.

Some might argue that he’s only been in the league for 3 years, so he’s still a young player.  But that wouldn’t be true.  Mundy was older than most players when he came out of college.  He was 24 when he joined the team.  So now he’s a 3rd year player who is already 27 years old.  See the problem?

At 27 years old, Mundy should already be in the prime of his career.  If he’s ever going to be a starter, he should be one now.  But he’s not.

Ryan Mundy reminds me a lot of Cliff Stoudt.  Some of you may be too young to remember Cliff Stoudt, but trust me on this one.  Cliff Stoudt was a guy who I felt very comfortable with as a dependable backup.  But I didn’t want to see him called upon to be the full-time starter.  A backup simply has to be able to go in and make sure that he doesn’t screw up.  But a starter has to be able to make things happen.  And I’m still not convinced that Mundy can do that.

I hope that Mundy proves me wrong.  But with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark both in their 30′s, and Ryan Mundy as the top backup at safety, I think Steelers fans have a legitimate cause for concern.

Will Allen

Will Allen is basically a career backup.  He was a full-time starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2006, but that was a long time ago.  Now, he’s primarily a special teams player.

Allen will be 30 years old when the 2012 season begins.  I highly doubt that he’s suddenly going to emerge as a potential starter at age 30.  So let’s assume that his future contribution to the team will primarily be on special teams.

Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith

Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith was undrafted when he came out of UTEP, and he was signed to the Steelers’ practice squad as an undrafted free agent.  The fact that nobody drafted him may say something about how much potential scouts felt that Cromartie-Smith showed in college.

Cromartie-Smith spent most of 2011 on the Steelers’ practice squad, but he did get to dress for 4 games, and he made a total of 3 tackles.  So obviously the jury is still out on him.

So to summarize, the Steelers have two aging veterans as starters, a pair of aging backups who haven’t shown the potential to be starters, and an undrafted practice squad player.  Now do you see why I think safety needs to be a position of concern in the upcoming NFL Draft?

Steelers position-by-position review: linebackers (pt. 2)

March 23, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 11 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 8 (nose tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 9 (defensive ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 10 (linebackers), click here.

We began looking at the linebackers in part 10 of this series, and we’ll finish discussing them in this installment.  We’ll start with

Jason Worilds

Jason Worilds was drafted out of Virginia Tech two years ago with the hope that he would become the heir apparent to James Harrison.  Worilds was a pass rush specialist in college, and the Steelers hoped to see much the same from him in the pros.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t get me wrong, Worilds hasn’t played badly.  He just hasn’t played great.

Injuries have also hampered Worilds’ development.  He was injured for much of his rookie season, and then when his opportunity came up in 2011, he got hurt.

Worilds was in a perfect position to replace James Harrison when Harrison sat out for 4  games with an injury.  But Worilds got hurt at the same time, and he sat out those same 4 games.  So he didn’t get an opportunity to show what he could do as Harrison’s replacement.

Fortunately for Worilds (but unfortunately for the Steelers), LaMarr Woodley went down with an injury as soon as James Harrison came back from his.  So Worilds got the opportunity to replace Woodley on the left side.

Worilds accumulated 38 tackles and 3 sacks while replacing Woodley.  Those are acceptable numbers.  The one area of concern was that Worilds didn’t show an ability to pressure the quarterback the way that Woodley and Harrison do.  But of course, not many players in the NFL can pressure the quarterback the way Woodley and Harrison do.

My hope for Worilds is that he’ll continue to develop as a player, and that he’ll learn to take better care of his body so he won’t get hurt so often.

James Farrior

We all feel bad that the Steelers released long-time starter James Farrior.  But the reality is that Farrior had been showing visible signs of slowing down for the past 3 seasons.

Farrior is 37 years old, and he would have turned 38 during the 2012 season.  That’s ancient for an NFL player.

James Farrior

As much as I appreciate all of the work that Farrior has done for the Steelers, it was time for them to give a younger player a chance.

Even as an aging player, Farrior was a smart football player, and he called most of the defenses for the Steelers’ front 7.  That’s going to be the most difficult thing for the Steelers to replace.  But either Stevenson Sylvester or Larry Foote are capable of replacing what Farrior could do physically.

Larry Foote

Larry Foote has been with the Steelers since 2002, the same year that James Farrior joined the team.  The two of them spent many years playing side-by-side.  The difference is that Foote is only 31 years old.

The Steelers began platooning Foote for Farrior last season.  That action was what first made fans question Farrior’s future with the team.

Foote played solidly, but not outstandingly in Farrior’s place (and in place of Lawrence Timmons when he was moved to the outside).

At this point in his career, I’d rather see Foote as a backup rather than as a starter.  I think it’s time for the Steelers to give Stevenson Sylvester a chance to win the starting job.

Stevenson Sylvester

Stevenson Sylvester hasn’t gotten many opportunities to play at the linebacker position.  That’s what happens when you play behind guys like Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, and Larry Foote.  However, now that James Farrior is no longer with the team, this should be Sylvester’s year to shine.

While it’s not clear who will replace Farrior in the starting lineup, Sylvester is now listed as the starter on the Steelers’ depth chart.

Although Sylvester hasn’t gotten many opportunities to play at linebacker, he has been an absolute demon on special teams.  His aggressiveness there is a good sign.  I remember when James Harrison and Brett Keisel proved themselves as wrecking machines on special teams.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter dressed for 8 games, and made a total of 3 tackles during his rookie season.  That wasn’t enough to make a fair assessment.  So for now, he gets an incomplete.  Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of him next year so we can make an accurate assessment.

It’s possible that the Steelers could draft a linebacker.  Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower is often mentioned as a possible Steelers draft pick.  But even if they take him, it is highly unlikely that a rookie will be able to step into the Steelers’ starting lineup.  Dick LeBeau’s defense is just too complex.  I may be forgetting someone, but Casey Hampton is the last rookie that I can remember who became a starter on the Steelers’ defense.  Troy Polamalu didn’t do it.  Neither did Brett Keisel, or Ziggy Hood, or James Harrison, or LaMarr Woodley, or Ike Taylor, or Cameron Heyward.  I’m not saying that it’s impossible.  But it’s highly unlikely.

Steelers position-by-position review: linebackers

March 22, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 10 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 8 (nose tackles), click here.

If you haven’t read Part 9 (defensive ends), click here.

Now we’re going to look at what has typically been the greatest strength of the Steelers’ defense; the linebackers.

Despite having a good year defensively as a team, I believe that the Steelers’ linebackers had a bad season as a whole.  And the problems began with……

James Harrison

James Harrison went out with an injury early in the season.  He missed the 5th - 8th games of the season.  And when he did, it started a downward spiral among the linebackers that lasted the entire season.  Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons was moved to the outside to replace Harrison at outside linebacker, however, he was failed to generate the pressure on the quarterback that Harrison usually brings.

Despite missing 4.5 games, Harrison actually had a very productive season.  He had 9 sacks, which was only 1.5 fewer sacks than he had in 2010, and 1 fewer than his 2009 production.  And Harrison played in all 16 regular season games during 2009 and 2010.

But Harrison’s play did drop off significantly in a few other areas in which Steelers fans have gotten used to seeing him produce.  The most glaring of these was in forced fumbles.  Harrison had become famous for producing “strip sacks”.  A strip sack is when Harrison sacks the quarterback, but also produces a fumble at the same time.  Harrison forced 7 fumbles in 2007 & 2008, 5 in 2009, and 6 in 2010, but he only produced 2 in 2011.  That’s a noticeable decline.

Harrison also had no interceptions in 2011, after having 2 in 2010.  And he had no passes defensed, after having 5 in 2010.

So while Harrison had a productive season from a tackling standpoint, he wasn’t the overall wrecking machine that Steelers fans have become used to seeing.  But perhaps his decline was due to injuries to………

LaMarr Woodley

LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison play best with they work in tandem.  But that seldom happened in 2011.  The two played together only 6 times in 2011.  And that fact was reflected in the output of both players.

James Harrison missed 4.5 games in 2011.  And when he finally came back from his injury, LaMarr Woodley went down with a hamstring injury.

Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley

Woodley missed a full 6 games due to his injury.  And he played in 2 games during that stretch, but he looked gimpy in those two games.  So it might have been better if he had sat out the two games that he did try to play in.  In fact, each time Woodley tried to come back from his injury, he missed the following week’s game.  So it’s clear that Woodley kept trying to come back too quickly, and actually re-injured himself.  It might have been better for him to wait until he was fully recovered before trying to play.

Woodley got off to a tremendous start in 2011.  He had 9 sacks by the eighth game of the season.  He was on his way to a 16 sack season.  But that’s when he injured his hamstring.  And he didn’t make another sack for the rest of the year.  None.  Not one.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

So it’s obvious that Woodley’s injury slowed him down tremendously.  He was basically ineffective after the injury occurred.  He had 3 tackles and no sacks during the final 8 games of the season, though he only played in 2 of those games.  So for all intents and purposes, Woodley played in only half the season.

Despite being healthy for only 8 games, Woodley had only one fewer sack than he had in 2010.  He had only 11 fewer tackles than he has in 2010.  So it was clear that Woodley was on his way to the best statistical season of his career, until the hamstring injury rendered him ineffective.

Lawrence Timmons

The other player who was impacted by the injuries to Harrison and Woodley was Lawrence Timmons.  Timmons was on his way to establishing himself as a superstar at inside linebacker.  Timmons had accumulated an amazing 135 tackles in 2010.  He was all over the field, and he seemed to be in on every play.

But when James Harrison went down with his injury, the Steelers decided to move Timmons to the outside to replace him.  This caused a two-fold problem.  Not only was Timmons ineffective at outside linebacker, but Larry Foote didn’t play as well as Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker.  So the Steelers had a decline in performance at two positions instead of one.

Timmons’ tackles declined by over 30%.  He also experienced a drop in almost every other statistical category.

So while on paper it looks like Timmons had a bad year in 2011, I think that we have to give him a pass.  He moved around to help the team.  But there was a key lesson learned.  The Steelers need to get solid backups for both Harrison and Woodley.  Moving Timmons to the outside proved to be too costly.

Because the Steelers used so many linebackers in 2011, we will continue our analysis of the Steelers’ linebackers in the next installment of this series.


Hines Ward retires a Steeler

March 21, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

A collective sigh of relief was heard throughout Steeler Nation yesterday when fan favorite Hines Ward decided to retire, rather than play for another team.

Fans had been torn between their desire to support Hines in his attempt to continue playing in the NFL, and their desire to not see him wearing another team’s colors.  Yesterday’s decision put an end to that conflict.

For those of you who didn’t see Ward’s retirement announcement, here is the video:

I was extremely happy to hear the announcement.  Like so many others, I didn’t want to see Hines wearing another team’s uniform.  I still remember seeing players like Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, and Carnell Lake playing for other teams after leaving the Steelers.  None of them added to their legacy by doing so.

Hines Ward is 36 years old.  His best days are behind him.  So while he may have caught a few more passes, or made a few more blocks, I doubt that he would have significantly added to his legacy.  He’s the Pittsburgh Steelers’ all-time leading receiver.  He has 2 Super Bowl rings.  He’s a former Super Bowl MVP.  And he’ll likely someday be in the Hall-of-Fame.  What more can he hope to accomplish in the league?

So despite the tears that Hines shed during his press conference, it’s a happy day for Steeler Nation.  We didn’t want to see him playing for any other team.  And we’re grateful that Hines heard our pleas.

Go Steelers!