The Pittsburgh Steelers lost the services of three defensive starters on Sunday night to a unit that has been giving up 24 points per game as it is, despite the fact that the offense has put up 30 points twice now in three games.
One of those starters going down to injury is rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered an MCL sprain after battery mate Lawrence Timmons was pushed back into his knee. He is out for the next game, but beyond that is being considered week-to-week.
If there is one unit that this defense can withstand an injury to, it would probably be at inside linebacker, where Sean Spence, Vince Williams, and Terence Garvin all stand ready. As a matter of fact, all three of them had already been given non-injury-related playing time on defense before Shazier went down.
The injury to Jarvis Jones was equally unfortunate, and his placement on short-term IR means he will miss at least eight weeks. But Arthur Moats looks to be a capable replacement, and the Steelers also re-signed James Harrison, the greatest 3-4 outside linebacker the team has ever had.
While he may not necessarily be what he once was, the platoon of Harrison and Moats should be enough to sustain the defense at least at replacement levels with Jones out.
The bigger concern lies with the injury to cornerback Ike Taylor, whom many assumed wouldn’t even be on the team this year. His broken forearm will keep him out for months, and the efforts to replace him will have lingering consequences.
Of issue is not necessarily his immediate replacement—veteran nickel back William Gay, who has been an excellent asset since returning to Pittsburgh last year—but rather sorting out the secondary behind him.
The Steelers must determine who will serve as the third cornerback between two 5’9” defensive backs and a third that has only been with the team for under a month.
Antwon Blake got the call on Sunday night, and didn’t embarrass himself. There are some, including Carnell Lake, who have been quite high on him, in fact.
But with Taylor out, the Steelers lose something that nobody else on the roster can replace: his size.
At 6’2”, Taylor is of above average height for the position, and his speed and mobility to go along with that size are what have kept him in this league for well over a decade. Nobody else on the team comes close to that combination.
Up next on the docket is a team that has several receiving targets pushing 6’5” or greater, and the Steelers have lost their best height guy in their secondary, with only players under 6” to substitute in his place. This may not be as big an issue every week, but it will be a legitimate concern as the season progresses trying to replace what Taylor offered.