The Pittsburgh Steelers are counting on inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to be the nucleus of a defense that continually grows younger. This season, he inherited the buck linebacker position and signal-calling duties, and Sunday against the Cleveland Browns was his first meaningful game acting in this role.
Unfortunately, much of it wasn’t very pretty, especially once we get to the second half of the game. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said after the game that the biggest issue the defense had in the second half was lapses in communication.
That just so happens to fall under Timmons’ jurisdiction, and he struggled to get his troops lined up in advance of the Browns’ hurry up pace in the second half. More than that, he struggled often to find the right holes, overrunning several plays in the process.
Early in the game, on the Browns’ first drive, Timmons was put in one-on-one coverage with tight end Jordan Cameron, a Pro Bowler from a year ago. He was clearly ill-prepared when the tight end ran a go route, as you can tell by his footwork. Cameron was beyond him by the time he was 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Midway through the second quarter, with the Browns backed up deep in their own end, Cleveland ran Ben Tate off left end. With the offensive line able to control the right side of the defense, it was up to Timmons to come in and make the tackle, be he overran the play by taking the gap outside of the end, which Mike Mitchell had. This allowed Tate to cut back inside for a 25-yard gain.
Early on in the third quarter, rookie Terrance West got the carry off right tackle. Timmons would have seemingly had him dead to rights, taking a straight path right to the ball carrier, but Timmons again took his pursuit too far wide, and West cut inside for 22 yards.
On the Browns’ second possession of the third quarter, they quickly marched down the field into the red zone. On second and eight from the 15-yard line, Isaiah Crowell received the handoff, and Timmons again seemingly chose the wrong hole, thinking that he could squeeze between the center and right guard on the move. This just got him blocked out of the play and helped create an alley full of orange helmets that allowed Crowell a clear path to the end zone virtually untouched.
Late in the third quarter, inside the red zone once again, Timmons got himself caught up inside, hemmed in by the tight end as West ran behind the pulling guard around the right end for an easy 10-yard gain.
Midway through the fourth quarter, with first and 10 from their own 24, the Browns ran West up the middle. Timmons looked to be there in the hole waiting for him, but he apparently thought he saw something that he didn’t, because he moved to his left before cutting back to the right, which allowed the back to get nine yards.
On the subsequent second and one play (seen above), Timmons simply missed West in the hole, stretching out for a meek arm tackle around the thick back’s legs to no avail, which led to a 29-yard run.
Unfortunately, Timmons himself was responsible for many of the explosive plays that the Steelers defense gave up during the game. There’s no reason to sugarcoat what was a highly disappointing performance, but these were not mistakes that could be attributed to his position switch. This is just poor recognition and execution.