With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team as a whole has suffered its ups and downs throughout the season, particularly the bi-polar offense that prefers the comforts of home. Even with all the road struggles, however, the Steelers are ranked seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 26.2 points per game.
On the flip side, the defense has struggled not only with youth and inexperience but also with injuries, en route to posting the 19th-best defense in points allowed, giving up 23.9 points per game, with hopes to start changing that down the home stretch.
Player: Steve McLendon, NT
As is often the case during the lean times, there’s nobody more popular on a sports team than the backup. Steve McLendon was a fan favorite prior to 2013 when he inherited the starting nose tackle job, but he’s had more than his fair share of ridicule since then.
Not helping his cause is that he’s missed five starts over the last 27 games, including the most recent one, in which the Steelers made do by splitting halves with rookie Daniel McCullers and Cam Thomas.
McLendon cited overtraining due to excitement and anticipation as a cause for his body wearing down this season. As a result, he changed up his regimen this offseason, and visibly bulked up, but he’s been dealing with a chronic shoulder injury for most of the year.
The Steelers gave him last week off knowing that he would have an extra day of rest with the bye week, but it’s still not a sure bet that McLendon will be on the field for the first snap in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
When he has been on the field, however, the Steelers have simply been a better defense against the run. Rookie McCullers has such a small sample size, but has found only mixed success thus far. When Thomas has been in at nose tackle, opponents have had success rushing, though last week was actually a notable exception.
One area of McLendon’s game that hasn’t fully developed in the way it was previously anticipated was his ability to bring a pass rushing presence from the nose tackle position. While he has been comparatively decent in that area (he does have one sack on the year), he hasn’t been able to bring more consistent pressure as was believed while he was still in a reserve role.
Still, along with Lawrence Timmons, McLendon has been the bread and butter of this defense’s efforts to stop the run, and most of the Steelers’ success in that regard can usually be attributed to them.