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: Troy Polamalu, SS
While it may be true that Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu’s reputation at this point in his career is in part meritorious, an award for past deeds, it’s still hard to imagine where this defense might be without him.
Actually, we got a bit too much of a look at that in 2007, 2009, and 2012. And more often than not, it wasn’t pretty. The Steelers missed the playoffs in two of those three years, and were ushered out in the wildcard round the other time.
Up until he had an opposing player fall on him a few weeks back, however, he hadn’t missed a snap due to injury since the start of the 2013 season. Will Allen, the man who filled in for him well enough in 2012 to parlay his performance into a chance for a starting job elsewhere, has played free safety the last two weeks, and some stretches have been ugly.
Allen’s overly eager play against the run resulted in him biting on play action and helping produce a handful of big plays in the passing game over the last two weeks as a result. He was also not a reliable tackler in the first game, though his efforts in run support in the last were solid.
But think about where the team would be over the last few years against the run without Polamalu. The veteran safety has too often been a Band Aid for bad defense, masking mistakes in the trenches by blowing up plays he had no business making on his own. He has been the epitome of the idea of WAR—Wins Above Replacement—and its value, considering what this unit would look like with a pedestrian player in his place.
In coverage, Polamalu has not taken as many gambles this season, which hurt him, and the team, a year ago. But his surprising number of penalties—some of which are admittedly more understandable than others—have been unusual. He has now had three weeks off, including the bye week, and better be prepared to make it down the home stretch.