For the past few seasons, whenever Troy Polamalu has been out, the Pittsburgh Steelers have, more often than not, had the good fortune to turn to Will Allen, the veteran safety who was once coached at his position by Mike Tomlin with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Allen did well enough in that role in 2012 that it earned him an opportunity to begin last season as a starter, but he soon found his way back to Pittsburgh, where he featured prominently through the second half of the season as the sixth defensive back.
This season, Polamalu has dealt with a couple of different injuries that have caused him to miss time, and games, though he is expected to return to the starting lineup tonight for the Steelers’ first home playoff game in four years. Allen has started four games in his place, and played over 300 snaps on defense, playing all but one snap during the final two games of the season, including the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Allen certainly had his impact on this game, mostly positive, and coming up with some key tackles, such as this one on third down on the Bengals’ opening drive. Cincinnati was facing a third and six backed up in its own end when Andy Dalton hoped to find running back Jeremy Hill on a screen pass moving to his right. Allen stayed back and watched Hill cross the field, tripping him up by the ankles as Lawrence Timmons helped assure that he hit the grass before achieving the first down.
Allen is a veteran team player, however, who is willing and able to do the dirty work that doesn’t show up on stats sheets to make his teammates’ lives easier. He contributed to another third down stop later in the first quarter on a Giovani Bernard carry as the seventh man in the box in the nickel defense. He came off the left edge of the defense to take out the pulling left guard, which enabled Vince Williams to come in and clean up, making the stop—although the Bengals went on to convert on fourth down.
At the end of the first quarter, Allen continued to show off his solid tackling working against the backs in the passing game, even while playing well off the ball. Once he sniffed out Bernard cutting to the flat, the safety immediately came down on him and twisted him down after a gain of one. Of course, on the next snap, A.J. Green was able to elude him and gain an extra four yards as a result.
On the first play of the second half, the Bengals looked to get ahead on the ground, running Hill up the middle and then off tackle to the right on first down. Allen came flying in around the end, grasping the big back by the thighs and wrestling him down after a short gain.