While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Will Lawrence Timmons rebound from a down year as a coverage linebacker?
In spite of the fact that he was honored with the first Pro Bowl nomination of his career for his performance during the 2014 season, last year was not the best of the eight-year veteran’s career.
What dragged down his season most was his work in coverage, during which he failed to intercept a pass and hardly got a hand on one, while allowing three touchdowns in coverage in addition to other big plays against tight ends and running backs.
Two big plays in particular went for over 40 yards each, the first coming in week one, in which he allowed a tight end to beat him down the seam in one-on-one coverage. A better throw would likely have produced a touchdown.
He allowed a receiver into his zone across the middle for over 50 yards on a catch and run with little resistance near the middle of the season, while also giving up a touchdown vertically to a tight end for 21 yards in the same game.
Timmons’ performance in coverage was sporadic throughout the year. He struggled early on, toward the middle of the season, and then near the end, including, unfortunately, in the team’s playoff loss to the Ravens.
Some of these issues went beyond coverage, of course, and extended to his performance after the catch, where he failed to make the tackle an uncharacteristic number of times. One wonders if the added bulk this past season as he worked to transition to the buck linebacker position had an impact on his ability to cover.
Perhaps the plan going forward is for Ryan Shazier to take on the majority of the coverage responsibilities at inside linebacker, at least when it comes to matching up with tight ends or running backs out of the backfield. He certainly has the speed for it, as long as he can catch up to the game mentally. It would certainly make sense for the way Timmons’ game is developing, even though he is still on the right side of 30.