Over the course of the offseason, there has been no shortage of criticism aimed toward the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, and in particular the secondary, which was chiefly responsible for surrendering 30 passing touchdowns—the fourth-most in the league—versus only 11 interceptions, which ranked 25th.
With that type of ratio, there is little room for argument when it comes to determining whether or not the secondary was a concern last season. No doubt, it clearly was. And it certainly needed to be addressed during the draft. But the secondary does not exist in a vacuum, and the truth is that the back end got little support from the front seven far too frequently.
Less talked about, however, is the fact that the entirety of the Steelers’ starting secondary dealt with injuries throughout the season, to varying degrees. Some more than others were able to play through the injuries, with their performance suffering as a result, while others were forced to miss a significant amount of playing time.
The most obvious, of course, would be the forearm injury suffered by Ike Taylor, which forced him to miss most of the season. When he did return to the field, he had clearly lost some of his confidence and played less sure of himself, even if he had some problems during the first three games prior to the injury.
The other starting cornerback, Cortez Allen, we later learned was dealing with a knee injury throughout the year that was more significant than we realized, and likely had at least some impact on his disappointing performance, which led to his benching before a hand injury landed him on injured reserve.
Troy Polamalu, of course, suffered multiple injuries and missed multiple games as a result, but the injury in which an offensive player landed on the back of his leg was clearly the more significant. He later played through the MCL injury.
Perhaps the most talked about case, however, was with Mike Mitchell, the free agent signing and plug-and-play starter, who we learned injured his groin during the offseason, which caused him to miss time.
Mitchell acknowledged after the season that he played with an injured groin. Even later on, we learned that he injured both groins, and underwent surgery during the offseason. Some have chosen to believe, evidently, that this is a lie, and that it had nothing to do with his performance.
Of course, Taylor and Polamalu are no longer with the team, having both retired during this offseason, but they, along with Allen and Mitchell, were counted on at the beginning of the season to be their 16-game starters, logging over 1000 snaps if necessary.
Only Mitchell of the starting secondary missed fewer than around 300 or so snaps during the course of the season, with Taylor and Allen missing well over half of the season.
The secondary obviously had its issues last season outside of health that needed to be addressed this offseason, and it can be debated how effectively the front office managed to address those needs, but we should not overlook the fact that injuries played a significant role in the secondary’s performance a year ago.