For once, the Steelers secondary is not a major concern heading into the off season. I say “for once” because in recent years they have struggled either with injuries or sub par play at a particular position. Heading into this coming draft though, the last line of defense for Pittsburgh shouldn’t need much help thanks to a healthy group, good coaching, and solid drafting in recent years.
Last season, 2011, they finished 1st overall vs the pass, allowing a league low 171.9 yds per game. Compare that number to 2010 when they finished 12h overall, allowing 214.1 yds per game. The Steelers strength has always been their ability to stop the run and the pass rush. They were great at making teams one dimensional, thus allowing the pass rush to pin their ears back and get after the Quarterback. The secondary just basically had to hold its own and not allow the big play. In today’s NFL though that’s not so easy to accomplish anymore.
Every team is throwing these days; fortunately Kevin Colbert and the Steelers front office saw it coming and drafted accordingly before last season. Curtis Brown (3rd round) and Cortez Allen (4th round) both fought off early injuries during training camp to have productive years for Carnell Lake’s group. His first hand knowledge of the game has proven to be quite the asset for Dick Lebeau’s defense. Keenan Lewis (2009, 3rd round pick) took his biggest steps this past year and will likely compete for the starting job opposite Ike Taylor. He saw more playing time this season than he had in his first 2 years combined, and finished up with 37 tackles and 1 interception.
Safety wise, the two wiley veterans are at the top of their game and that’s reassuring news for the defense. Troy Polamalu had 91 tackles (1 sack and 2 inteceptions) in 2011, that’s the 2nd most ever since he was drafted by the team. As long as Troy is healthy it means the defense can really open up the playbook and allow him to free lance which results in so many big plays that we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Let’s face it, nobody anticipates the snap count and literally leaps over the offensive line quite like #43.
Ryan Clark, one of the more outspoken leaders on the team both on the field and off, lead the team in tackles with 100. The highest ever in his 10 year career along with 1 sack and 1 interception to boot. When he and Troy are able to stay on the field together they can react off each other because they’ve worked together for so long. That’s a distinct advantage, especially among such a young group of cornerbacks they are working with.
Ike Taylor is still at the top of his game and the Steelers rewarded him with a new deal before last season. He is their best cornerback, no question, so they can afford to put him one one one and allow the Safety help to roll towards the other side of the field. Even if he had the worse game of his career this past post season against the Broncos, that doesn’t discount his importance to the defense. Ike is a workout machine even in the offseason, one of the most gifted athletes in the league.
Basically at this point they can afford to let free agent William Gay leave, save that money, and still field a solid unit for 2012. Combine that will the needs on the offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker depth, the team can afford to let this unit go as is for another year or two yet. Even though Ryan Mundy is a free agent, he figures to return to backup Polamalu and Clark. If they do address the secondary in the draft, it won’t be until the later rounds most likely.
Since there is no lockout to deal with, Carnell Lake will have an entire offseason to work with his group and help take their game to the next level. With all the passing going on these days, doing so is more important than ever.