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No guarantee that James Harrison & Troy Polamalu can fix Steelers defense

After the debacle that was the Steelers loss to the Raiders on Sunday at Oakland-Alameda County Photo courtesy of /worldwideleague.comColiseum, there is plenty of blame to go around across the entire team. As Mike Tomlin would say, you win as a team and you lose as a team. No one person causes a loss any more than one person can win a game.

For the Steelers defense though, there are many questions as they head into their bye week, not the least of which is the hopeful return of James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. Will that enough though to fix what ails this proud unit?

If you listened to any of the Steelers post-game show on their Radio Network, you heard Joe Bendel talk about how this defense cannot be fixed by just the return of these two players alone. It was a hot topic last night and will be until the defense gets healthy and we see what they can do with a full starting lineup on the field. The standard may be the standard, next man up, or whatever Tomlinism you care to insert, but it doesn’t always work out that way when it comes to reserve players and even starters.

There’s certainly no guarantee that having these two playmakers on the field this past Sunday would have secured a win, but maybe it would have helped. I would venture a guess that certainly it would have helped but that’s life in the NFL, you can’t have a do over. Personally I’m on the side that says getting these two back is important, obviously, but it’s not an end all be all fix.

Both Harrison and Polamalu are looking to return after the bye week, but even so neither will be at full speed yet. It should be noted that there is no official timetable for either, but hopefully both should be in better shape after additional time off.

Harrison hasn’t played a down in regular game action this year yet and could only rehab during the offseason and training camp. Even though he’s always in great shape, he’s not in football shape yet. Even a 50% James Harrison is better than many Linebackers in the league though, his presence alone should give the defense a boost if in no other area than emotion. When he gets back on the field, offenses will have to respect both sides of the pass rush, something they haven’t had to do so far this season.

Polamalu’s calf injury is concerning because he’s been known to have injuries that linger on for an entire season. If this doesn’t heal up over the next two weeks there’s no telling how long he’ll be out.

When healthy, he can still be a huge force in the Steelers Secondary, but that’s the problem he’s just never fully healthy for an entire year. Couple that with the defense that isn’t as consistently aggressive as it used to be, and coverages that are long since not a secret and you can see where his effectiveness has diminished in recent years.

I’m not saying it’s time to write off Troy, not by any means. The man is still one of the best Safety’s in the game but is he a game changer, enough to give Carnell Lake what he needs out of that group? Maybe, maybe not.

If you look at their replacements play thus far, you can make a strong case for a better defense when Deebo and Head & Shoulders get back on the field. Better defense, I didn’t say great defense.

Ryan Mundy has played in all 3 games so far for the Steelers, and has totaled 10 Tackles, 1 Assist for the defense. He’s been normally regarded as a solid Safety, not spectacular but he’ll generally get the job done. His biggest claim to fame so far this season was the monster hit on the Raiders Darrius Heyward-Bey. Maybe that’s a highlight for you or a lowlight but still, it was the most action he’s been able to muster this season to date. Clearly when Ryan Clark is on the field with Polamalu, the secondary is a better unit. No disrespect to Mundy but he’s no Clark or Polamalu. He gets caught up in traffic, doesn’t get his head around in coverage, and doesn’t have the closing speed that the other two have.

The combination of Jason Worilds and Chris Carter has been unspectacular to say the least. No one can expect either of these guys to play to the level of James Harrison but other than a sack by Worilds in week 1, these two have been handled regularly by the oppositions Offensive Line. Worilds was a 2nd round pick in 2010, the next great Linebacker, or so we hoped. Other than the sack this year he’s got just 4 tackles in spot duty on the outside. He spent a good portion of 2011 injured and the entire offseason rehabbing his injured wrist. He’s not back to full speed yet, another reason why he splits time with Carter.

The 2011, the Steelers drafted Chris Carter in the 5th round out of Fresno St. He saw limited action last year but this preseason he was the primary OLB opposite Lamarr Woodley. He has seen the lion’s share of the snaps so far in the regular season too, but save for the occasional pressure he’s not been able to consistently generate any pass rush. You can chalk this up to inexperience, and perhaps given time he can develop into a solid 34 Linebacker. Carter has 5 Tackles on the year so far, 3 solo, 2 assists.

We just can’t rationalize these losses as “oh well when Troy and James get back things will be different”. There are bigger issues with this entire unit right now including sloppy tackling, poor angles, penalties, and a lack of creativity and disguise with their schemes. Two men alone can’t fix all of that, but they certainly couldn’t do much worse either.


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