Everyone in Steeler Nation hold up four fingers, because it’s the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter of the 2012 NFL season, that is.
There are 12 games down, four to go. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-5 and have the inside track on an AFC wild-card berth.
Let’s recognize those who have helped the Steelers get to this point and hand out awards for the first three quarters of the season.
Offensive MVP, Heath Miller
Ben Roethlisberger likely would have been the Steelers’ Offensive MVP had he stayed healthy. We’ve seen how valuable he is when the Steelers don’t have him, but Miller helped the Steelers stay afloat without Roethlisberger. He caught the game-tying touchdown pass from Charlie Batch in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ win in Baltimore on Sunday. He also caught a 43-yard pass to set up a tying touchdown in the third quarter. Late in the first half, with the Steelers facing third-and-8 at the Ravens’ 47, Miller caught a 17-yard pass and two plays later a seven-yard pass to set up a field goal the narrowed the Steelers’ deficit to 13-6 at halftime. Miller also has helped the Steelers with his blocking, and he’s done that grunt work while still compiling impressive numbers. He leads the Steelers in both receptions (56) and touchdowns (seven).
Defensive MVP, Lawrence Timmons
Ryan Clark has been the Steelers’ most consistent defender this season, but Timmons has pretty much won two games for the Steelers with his flashes of brilliance. He saved the Steelers from embarrassing home losses both times. Timmons was all over the field in the Steelers’ 16-14 win over the Eagles in Week 5. He had nine tackles and forced a fumble. Timmons leads the takeaway-starved Steelers defense with three interceptions, including one in overtime against the Chiefs that set up the game-winning field goal. Timmons also rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ 24-20 win over the New York Giants. He sacked Eli Manning on third down to force a three-and-out and pressured him into an incompletion on the Giants’ final drive. Timmons is third on the team with 73 total tackles and has five passes defensed.
Most Improved Player, Shaun Suisham
Suisham is probably the special teams MVP, too, but his improvement should be highlighted. He made only 74 percent of his field-goal attempts last season, worst in the NFL among kickers with at least 20 attempts. This season, Suisham has made 24 of his 25 field-goal tries, an NFL-best 96 percent. He’d be perfect if he wasn’t sent out for an ill-advised 54-yard attempt in Tennessee. He’s made all nine of his attempts between 40 and 49 yards. Suisham’s field goals have given the Steelers three walk-off wins this season. His 34-yarder beat the Eagles 16-14. His 23-yarder in overtime beat the Chiefs 16-13. His 42-yarder beat the Ravens as time ran out to put the Steelers in outstanding shape for a playoff berth.
Rookie of the Year, Mike Adams
We’ve probably seen the last of Adams this season, but before his injury he started six games at right tackle and helped solidify the offensive line. The Steelers had 100-yard rushers in three straight games for the first time since 2007 in wins over the Bengals, Redskins and Giants. Most importantly, Adams’ entry into the starting lineup coincided with the Steelers’ four-game winning streak that got them to 6-3.
Unsung Hero of the Year, Will Allen
It’s hard to quantify with statistics what Allen has done for the Steelers this season. His biggest contribution has been allowing Troy Polamalu to take his time coming back from a calf injury. Allen held his own filling in for Polamalu at strong safety, and the Steelers went 4-3 in the seven games he started. Allen did fill up the stat sheet in the Steelers’ 27-12 win over the Redskins with seven combined tackles and three passes defensed. But most of the time he’s quietly done his job, and he’s spared Steelers fans the nails-on-chalkboard sensation of hearing Ryan Mundy’s name mentioned.
Breakout Player of the Year, Keenan Lewis
Jason Worilds has been coming on strong lately, but Lewis is tied with the Bears’ Tim Jennings for the NFL lead in passes defensed with 19, according to The Washington Post. Lewis won the starting left cornerback job in training camp. He started just one game, and at times was on the roster bubble, in the first three years of his career. Lewis is fourth on the team with 57 combined tackles, and with Ike Taylor sidelined, he’s now the man of the house among Steelers cornerbacks.
Disappointment of the Year, LaMarr Woodley
We’re not just passing around bouquets here. Mike Wallace might be the popular choice for this booby prize, but he’s had some good games and has expanded his route-running. He’s no longer just a home run threat. Woodley, on the other hand, hasn’t been as much of a threat to opposing quarterbacks. While the pass rush showed signs of life in Baltimore, the Steelers are just 20th in the league with 25 sacks this season. Woodley has four of those sacks, but that’s after getting nine sacks in 10 games last season. Injuries have hampered Woodley this season. He’s missed two games and sat out long stretches of games that he has started. Nonetheless, more is expected from a player who registered double-digit sacks every year from 2008 to 2010. If the Steelers had a more tenacious pass rush, their defense might have more than 12 takeaways, which is tied for 28th in the league.
Coach of the Year, Sean Kugler
Even though prized draft pick David DeCastro has yet to play a down this season, the offensive line is the Steelers’ most improved unit. Ben Roethlisberger had been sacked at least 40 times five of the last six seasons, but was on pace to be sacked less than 40 times this season before his injury. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, not exactly speedsters, both have had 100-yard rushing games behind this offensive line. Kugler’s finest hour as offensive line coach came Sunday in Baltimore. An injury to Willie Colon forced Maurkice Pouncey to play guard, which he hadn’t done since his freshman year in college, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Doug Legursky played center. Seventh-round rookie Kelvin Beachum played right tackle. This patchwork line limited the Ravens to two sacks of Charlie Batch, a much less mobile sack target than Roethlisberger, and paved the way for Batch to throw for 276 yards, his most as a Steeler.