In the recent past, the secondary was the weak link of the Steelers’ defense. It was widely known that while teams may not have been able to run the ball on Pittsburgh, you could have success throwing it.
That has changed in more recent years, and 2012 was no exception.
The Steelers led the NFL in yards allowed passing, and were 7th in the league in opposing completion percentage. In 2011, the Steelers also led the league in passing yards allowed, and were fifth in the league in opposing completion percentage.
So, as you can see, the secondary have played very well recently. This is especially true when you consider that the Steelers were only 14th in sacks per game in 2012 (12th in 2011).
Leading the way for the Steelers backfield were Ryan Clark (Two interceptions, seven passes defended, and two forced fumbles to go along with 74 tackles and a fumble recovery), Keenan Lewis (23 passes defended and 54 tackles), and Cortez Allen (Two picks, 10 passes defensed, a fumble recovery, and 38 tackles).
The good news is that Lewis and Allen are still young. Lewis will be in his fifth season in 2013, while Allen will be in his third.
Now, the bad news. Troy Polamalu has shown a propensity for getting injured. 2012 is the second time in four years he has played seven or fewer games in a season. In fact, Troy has played all 16 games in a season just twice in since 2005. The former Defensive Player of the Year is a difference maker on the field. The problem is that he is not on the field enough to make a difference.
Ike Taylor is a very good cover corner except that he has a documented history “stone-hands.” Taylor has never caught more than three interceptions in a season, and has only recorded seven picks in the last five seasons.
Taylor will be in his 12th season in 2013, and while he may not be old yet, he is no spring chicken. It will get harder and harder to cover younger, faster guys like Torrey Smith (Ravens), Mohamed Massaquoi (Browns), and AJ Green (Bengals).
So, what does all this mean?
Like everything in football, the answer to that is complex and reliant on other things. The defense played well this year from a statistical point of view, but some of that can be attributed to the offense putting them in bad positions. If the opposing offense gets the ball on the fifty, they realistically only have to go 20 yards to have a shot at some points.
The real issue, much like the linebackers, is that this group did not get enough turnovers. The Steelers were 27th in interceptions per game, not nearly good enough.
For this defense to be considered one of the best, and for this group of corners and safeties to be feared and respected, they have to take the ball away from the other team much more often.
But given what they had to deal with in terms of bad field position and injuries, it could have been much, much worse.
The younger players in this area continue to improve, but the older players are showing signs of their ages. Polamalu needs to be on the field more, and everyone needs to get the ball away from opposing offenses more often. Overall, though, it is hard not to be impressed with how this unit played. I give the defensive secondary a B-.
Author’s note: Steelers Nation, I have a friend, a dedicated Steelers fan and a son of the Steel City, who is having some medical troubles. Please send your thoughts and hopes to him for me. Get well soon, Mike.