The Pittsburgh Steelers had the best pass defense in the league last season. This is an impressive feat in today’s pass-happy NFL, but can the Steelers repeat that performance?
The Steelers’ secondary when healthy is one of the most intimidating in the league. It boasts two of the hardest hitting safeties in the league, one of the league’s premiere cover corners, and a defensive mind on the sideline that knows how to make sure his players are always in the right position. But when you look down the depth chart beyond the Pro Bowl caliber starters the lack of depth in the secondary is alarming.
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are the starting safeties for the Steelers. Clark at the free safety position is one of the best run supporters and tacklers on the team, with over 70 tackles in each of the last two seasons. The Pro Bowl safety is not a turnover machine like other safeties but his punishing hits have been what has defined his career and his role as a Steeler.
Polamalu plays on the other side of the field from Clark. What is there to say about the seven time Pro Bowler and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year that hasn’t already been said? Polamalu is one of the best to ever play the safety position, he is known for his high-octane style of play that has him in the box on the line one second, then 20 yards away from the center in a blink of an eye. The problem with Polamalu is he can’t stay healthy! He has played only one full season in the last five years with injury problems that have been well documented.
Beyond Clark and Polamalu though, the Steelers’ safeties are not all that great. Very few of them have seen any action at the NFL level and still require much work to get to the point that they will be able to play in a game situation. Their most promising prospect is their fourth-round draft pick Shamarko Thomas, who has the raw talent and tools to be very successful but just needs to be developed.
The Steelers secondary also features Ike Taylor, one of the best cover corners in the league. Taylor has the ability to shutdown some of the best receivers the NFL has to offer, and last season he stopped guys like A.J. Green, Dez Bryant (it also helped that he was battling a thumb injury in that game), Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Bowe. The one problem with Ike Taylor is that he can’t catch the ball. He has never recorded more than 3 interceptions in a season and only has seven interceptions since 2008.
Opponents this season will have many opportunities to take advantage of the other side of the field. The Steelers have many problems finding somebody else to play opposite of Taylor and this year is going to be no exception. They will be looking to Cortez Allen and William Gay to be able to step up and occupy the other corner spot.
The secondary of the Steelers when healthy can easily be able to repeat the success that they had last season. But they need to be able to create more turnovers if they want to take their game up to the next level, and with a better pass rush this season, expect that to happen and expect the Steelers secondary to have an even better year than what they did last year.