The Steelers looked to find a groove with their first and second teams on defense against the Colts after a shaky beginning to the pre-season against the Eagles. There were a couple players on defense I pointed out prior to the game who needed to step up their game. Let’s take a look at them and others who had notable performances on Sunday night.
With the injury to James Harrison, all eyes were on Chris Carter and how he would begin to settle in were he to ever start at OLB in place of Harrison. Even though Harrison will more than likely return for Week 1 or 2, Carter will need to be ready. Harrison and Woodley play explosive and very physical styles of defense – injuries are not uncommon with these two, and Carter will find himself in a series or two each week. Carter did very well facing a hot handed Andrew Luck and a speedy wide receiver core. Carter found himself penetrating the line of scrimmage on numerous run blitzes, and actually out ran a couple of plays because of his ability to get through so quickly. He also had pretty good pass coverage when he was forced to drop back over the middle with his assignment. There was on questionable holding call late in the 1st quarter, but the receiver’s momentum appeared to be the cause of why he fell down and not because Carter had a grasp on the left shoulder. Carter ended up with zero tackles on the night but showed that he can help Timmons in a zone and will have plenty of opportunities of making plays in the backfield.
Even though Dick LeBeau said prior to the game against the Colts that Cortez Allen was the nickel corner to start the season, Allen could still vie for the #2 spot over Keenan Lewis. Allen had several nice coverages while in the nickel slot. He had the focus to nab a bobbled pass from a Colts receiver, even though his run back was a little suspect. Allen has matured nicely since his rookie season. Should Lewis go down with injury, Allen could be a really solid backup as he continues to improve.
Speaking of interceptions – Face Me Ike had a really nice grab. On what was a clear curl route, Ike Taylor played off his man just long enough to bait Luck into throwing the ball. Taylor jumped the route early enough and snagged the ball for a nice interception and an even better run back for a touchdown. Ike said that he wanted to improve his hands over the offseason. I guess this was a nice step in the right direction to break away from being just a shut down corner.
Casey Hampton came off the PUP list before the Colts game along with teammate Rashard Mendenhall. Hampton probably won’t be ready to go until after Week 1, so guys like Steve McClendon. Ziggy Hood is also under that microscope and appeared to struggle a bit against the Colts’ offensive line. Hood, who is usually a staple at backup to Hampton, was eaten up by blockers for most of his time on the field. He did have two tackles and assist on the night. It is still early, there’s plenty of preseason left. And, NT for the Steelers really isn’t suppose to rack up the tackles in a game. But from watching the game and going back to the DVR, it seems that Hood is missing some physicality that he usually brings to the position.
Other defensemen had glimmers of solid play Sunday night. LaMarr Woodley had a sack off of what looked to be a naked bootleg by Luck. Woodley easily tracked him down. It wasn’t clear from the replay if it was a blown play or if Luck really was meant to be out in the open, but Woodley handled him with ease. It was good to see – Luck was elusive for most of his evening and was able to step up away from pursuing defenders. Keenan Lewis had four tackles on the evening and almost had a tipped ball/pick late in the 2nd half. He cut the route a little on the late side and found himself with empty hands and a receiver ready to turn up field. He was backed up nicely by Ryan Clark who stopped the play. The next time he does something like that, Lewis better tip the ball or come up with a pick or he’ll see his coverage speeding off towards the endzone.
The defense is still finding its groove. Dick LeBeau had a few new look wrinkles in his defenses, which threw Luck and Arians for a loop at times. A no lineman ‘amoeba’ set is a new look for most of us. It will be interesting to see how that formation evolves into the regular season and how this defense will try and find itself as the #1 D in the league once again.