The 2012 Steelers are suffering injury woes just after two games. Hell, they were lucky to get out of the preseason with a portion of the draft class still intact. The glaring injuries on defense have kept former DPOY’s James Harrison and Troy Polamalu on the sidelines, and will most likely see them in street clothes this Sunday in Oakland. With the loss of reigning defensive captain James Farrior, much has been speculated this offseason regarding the gaps in leadership on the Steelers. Enter LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark. Putting the first game in Denver behind us, last week at home the Steelers defense held the Jets scoreless in the entire second half, primarily because the Steelers offense hogged the ball most of the time, but also because of the efforts of Clark and Woodley.
It’s not even worth speculating at this point, neither Harrison nor Polamalu have practiced yet this week and the Steelers will have a bye next week, therefore do not expect to see either on the field this Sunday. That being said, how can the Steelers defense remain dominant without their two most dynamic players? Because the players that play opposite of them are just as dynamic, that’s why. Harrison’s knee injury that sprung up during training camp compounded with the loss of 3rd round draft pick Sean Spence as well as an injured Stevenson Sylvester has left the LB corps pretty thin this early in the season. Polamalu’s calf injury has him on the sidelines with the cause and progress on his condition kind of a mystery at this point. It’s not even known if his calf injury is at all related to the Achilles’ injury he had in the past.
In my season predictions, I pegged LaMarr Woodley to break the sack record this season and last Sunday Woodley took the first step towards that goal getting his first sack on Mark Sanchez. After barely rushing Manning at all in the first game in Denver, Sanchez seemed to be dodging Woodley all day long while he was out on the field. Woodley had to sit out most of 2011 with a hamstring injury after starting off furiously amassing nearly double digit sacks in just over half a season’s worth of games. When Woodley gets to rush the quarterback, Woodley gets to the quarterback. Expect to see him get the same kind of looks at Carson Palmer.
There’s no doubting the impact that a player like Troy Polamalu has on a game. The just watching how Peyton Manning readjust his play calling at the line of scrimmage after seeing where Polamalu was lined up can tell you that. What is not always highlighted is how Ryan Clark makes the Steelers defense as successful as it has been. There is not a better safety tandem in the league than Clark and Polamalu, that’s for damn sure. But how well Clark performed in Polamalu’s absence shows how well Clark can play when he has more freedom to roam the field. Clark led the Steelers defense last week in tackles, and led the team last season in the same category. If the receiver is going to dare going across the middle of the field, you can bet your paycheck Clark is going to light him up. When asked about Clark’s work ethic, Steelers DC Dick LeBeau said,
“I think its work ethic and overall intelligence and conditioning. He’s very much the consummate pro. He approaches his job as he’s going to work and brings his lunch bucket with him. He’s going to give you a good, honest day and almost always plays well.”
You can guarantee if Woodley and Clark both have good games in Oakland that will translate in to a W for the Black & Gold. The presence of James Farrior may still be missed on the field and in the locker room but the Steelers no longer have to look for who’s stepping up to be leaders on the field.
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