Aug 19, 2012; Pittsburgh , PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (43) stands on the sidelines against the Indianapolis Colts during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

Even When Healthy, Are the Steelers That Much Better?

For the first time since 2003, things aren’t looking good for the Steelers. Apparently the defense doesn’t trust the system which is a problem when right now they’re one of the worst in all of football. Their dominance of the Jets is looking more like the status quo than impressive and at this rate, the Steelers may be hurtling towards another 6-10 debacle.

But there is one looming fallback: the injured Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.

The offense is very good but constant rumors of rifts between Roethlisberger and Haley lead me to think it’s only a matter of time before Ben’s MVP like numbers fall back to earth. With that, the Steelers are looking at a tough stretch of games from October 21 through November 18 against teams with very good offenses. Before that, Pittsburgh gets two teams with the potential to throw up big numbers with Philadelphia and Tennessee. Hence the urgency to fix the defense.

But how effective is the defense when healthy? Especially when Dick LeBeau is missing a 34 year old with knee issues and an again safety?

Current news on Harrison isn’t pretty. Apparently, he missed the latest practice, which is not a good sign when he tried so hard to play the last two weeks. Either way, the Steelers’ young linebackers aren’t James Harrison yet, but week to week Chris Carter and Jason Worilds continue to improve. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy James Harrison means a better pass rush when he’s on the field, but he’s not an every down player and his mere impact isn’t going to definitively swing a game towards the Steelers.

Troy Polamalu is an entirely different story. According to Football Outsiders, Troy, whenever he is healthy, is the premier playmaker at his position. The advanced statistics group essentially ranked all impact plays (turnovers, tackles, 3rd and 4th down stops) and attempted to see who has the most “defeats.” In both running and passing plays, Troy was in the top three among safeties even though he was injured. Statistically, Troy is one of a slight few players who make the offense feel as if they are going up against 12 men. That kind of impact can’t be replaced by Ryan Mundy or even Ed Reed.

Essentially, James Harrison’s loss will hurt the Steelers, but not enough to change the defense’s fate all that much. Troy on the other hand can if he’s 100%. If Troy comes back from this bye week ready to go for the rest of the season, the Steelers can go from a six or seven win team to a nine win team. Knew that hair had magical powers.

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  • Kelly A

    There’s something very essential to note, the Steelers defense ranks 5th in pass and 15th in the run; overall their defensive ranking is 7th in the NFL. So this idea that the Steelers defense is “one of the worst in all of football” is absurd. I believe people such as yourself are getting too caught up with the fact that they have some key injuries and they’ve lost two games. Despite how they lost those two games, it’s only been two games; but more to the point, the stat that I posted shows that despite having key players missing and losing two games, they are actually playing very well on defense. This team has plenty of time to make the right adjustments, especially on the D-line where the true problems lies. At the end of it all this team will be amongst the best. This idea that the Steelers are “that much better” when healthy can be applied to any team in the NFL, as practically every team has key injuries impeding them in some shape or form. In all is way too early to diagnose this Steelers team after just 3 games, and assume that they’re heading towards a 6-10 record; I strongly believe that all Steelers fans including yourself will be surprised as to how well this team will do this season.

    • Craig

      The one stat you leave out, Kelly is that they are 20th in points allowed – 25 ppg. Now the defense has been at a bit of a disadvantage by having to defend a short field in some of those situations due to offensive turnovers or short punts from Butler. This would also contribute to some of their stats looking better as to how many yards they are giving up.

      I think most of us are worried because that kind of stat (points allowed) shows the fortitude of a defense. The Steelers can’t make the stop when they need to. A 10 point lead in the 4th quarter is not safe for this team. Ten points – two or more possessions MUST happen in order to reach and/or surpass that amount. It’s unsettling to consider that the defense can’t even stop a team enough to keep them from scoring 10 points in a quarter.

      The two games they lost were against teams that were reeling with injuries and/or suspensions on offense and defense. The defense should have been able to contain Manning and Palmer – at least Palmer in case you are Manning Homer. The Steelers should be 2-1 or 3-0 going into the bye. I think Andrew poses a very valid question: the Steelers are hurting so much on defense – both in performance and in defensive scheme by LeBeau – that should we even feel better about the state of things if Harrison and Polamalu return?

      I think most of us here at NPC wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers fall to 6-10 this season. But I for one wouldn’t be equally surprised if they found a way to scrap enough wins for a 9-7 or better record.

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