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.