The Steelers are 6-2 at the half way point of the 2011 season so I thought it would be fun to hand out some mid-season awards before they take on the Ravens tonight. I was going to post these Friday night, but thought it would be fun to poll Steeler Nation first to see what they think as opposed to just putting up my selections. Here are the links to all the polls I put up and I have my selections and reasoning below for each in addition.
Best Offensive Lineman
My Choice - Max Starks - Many would think this is a slam dunk award for center Maurkice Pouncey, but since Starks has returned, the entire offensive line seems to have played better. While Starks has allowed 2 sacks, 1 quarterback hit and 5 pressures since he returned, he is not getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger killed and Roethlisberger looks incredibly comfortable more often in the pocket. While not overly dominate in the run blocking department it has been adequate considering how few times the Steelers run to the left. Starks will get his biggest test Sunday night against the Ravens and we will see if this award is truly justified. Pouncey has been good this year, but not great. Perhaps it is a by-product of all the shuffling that has gone on. This was a tough choice, but Starks wins it by a tiny margin.
Best Defensive Lineman
My Choice - Brett Keisel - This is a slam dunk as Keisel is playing way above the line this year despite missing 2 games. He has 3 sacks, 8 pressures and a three tipped balls to his credit, one that ended up being intercepted. He iced the games against the Jaguars and Patriots single-handedly and is a tremendous leader on defense. He has clearly found the fountain of youth and continues to bath in it.
Best Offensive Skill Position
My Choice - Ben Roethlisberger - While both Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown have played incredibly well this year, it is Roethlisberger that is getting them the ball. He is spreading the ball around to all eligible and doing a great job of taking what defense give him. The first game against the Ravens was indeed tough, but if not for his play since, the Steelers would not be 6-2.
My Choice - LaMarr Woodley - Sure this might be by default, but the last 4 games he has been on a tear. 9 sacks speaks loudly and he has 1 of the 3 turnovers via an interception of a tipped Keisel pass. After a slow start to the season he certainly is living up to that new contract.
Best Defensive Back
My Choice - Ike Taylor - Sure Taylor does not have an interception, but he is only allowing around a 30% completion rate when opposing quarterbacks have thrown at him. Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson are all big time receivers he has faced and pretty much shut down. He is absolutely playing at a Pro Bowl level. Easy choice here.
Most Improved Player Offense
My Choice - Mike Wallace - You do not hear head coach Mike Tomlin calling him a one trick pony anymore for a reason. He makes the Steelers offense a threat by just walking onto the field now as his route running has improved tremendously and opposing defenses have to now pick their poison with him. Even when the ball is not thrown his way, he opens up the rest of the field for Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Hines Ward and Heath Miller. The last thing is obvious as the homeruns have been amazing. He is easily now a top 5 receiver in the league.
Most Improved Player Defense
My Choice - Keenan Lewis - This was a close one between Lewis and William Gay, but the strides Lewis has made can not be ignored although I do think Gay has played better overall. The award is most improved and new defensive coach Carnell Lake now has Lewis playing up to his potential.
My Choice - Antonio Brown - Brown has yet to take one to the house, but he has been close to breaking one several times. He usually makes sound decisions and has posted a 28.9 kick-off average to go along with a 12.1 punt return average.
My Choice - Marcus Gilbert - Hands down this goes to Gilbert who stepped in when Willie Colon went down against the Ravens in week 1. While he still makes mistakes, you can see the progression nearly every week and he had perhaps his most impressive game this year against the Patriots. Despite some shoulder problems, he still has managed to log over 350 offensive snaps.
My Choice - Lawrence Timmons - I wanted to give Jason Worilds this award so bad, but I am not going to hold the quad injury against him. He certainly has missed a golden opportunity since James Harrison went down and you could say he is the reason Timmons gets this award instead. It might not be deemed fair to give it to Timmons, as he is playing out of position, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn\'t expecting more from him since the move to outside linebacker. He has been non-existent in the pass rush department and very, very quiet in run support. I will likely catch hell for this, but I stand by my decision. Hopefully he can move back inside now where he belongs and win the best linebacker award in the second half of the season.
My Choice - Carnell Lake - The secondary has played incredible this season and Lake has not only got Gay and Lewis playing at a higher level, but also has managed to get rookie Cortez Allen on the field now contributing. Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy also seemed to have raised their game as Clark is now making a big impact against the run. Offenses have not been able to just spread the Steelers defense out and the zone play early on was way above the standard.
My Choice - Ben Roethlisberger - Just do not think I have to justify this decision.
Poll Result - Ben Roethlisberger