The post on Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons by Jeremy Hritz from earlier this morning warrants an even deeper look at the drop-off the former first round draft pick had last season. Timmons finished tied for 50th in the league in 2011 with 93 combined tackles after finishing 8th in 2010 with 135.
The obvious reason that his tackle numbers dropped off last year was because of the injury to outside linebacker James Harrison, as Hritz noted in his post. When Harrison went down it forced Timmons into his spot at outside linebacker, where he obviously was not a fit and very uncomfortable. In his second start outside against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the former Florida State product did not even register a tackle or an assist. Over the four game span that he played outside he totaled just 12 combined tackles and 1 defensed pass.
In defense of Timmons, playing outside was not something he had much time to prepare to do. You have to remember that the lockout interrupted development for all players during the off-season and heading into the regular season Jason Worilds was slated to back up Harrison. Worilds was inactive for those four games that Timmons had to play outside in after injuring a quad against the Houston Texans, so basically Timmons was thrust into a spot he hadn\’t taken a regular season snap at since 2008.
When Timmons returned to his normal position inside against the Baltimore Ravens in week 9, he was playing beside Larry Foote as James Farrior missed that game with an injury. Timmons recorded 4 tackles in that game of which all four were regarded as stops. He also only played 64 of the 81 snaps in that game in addition as he was the linebacker to come off the field when the defense went into their dime and big nickel sub-packages.
From that game forward Timmons recorded 47 total tackles over the course of the next 6 regular season games, an average of nearly 8 a game. Keep in mind that he played roughly another 30 snaps outside combined in the games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers as well.
In total I have Timmons down for nearly 300 snaps played at outside linebacker of his 990 regular season snaps played on defense. That equates to him being just 30 snaps short of playing a third of his defensive snaps out of position. When you look at his drop-off in total tackles from 2010 to 2011, it is roughly about a third of a drop.
Some will continue to argue that Timmons bulking up some affected his game, but I just did not see that. Others will point to him having a huge amount of missed tackles as well, but in fact that number was under 10 by my count. Sure his pressure on the quarterback both outside and inside, when asked to blitz, was non existent, but the Steelers defense as a whole did a poor job pressure wise in 2011. I think we can all agree on that. The loss of both Harrison and LaMarr Woodley at different times really had an impact.
Hopefully in 2012 Timmons will be able to play all 16 regular season games at his normal spot inside and that should allow him to return to his 2010 form, which will hopefully include a handful more of sacks in addition. The only thing that I think Timmons was guilty of last season was not being a good outside linebacker, but that is why he plays inside. He is a playmaker that is best suited being covered up inside that relies on the defensive line doing their job so that he can eat.
In summation, I think that the 2011 season of Timmons was an aberration of sorts and it had to be very frustrating for him to go through. There is no reason to think that Timmons will not be back in the top 10 in tackles in the league in 2012, assuming he stays healthy and plays at his normal spot inside.