By Jeremy Hritz
Lost in this week’s discussion leading up to round two against the Baltimore Ravens has been the impact of Troy Polamalu on a defense that has played extremely well in the secondary over the last six games. Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Clark, and Will Allen have become an obstacle for quarterbacks, not in the sense that they are picking off passes, but by limiting completions and big yardage through the air.
While Dick LeBeau has said that Polamalu’s snaps may be limited on Sunday, it is uncertain whether or not his return will hurt or help the defense. The adage, if it ain’t broke is definitely applicable to this situation, yet it would be insane not to insert the All-World Polamalu back into the starting line-up. The question is this: will LeBeau use Polamalu as he has in the past, or will he modify and adapt what he does on the field to enhance the strengths that this passing defense has displayed? Will we see five defensive backs on the field in the big nickel with Polamalu rushing in an effort to increase pressure on the quarterback?
Whatever the case may be, hopefully LeBeau does not drastically change what has been done in the secondary, and in fact, does use Polamalu in a way that keeps the recent defensive approach intact.
The other change we will see this week will be at outside linebacker opposite James Harrison with Jason Worilds. LaMarr Woodley once again is out with an injury, something that is becoming a common theme with the heralded outside backer, and Worilds will step into his spot. Worilds played well last week filling in for Woodley and recorded two sacks. While he has only started one game this season against Tennessee, he still has comparable statistics to Woodley (see table below). The now healthy Worilds leads the Steelers with five sacks, and his solid play last week provides for some optimism about the pressure he can potentially bring. Will he put together another solid performance to compensate for the loss of Woodley? The Steelers will need him to do so if they are going to have any chance to win in Baltimore.
Lastly, the Steelers are accustomed to shuffling players on the offensive line as injuries week to week over the last couple of years have become commonplace. With the potential shifting of Maurkice Pouncey moving to left guard to accommodate Doug Legursky’s strength at the center position, rookie seventh round pick Kelvin Beachum is getting his first start. This will be the second rookie to start for the Steelers at right tackle this season, though there is less confidence in Beachum than there was in Mike Adams. While Beachum has not been awful in the limited snaps he has gotten this season against the Raiders and the Browns, he negated an important pass to Heath Miller last week with a holding call. While the expectation for Beachum is lower than it was for Adams, it will be intriguing to see how he holds up for a full game against a division rival. Best case scenario, Beachum stifles Paul Kruger and emerges as a quality option moving forward on the offensive line, or he performs averagely, or below as expected and nobody is surprised. Here’s to hoping he can get it done.
The impact that Polamalu, Worilds, and Beachum have on the overall performance of the Steelers tomorrow could go a long way in determining the chances for the win. If Polamalu can get a pick, Worilds can grab a few sacks, and Beachum can grab… well, if Beachum doesn’t grab and can at least slow down the edge rushers of the Ravens, then just maybe the Steelers can steal one in Baltimore.