By Jeremy Hritz
There is no question that Ben Roethlisberger is critical to the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, and that his absence from the lineup encumbers the unit’s potential. His unique skill set provides a variety of offensive possibilities that challenge defenses in ways that no other quarterback can.
Troy Polamalu used to be Roethlisberger’s equivalent on the defensive side of the football, delivering the banger in the clutch to redirect fading momentum. Now, at age 32, Polamalu is entering his 11th season with the Steelers, and his ability to conjure up the splash plays that he has so long been known for is greatly in question, primarily due to his difficulty to stay healthy.
In 2009 and 2010 combined, the Steelers were 6-7 without Polamalu in the lineup, and his presence was key to the success of the defense. After another injury-ridden 2012, Polamalu’s legendary role on the defense has dimmed a bit, and heading into 2013, it is another defender that is essential to the success of the Steel Curtain, and that player is Lawrence Timmons.
This past season was Timmons’ best, and though he didn’t finish with career highs in total tackles or sacks, his play was explosive, and of any defender, he demonstrated the ability to make a play when needed. There is no greater example of this than against the then 1-8 Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 when Timmons picked off a Matt Cassel pass and returned it 23 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Had Timmons not have made that play, the Steelers playoff aspirations would have died much sooner than they unfortunately did.
Timmons was ranked as the fourth-best inside linebacker by Pro Football Focus as a result on his dual-talents of stopping the run and covering the pass, the latter being something that he excelled at in 2012, picking off three passes, a career high, and returning one for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns. Timmons also accounted for six sacks, including two in each of the final two games of the season against Cincinnati and Cleveland.
In 2011, Timmons saw a drop in his production, mainly due to playing out of position at outside linebacker when James Harrison was injured, and this came after a 2010 season in which he posted a career-high in tackles (135). This past season, Timmons proved just how effective he can be, and heading into year number seven, there is reason to believe that he is just now entering the prime of his career.
Timmons was the best player on the Steelers defense in 2012, and there is no reason to believe that will change this coming season. With the current dearth of talent and depth at the inside linebacker position, losing Timmons to an injury could have a stultifying effect on the defense, leading to an inability to stop the run, and consequently, the inability to keep opponents off of the scoreboard.
Thankfully for the Steelers, Timmons has been an exemplar of health throughout his career, except for a minor groin issue. If the Steelers are going to return to the postseason, a healthy Timmons, the new Troy Polamalu of the defense, is a requirement.