By Alex Kozora
A Pittsburgh Steelers player by player recap, grouped by position, reviewing the 2013 season. Looking at the rest of the secondary – the safeties.
Troy Polamalu: Troy silenced any naysayers with a strong 2013 season under unusual circumstances. Some expected this to be the start of his swan song; a season to reminisce about how great Polamalu was. But #43 had different ideas, racking up 69 tackles, forcing a career high five fumbles, and picking off two passes, returning one for a score.
Just as importantly, Troy was healthy. He played all 1093 snaps, one of just 12 defensive players in the league to play 100% of his team’s snaps.
He’s one of the most prideful and aggressive safeties against the run. Will sacrifice his body to take on a double team, leap over a pile, or blow up a pulling guard. There is no one more fearless against the run than Troy Polamalu.
That quality coupled with the ability to line him up anywhere on the field really screws with opponent’s blocking schemes. Numerous times was he double-teamed because both lineman thought it was his job to block Troy. Allows free rushers. I once put it as “playing nose tackle at a fraction of the size”.
Just as easily as he confused lineman, he can confuse quarterbacks into recognizing the wrong coverage. My favorite example came in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears. Troy starts close to the line with the defense in a single high, Cover 1 or Cover 3, look. Bears run playaction so Jay Cutler’s back is turned to the field on the snap. Troy drops into the deep half and it’s Cover 2. A whole new coverage when Cutler turns around and the pass ends up incomplete.
His playing style and to an extent, the nature of his position, lends itself to taking chances but Troy did appear to be burned more often than usual.
The infamous play against New England where Tom Brady manipulated Troy into an easy score to Danny Amendola (No 2 WR on the left side).
Staring in the backfield and missing a wide open Brandon Pettigrew down the seam.
And overpursuing against the option, leading to a 48 yard run by Ryan Tannehill.
He had to adapt to essentially playing a new position, acting as a linebacker in dime packages. That began early in the year (still below is from Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals) and only increased as the year progressed.
That hindered his greatest strength. Being able to read the whole defense and make an educated guess. Playing linebacker gave him tunnel vision. Harder to read the routes of the receivers, see the concepts, and predict where the ball will go. Became more about reading the eyes of the quarterback and hoping he takes you to the football. Works against Ryan Tannehill but less often against Tom Brady.
Polamalu blitzed 48 times on the season. Most of any Steeler in the secondary.
He’s entering the final year of his contract with a hefty cap number of nearly $10 million. Asking him for a paycut doesn’t seem a likely option and outright releasing him would be a reckless approach for a player still at a high level. With this being the final year of his deal, the Steelers can’t push any money down the road in a restructure. The only possibility seems to be a short contract extension that would rid the team of this year’s high cap hit.
Would Troy be open to that? Possibly. But he’s the type of guy that won’t play football forever. His life doesn’t solely revolve around football. Family and faith are extremely important to him. The type of guy that could walk away from the game even if his tank isn’t on empty. So treat each season as his last and recognize the remarkable career you’ve witnessed.
Ryan Clark: Clark had been one of the most under-appreciated players in the league during his time in Pittsburgh. Another player that is fearless against the run, Clark is best known for sacrificing his body. The snaps he missed in 2013, eight in all, stemmed from that violent manner getting the best of him. It’s safe to say his body will pay the price for his career when he gets older…if it hasn’t already.
Which is why it’s especially disappointing to see Clark struggle so mightily this season. He still played like a kamikaze against the run, flinging himself into running backs. And you have to respect the guy for that. But he missed far too many tackles. His presence as the last line of defense has been an integral reason why the Steelers don’t allow splash plays in the run game. When he fails, as he did on Matt Forte’s 55 yard run and Giovani Bernard’s second touchdown early in the season, those momentum-changing plays occur. Both came as a result of poor angles.
Pass coverage was worse. Clark was easily fooled either but the quarterback’s eyes
Or window dressing. Greg Jennings sent into the flats that holds Clark and two others
Being fooled on playaction against Cleveland Week 17
Along with him biting on underneath crossers that led to touchdowns by Danny Amendola and Calvin Johnson.
And times where no one in the secondary seemed to know what was happening.
The most infuriating moment came against the Green Bay Packers. The blocked kick debacle. Yes, it’s painfully obvious the refs were at fault. But it never gets to that point if Clark doesn’t make the selfish play of trying to lateral the ball. Fall to the ground and get your offense back out onto the field. The kick was blocked and the lead preserved. Doing anything extra is just greed and an unnecessary risk.
Clark will be a free agent in March. With the team drafting Shamarko Thomas and Will Allen playing well enough, Clark might not be back.
Will Allen: The former Steeler was re-signed coming out of the bye week after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys. He began his second stint with the team being used solely on special teams; starting on the kickoff unit and seeing action on kick coverage and punt returns throughout the year.
It wasn’t until Week 10 against Buffalo did Allen supplant Robert Golden in dime packages. From there, he averaged 47 snaps a game, finishing with 380 on defense. More than Steve McLendon.
The veteran presence was a benefit and he had bright moments. Was asked to match up against the 6’7 Joseph Fauria against Detroit and held him out of the end zone.
In that game, he did what Ryan Clark couldn’t. Not bite on underneath crossers and carry vertical. Earned himself a crucial interception.
Forced a fumble and chipped in nine tackles in the victory over the Lions.
He makes an open field tackle against Ray Rice a few weeks later. Only Steeler in the vicinity with the backside defenders caught in a pileup. If he doesn’t wrap up, it’s a big run. Would be embarrassing to allow against the anemic Ravens’ rushing attack.
At the time, I called his tackle of James Starks near the goalline a season-saving play. Was able to get downhill with Starks cutting back and make the tackle solo.
Unfortunately, there was as much bad as there was good. At times, showed poor fundamentals tackling, failing to wrap up Daniel Thomas.
Pulled a Clark, biting on a crosser that left Torrey Smith open for a 54 yard gain. With Ike Taylor having outside leverage, Allen has to carry vertical and give help.
His special teams play became shoddy and was a reason why the Steelers’ kick return coverage suffered down the stretch.
If the team doesn’t make a move in free agency or the draft, Allen will be battling Shamarko Thomas for the starting FS gig into camp. The winner depends on Thomas’ progress but I wouldn’t be comfortable with Allen being asked to start a full season. He’s more suited to a role in subpackages; and even then, playing less than what he was asked in 2013 where he was a de facto starter.
This is all under the assumption that Allen, a free agent, is brought back. But with Clark likely to be shown the door and Allen’s presumably cheap price, those odds seem good. Safety would be too thin if both veterans were let go.
Shamarko Thomas: Thomas, with the same fiery style that endears fans to Clark and Troy, had a relatively nondescript rookie season. He did earn a hat on pretty much every special teams’ role from Week One. Started as a gunner and jammer on punts. Played on kick coverage and return unit. Roles he retained for most of the season although he lost his gunner spot to Markus Wheaton upon returning from his ankle sprain.
Thomas’ lack of height 5’9 proved to be an issue when matched up against tight ends. The team avoided it altogether, asking Robert Golden to cover Jermaine Gresham in Week 2. Martellus Bennett shows his dominance in the animation below. Bennett at the top of the picture, around the 30. Thomas lacks the strength to jam.
It got worse later in the game, allowing a touchdown pass on a corner route, again against Bennett. Tough route and concept (smash) to defend but Thomas’ lacked technique. Showed that he was a rookie. Punches with the wrong hand and his hips aren’t open when Bennett blows past. Is put in trail position and unable to recover.
Thomas would suffer an ankle injury against Buffalo and not see another snap on defense the rest of the season, finishing with 192. But wore multiple hats on special teams and became a solid contributor.
As noted above, Thomas will come into camp competing for a starting role. Failing that, he’ll repeat what he did at the start of this year, playing in nickel and dime packages.
Robert Golden: Golden mainly served on special teams, chiefly as the upback on punts, an important role that was open after Ryan Mundy was let go. He did log time on defense early in the season playing 51 snaps in total.
He struggled against Minnesota, taking a bad angle on Greg Jennings’ first touchdown and later guessing on a route and getting burned.
Again, out of position and Jerome Simpson turns it into a 51 yard reception.
Consequently, he was phased out of the defense and didn’t play again save one snap against Green Bay. He graded out well as a special teamer though and finished with 14 tackles. He’s under contract for 570K in 2014 and will be a restricted free agent the following season.
Jordan Dangerfield: Signed to a futures deal on January 10th, the former Towson product figures to be nothing more than a spring/camp body. He does boast a strong college resume, being named Towson’s defensive player of the year twice.
Up Next: Specialists
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Quarterbacks
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Running Backs
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Wide Receivers
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Tight Ends
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Tackles
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Centers/Guards
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Defensive Linemen
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Outside Linebackers
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Inside Linebackers
Steelers 2013 Player Evaluations By Position – Cornerbacks