Steelers Film Room: Lawrence Timmons Vs Saints

Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers announced last week that they have reached an agreement with fourth-year inside linebacker Vince Williams on a new three-year deal that extends through the 2018 season, beat writers and bloggers alike have been hastening toward the demise of Lawrence Timmons, penning many an epitaph for the elderly 30-year-old professional athlete.

It may indeed come to pass that Timmons, in the final year of his current contract, will not be re-signed by the Steelers next offseason, and that it in in their plans for Williams to take over as the starting buck linebacker—as an aside, in such an event, it would be interesting to see if the play-calling duties revert back to the buck position.

The primary focal point that critics of Timmons have made is the fact that his stability as a coverage linebacker has declined in recent years, when he was actually among the best in the league at his position for a few years.

And indeed, it would be fair to say that he has regressed in that area, and that a loss of some speed and perhaps athleticism have a part to play in that. But it’s not as though he is incompetent. At the same token, a good quarterback is going to be tempted to test him vertically.

I think we saw a bit of a mixed bag from Timmons in coverage against the Saints, even if the features memory from the game may be the number of deep targets. After all, the snaps in coverage that prevent a throw being made are not as easily picked up on.

Timmons is certainly capable of performing his basic responsibilities in coverage on underneath throws, and I think the majority of even his critics can acknowledge that. An early example of this tackle on a four-yard play early in the game would be adequate.

The headlines are the deep throws, however, and there were a few of those. He was beaten deep on a vertical throw just a few plays later to tight end Coby Fleener for 26-yards, but an offensive hold negated the play. In truth, Timmons was not in bad position on the throw, which was directly on point by the ever-accurate deep thrower, Drew Brees.

He was less well-off on another deep throw to Willie Snead, drawing a penalty against him and being a step behind, though, in fairness, covering a wide receiver is a bit of a mismatch. Timmons tried unsuccessfully to reroute him, which drew the defensive holding penalty, declined in favor of the 26-yard play.

Finally, late in the half, Timmons very nearly gave up another deep ball, this time to the tight end Fleener again, but Sean Davis helped break it up late—in a questionable manner. The tight end ran up his gut and put him off his line, slow into his back pedal as a result.

As mentioned, Timmons’ game was a bit of a mixed bag, including a mismatch, and perhaps an offensive penalty that should have been called against Fleener on that last throw. A number of deep passes might be inclined to make a linebacker look worse.

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Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Scunge

    Obviously this is a Steeler site, but I have to wonder if other teams put there ILBs in coverage situations like the Steelers do so often. It sort of reminds me of how back in the day Harrison and Woodley dropped into coverage so often, compared to other teams who were content to let their OLBs just pin their ears back and rush, rush, rush.

    I remember when James Farrior was getting up in age and there we were asking him to cover the likes of Jones-Drew, Darren Sproles, the Antonio Gates, WRs. Just brutal.

  • rdjmsr53

    I agree. In the GIF’s it looks like he’s running pretty far just to get to someone. If that’s the defense I doubt there aren”t many ILB’s that could cover a receiver from that spot. Maybe it’s a scheme thing and not a player thing.

  • falconsaftey43

    I’d imagine a lot of teams do this. I think all these examples of seam throws were against Tampa-2, it’s the MLB’s job to wall off the vertical threat and trail underneath. Seam against cover 2 is a killer unless you have a really gifted MLB. I don’t think it’s a Timmons thing so much as it is scheme. There aren’t many MLBs that could cover Fleener (or other fast TEs) one on one down the seam.

  • ATL96STEELER

    You’re right…most ILBs or LBs in general just are not equipped to fill an A gap to stop a 230 lb RB and also cover a TE down the seam 20 yds down field…Keughley is the one guy that stands out that can right now.

    IMO that’s one reason why the old school buck is becoming more of a specialty player and hybrids like Shazier are becoming more in demand.

    The Falcons got this kid DeVondre Campbell…4th rd pick….6’4, 230ish…not the blazer that Shazier is but 4.5ish, long, athletic…they didn’t know what to expect…this kid will be getting a lot of snaps in nickel as a rookie, and imo starting by the end of the year.

    That’s why I would not get rid of Fenney and expose him to waivers…probably miscast as a 3-4 OLB, but he has similar athletic ability.

  • popsiclesticks

    Yeah, I probably wouldn’t keep Feeney but I definitely agree that he probably works best as an ILB functioning as Shazier insurance.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Fair point…Fenney is in a tough spot on this squad to be honest…as an OLB he’s at least a season maybe more away from being able to play that spot for Butler…as an ILB Matakevich has earned it over him.

    But they didn’t think Howard Johnson could play OLB either and he’s working as 4-3 LB for Tampa…from an athletic defender standpoint…I hope he makes it to the PS is he is waived.

  • ObiRynDenobi

    There’s not much a defender can legally do on throws that accurate, other than get to him faster before he makes them. You’re never going to totally shutdown an upright elite quarterback!

    LT still has at least a few good years left, but my problem is he is SO expensive! For $11-12 million a year, I want to see ‘splash’ (sacks, tackles for loss, forced and recovered fumbles, interceptions, passes defensed) totaling up in the twenties each year along with over 120 tackles every year — Potsie/Troy-type numbers. You just don’t get that much ‘splash’ from Timmons.

    LT is rock solid and has been during a period when frankly the level of defense in general and line-backing in particular has been lower than at anytime in my 55 year memory, but I want to see more bang for that many bucks.

    I hope he gets his deal. But I hope it’s a LOT cheaper! Those bucks are definitely going to be needed elsewhere (DeCastro, AB, Bell, Wheaton, Tuitt, etc.).

  • Nick Sabatella

    I have mentioned this a couple times before…. I really thought Shazier was going to be the primary coverage linebacker running with WRs and TEs down the seams…. not Timmons. I feel like the organization has made a decision, and they are sticking with it. It looks like Timmons is being forced into real tough situations and is getting a lot of flack for not being as hyper-athletic as Shazier. I think Timmons is still a beast, he is just being given some real tough assignments in space.

  • Zarbor

    Agreed. The issue here with Timmons is his coverage down the middle needs to work in conjunction with the pass rush aka pressure. It the second clip you can clearly see why Jarvis Jones is still a work in progress and doesn’t quite get it.

    Jarvis clearly has an inside track to Brees but can’t get off the block quick enough to get to him before the receiver is down the middle. A quick spin would have got him there in time or a quick push and explosion to the QB would have done it. The OL holds him just enough to let Brees get the ball off.

    In the fourth clip Ross Cockrell completely botches the sack. Just awful. You won’t get a sack easier than that and he botched it. Once again, if Timmons has to go that deep, the pressure isn’t working. Or as we see in the third clip, you are playing against an elite QB. That was a great throw by Brees, not bad coverage by Timmons.

    Timmons isn’t as fast but he doesn’t need to be if the guys upfront get to the QB when they have clear opportunities to do so.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Z….you are correct that pass rush helps coverage but that’s textbook DEF football and applies to every pass defender.

    When you know your personnel does not have a dominant pass rusher and is more of a scheme or pressure by committee type DEF it does put more pressure on your pass defenders.

    To Timmons credit…defending the seam does put your back to the QB and that’s the most difficult job in coverage even for a CB so I can give any LB a pass there but you still have to be close enough to make the pass difficult as he was in the gif.

    We’ll have to see how it goes but I’m sure OCs will target Timmons in coverage if the opportunity is there and he will have to make plays to stay on the field in passing situations.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Ideally it makes sense to have Shazier in coverage, but OCs are smarter enough to iso LT and any defender in coverage where they feel the match up favors them.

  • ATL96STEELER

    I’m guessing it is about the money…I don’t blame LT for wanting top dollar, but at the same time I can’t blame the team if they don’t feel he’s a 3 down player…this season I think will be a good chance for LT to prove he can still be a 3 dwn player…but I sense they will start pulling him a little more than LY.

  • ObiRynDenobi

    Unless he takes a MASSIVE cut (down to $2-3 million max.), after this year he’s gone! The Steelers have WAY too many younger, cheaper options. Besides they NEED that money to pay AB. Timmons at his peak was never worth more than $4-5 million certainly never $13 million. It’s time to move on!

  • ATL96STEELER

    Agree! AB & DeCastro.

    I also agree he needs to take a big cut if he stays and that’s likely why nothing had been done with him. I think $3mil per for 2 yrs or 1 yr is fair.

    The only reason his cap hit is so high now is the restructure bonus….but $8.7mil (his actual salary for ’16) is way too much imo as well….some teams would’ve asked for a reduction, or cut him. I don’t think he’s totally finished, but the Rooneys tend to overpay their good players at the end.

  • Zarbor

    I agree that OCs will be looking at that as an exploit against our defense. Problem for them is that not a whole lot of QBs can put that ball on the money consistently.

    Problem for us is that I don’t believe V.Williams is much better in coverage. We’ve spent a lot of picks on getting pressure on the QB and its time those picks start to pony up. Keith Butler knows this better than anyone that pressure is what makes this defense work and without it, we are sitting ducks.

    I’m excited about Tuitt, Cam and Gravedigger on the DL. Excited for Shazier and Dupree (if healthy). These guys sprinkled with Harrison can get some good pressure on QBs. Its guys like Jarvis and the most silent big man on the team McCullers that need to step up and haven’t in camp and preseason.

  • ObiRynDenobi

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike LT. His leadership these past few years totally rebuilding the entire defense was damn near priceless! But his contract was one he didn’t have the skill set to live up to. He never did, regardless of draft round. $8.7 million is Potsie money and we never got anything like James Farrior production out of him. The contract VinnieWill just got is way more like the number LT was worth.

    And from this point forward, we’re not going to get it from him now. In fact, he’s going to get slower with each and every year he remains, while all these speedier kids and tackle machines, like VW, Matakevich and Fort, ride pine behind him.

    Father Time sucks!

  • ATL96STEELER

    I too am excited to see yr 2 of Butler’s D and the growth from LY til now…especially the DL…no VW is not much better in coverage but if they are struggling in coverage I really think the flexibility of Davis will allow him to go more with the dime pkg and take the slower LB off the field

    Some have brought up the toe issue with LT…I’m not sold on that being the sole problem but I do realize it was a factor.

    In either case…the games count now so we’ll have to see how the season unfolds…I’m ready!

  • ATL96STEELER

    I have to push back on part of your post…when you say nothing like the production of Farrior….James did have 2 more pro bowl seasons but overall the production, tackles, sacks, INTs during the prime years for both players is closer than you might think…in fact…take out the ’11 season when he moved to OLB…from ’10,’12-’14 all were pro bowl caliber seasons…the difference imo was LT played a lot of his prime when the team was in decline as the star studded DL got old.

    So he earned that contract and the only season where he was really over paid was LY and most likely this yr which is not that unsusal.

    IMO…there is no way the team can tie up 6+ mil per on two buck LBs…4-5 mil tops so with VW signed that doesn’t leave much for LT so maybe this is his last year in PIT which I have been saying for awhile now if he wasn’t extended to bring his CH down.

  • Zarbor

    I’m not sold that VW is better in coverage. Yup the dime package will help with those issue with the LB. The toe issue is real but as you stated its not the only issue, father time has a say in there.

    I’ll be at that first game in DC so we’ll see how it starts out and unfold.