The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: What sort of performance should we be able to expect on the field from Lawrence Timmons in 2016?
Part of the Steelers’ draw to Lawrence Timmons in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft is the fact that he was just 20 years old at the time, which, if he turned into the player that they believed he would be, would give them the greatest opportunity of getting an extended career out of him.
10 years on, Timmons is heading into his 10th NFL season, which by any measure short of perhaps quarterbacks and specialists should be regarded as a long career, but is soon to hit the age of 30 in a bit over a month from now.
30 is by no means over the hill for a linebacker, but he does have a lot of NFL tread on his tires for the average 30-year old, given his youth when he first entered the league. He has compiled 867 tackles, 33 sacks, 10 interceptions, 38 passes defensed, and 12 forced fumbles over the course of his career, the bulk of that coming over the course of the past six seasons, during which he has not missed a game.
Timmons has been a cornerstone for the franchise in his time in Pittsburgh, and was for a period of a couple of years clearly the team’s best defensive player, but his role even as the focal inside linebacker has been reduced the past two years since the drafting of Ryan Shazier, who is athletically and youthfully his superior.
While his numbers would not suggest it, Timmons’ effectiveness did slip last season—albeit particularly earlier in the season, nearer to his preseason turf toe injury—and that is not something to be overlooked. His tackling efficiency in particular has been on the decline in recent seasons.
His coverage ability has also gone from a strong highlight of his repertoire to often a liability, which has resulted in the Steelers rotating off the field for a quarters safety late last season, a development that may continue into the 2016 season.
I will not be the one to proclaim it—there are no doubt many others prepared to do it for me—but those who wish to make the case that Timmons is heading toward an imminent decline do have the arsenal with which to state it. Fortunately, the team may not need him to be as dominant as he once was if the rest of the defense and continue to build around him.