Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Steelers Secondary Is Of Primary Concern


Once again this NFL offseason, the focus for the Pittsburgh Steelers' top-ranked defense has been to generate more turnovers. And both defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive backs coach Carnell Lake have emphasized the need for them to do just that.

The paltry numbers they’ve generated the past two seasons have been embarrassingly low. Bottom-half-of-the-NFL low. The defense took the ball away 20 times, which was the eighth fewest in the NFL. In 2011, there were even worse with only 15 takeaways.

In 2012, the Steelers ranked 24th in the NFL in turnover differential at a -10, and 28th in TO differential in 2011 at a -13. Those defenses may have been No. 1, but the only numbers that truly mattered were 8-8.

This is trend that must desist if the team is serious about contending for the playoffs and the possibly Super Bowl again this season. Not that they can just flip a switch to make that happen, but Art Rooney II made a salient point in his State of the Steelers postseason interview back in January as to what a remedy may be.

"We need to get more pressure on the quarterback," Rooney II said, "because as everyone will tell you that creates turnovers."

He's correct. If It Ain't Steel covered that interview and quoted some telling statistics regarding the subject. In the 2008 Super Bowl season, the Steelers posted 51 sacks and 29 takeaways, and in the 2010 Super Bowl season, they had 48 sacks and 35 takeaways. Compare that to the previous 2011 and 2012 stats, and the turnover stats of the teams that made the playoffs, and the point is well-made. - http://tinyurl.com/lahlacl

The front seven side of those stats will be covered in an upcoming piece. As for the secondary itself, it allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL for the second consecutive season. And as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly brought to light in a recent article, they also have something very important: experience.

"This will be the eighth consecutive season (Ike) Taylor, (Ryan) Clark and (Troy) Polamalu have played together — the most consecutive seasons of any trio in the league — and with the potential of Cortez Allen, the Steelers' defensive backfield could rival some of the best of the past decade." - http://tinyurl.com/kavmvcz

The experience advantage presented by the triumvirate Kaboly mentioned and the youth and "potential" of Cortez Allen brings to mind the knock against them made the NFL Network's version of Champ Kind, Warren Sapp.

Sapp once again called the Steelers "old and slow" and said that "three of the four secondary guys there are 32 years old or older." While that's true, what is being ignored is the youth being infused into the Steelers defense, including the secondary. Tez Allen is especially exciting because of the potential impact he could have. Tez went on a turnover surge at the end of last season, and the hope is that he can make 2013 his own.

"I'm not that type to make predictions or boast about myself....I just come to work every day and try to get better and better so I can help my team the best I can," said Tez. "I think I've shown an ability to make plays in the defensive system." - http://t.co/RX7JvMEw06

He isn't the only one who has a golden opportunity to shine for the Steelers. Nor is he the only one who actually does have speed. Contrary to the Sapp's comment, all three of the aforementioned triad have sub 4.5/40 speed (with Polamalu and Taylor still being 4.4 in the 40). Add to that some young blood that could make an impact this season.

Second-year man Robert Golden has potential at safety, so much potential that the Steelers forwent drafting a second one, but nonetheless had an inauspicious beginning last season.

“It was a surreal feeling,” Golden said of the Dallas Cowboys game where he was victimized. “Then we had a little blown coverage. We didn’t get the stretch call. They had two verticals up the seam and we were in a cover 3 and kind of back playing between both and couldn’t make that play.”

But the young safety has the requisite skills and speed to prove he isn't simple pyrite. The golden ticket is in his mentally picking up the defensive stratagems. (I've got lots of these for him.) Fellow safety Clark said as much about him.

"He’s a guy who jumps off the film talent-wise, speed-wise," said Clark. "What Rob has to do is show the jump as far as knowledge, dependability, durability. - http://t.co/6BzEtGnSY7

Curtis Brown, was picked ahead of Tez in the 2011, but has fallen behind him on the depth chart. Brown will not only have to beat out young teammates Isaiah Green, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke (all of whom are sub 4.45/40) for defensive snaps, but also veteran William Gay. Behind The Steel Curtain broke down what awaits the young cornerback who's heading into his third year. - http://tinyurl.com/bxdgymo

Terry Hawthorne was listed among Steel City Insider's 'Players to Watch' list written by Jim Wexell. Hawthorne is very fast, but very raw. Still, Carnell Lake really likes what sees.

"What I like about Terry is that he has a lot of upside potential that I see in him," Lake said. "He is big. He is fast. He doesn't mind tackling, and he can play press coverage well, kind of in the same way as an Ike Taylor."

At 6'0", 195 lbs., Hawthorne has starting potential, but his biggest impact this season will likely come on special teams. But Lake, who has former teammate and Steeler great Rod Woodson coaching with him via an internship throughout Camps, likes his 4.44/40 speed, his fluidity in the hips, his ability to hit and other tools to contribute down the line.

All-in-all, that "old and slow" Steelers defense finished atop the NFL defensive rankings. Then, just for good measure, they went out and became the top-rated unit again last season. Now they've added youth and speed to make sure to, not only lock down that No. 1 spot again, but to turnover their recent misfortunes and make it mean something in January.