Steelers: Woodley, Timmons Must Step Up
Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley were given big money deals with the intent that they would become big time playmakers at the linebacker position. In the absence of James Harrison and Troy Polamalu the Steelers have needed someone to step up and the hope was it would be Woodley and Timmons, but it hasn’t happened. When the Steelers gave these two linebackers their big money deals they were hoping for consistent repeat performances of their 2009 and 2010 seasons, but 2011 was a down year for both players and neither has been very impressive so far in 2012.
Against the Raiders LaMarr Woodley was up against a right tackle that had only been on Oakland’s roster for a few weeks, but he was held in check for most of the game recording 4 tackles and a sack. Although Woodley recorded the one sack he struggled to get much pressure on Carson Palmer all day. With James Harrison’s injury issues the past two seasons we have seen Woodley play a lot as the premier pass rushing threat and he has struggled. Palmer was not pressured much at all on Sunday and it is Woodley’s job to push that pocket. Another reason for Woodley’s slow start could be the play calling. He is being asked to do a lot of things on defense and is not rushing the quarterback as much as in recent years. It will be interesting to see how the defense, and Woodley, plays when Harrison and Troy Polamalu return.
Timmons also sturggled in 2011 when you look at his stat sheet. However, I will still give him a pass for his play in 2011 as he was moving around to multiple positions which is hard on any player. Timmons in 2012, however, is expected to remain at inside linebacker for the entire season. The Steelers need him to step up in that position and make plays.
On Sunday the Raiders scored on five straight possessions against the Steelers defense. That is completely unacceptable and everyone on that defensive unit knows it. Woodley and Timmons need to step up now and be the guys who make plays on those series by creating a turnover or making a big play on third down to get the defense off the field; especially in the absence of two former Defensive Players of the Year in Harrison and Polamalu.
The biggest difference for Timmons and Woodley in comparison to their two best seasons in 2009 and 2010 is the turnovers, In 2009 and 2010 they created 14 turnover opportunities for the defense with interceptions and forced fumbles. Including 2008 they had averaged about 6.5 turnover opportunities a season, however, in 2011 they created only 3. So far in 2012, through the first three games, they have created none.
Polamalu and Harrison should be back soon and should help the defense get better, but there are some concerns for the future. I’m not the only person who expects Casey Hampton and James Harrison to leave after this season and Polamalu and Ryan Clark likely have around 2-3 years left a piece which leaves a big question: Are Timmons and Woodley ready to take over as the leaders and play-makers of the defense when they are gone? And if not who will?