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Old 12-07-2009, 07:39 PM   #1
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Default Steelers' secondary missing SS Polamalu in worst way

Steelers' secondary missing SS Polamalu in worst way

Posted Dec. 07, 2009 @ 2:10 p.m.
By Mike Wilkening

When the Raiders, the NFL's worst passing team, carved up the Steelers' secondary in a 27-24 win Sunday at Pittsburgh, it highlighted the limitations of the Pittsburgh pass defense, which sorely misses SS Troy Polamalu.

Oakland, which had thrown five TD passes in its 47 previous quarters, threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter Sunday. Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski, a Pennsylvania native, threw for 188 yards in the final period, twice hitting rookie WR Louis Murphy for scores, including the game-wnner with nine seconds left after Murphy worked open in the back of the endzone.

The loss dropped the Steelers to 6-6, which means Pittsburgh might have to win out to have a chance at making the playoffs.

"You know, really not a lot needs to be said in regards to how that game ended," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Sunday. "I'm not going to make any excuses for it. We didn't make a play. We didn't make a play to win that football game defensively."

With Polamalu (knee) expected to miss Thursday's game at Cleveland, and with starting CB William Gay (concussion) likely questionable and perhaps out for the game, the secondary is both battered and shaken entering the final quarter of the season. Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tomlin indicated Monday that rookie CBs Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis are likely to play vs. the Browns, and the paper indicated both could start, which would land Ike Taylor on the bench.

The PFW spin

At the .500 mark, and without a single interception from a cornerback this season, it's understandable that Tomlin is considering changes. Taylor has played very well at points of his Steelers career, but he has struggled at others, and he has below-average ball skills. He was benched in 2006 before bouncing back and reclaiming his starting job.

Taylor surrendered a 75-yard TD to Murphy after allowing the rookie receiver to run free deep, ostensibly because he believed he had safety help deep and to his left. However, Taylor was the last line of defense.

"He's supposed to stay inside of him, inside of that man (Murphy) and potentially could pick up some help from the backside," Tomlin said. "Of course, neither happened."

However, benching Taylor and turning to both rookie cornerbacks is not without risk. Browns QB Brady Quinn has played much better of late and threw for 271 yards and three TDs in a loss to San Diego Sunday. If Gay misses the game, Burnett will likely start in his place, with Lewis, who flashed some ability in the summer, likely stepping into Taylor's role.

No matter what the Steelers do at cornerback, the secondary will remain compromised until Polamalu returns
. Polamalu, the team leader with three interceptions in only five games played in 2009, is the Steelers' lone blue-chip performer in the secondary. His presence gives the Steelers' efforts vs. the run and pass a tremendous lift and undoubtedly makes offensive coordinators think twice before becoming too aggressive.

That the Steelers miss him this much might just be the catalyst for some personnel changes in the secondary next season. Yes, Polamalu is irreplaceable, but expecting better play out of the pass defense in his absence is not unreasonable.
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Old 12-07-2009, 08:28 PM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' secondary missing SS Polamalu in worst way

The OL is saying, "we told you so..."
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