Through a trying campaign that currently has the Pittsburgh Steelers at 7-6, there have been a handful of players who don't get headlines but consistently get the job done. These unsung heroes are a big reason why this team has come as far as it has.
Here's a look at the five biggest unsung heroes for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012.
When selecting an unsung hero, there are several criteria that come into play. Here’s a look at how the Pittsburgh Steelers were evaluated for this article:
Is the player/coach a star?
If the answer is yes, then they cannot really be an unsung hero. For example, Heath Miller’s contributions on offense are well known. He’s one of the heroes of the season to be sure, but not one of the unsung variety. A player who gets little press for his work is a prime candidate.
Has the player/coach impacted a game positively with his play/coaching?
This is the easiest to evaluate. Games and seasons turn on small things most of the time. A key tackle or interception on defense or a good run on offense can be the difference between a victory and a loss. Anyone who’s put one of these moments together is a candidate.
Has the player/coach gone beyond his perceived talent level or expectations this season?
Career backups who suddenly become stars, older players who were thought to be washed up that mysteriously have a career year and rookies or young players who step up in a big way are all great candidates because they are never the heroes you expect.
Keenan Lewis is a starter who had high expectations coming into the season, so he isn’t a typical unsung hero, but in this case he deserves consideration because he has been the team’s best corner all season. He just hasn’t received much notoriety for it.
Lewis has been excellent in coverage, rarely getting beat deep or burned in some fashion. Everyone makes mistakes, but Lewis hasn’t made one that stands out as a reason the Steelers lost a game.
His play against the Cincinnati Bengals was a major factor in their victory earlier this year.
The Steelers have the league’s best pass defense. Lewis is a huge reason why when you consider that he’s operated well against top competition, played big in big games, worked without the benefit of Troy Polamalu being in the backfield most of the year and that he’s done all of this while getting no plaudits.
Jason Worilds is a bit of a mystery player. He was a second-round draft choice, so the Steelers had to have been high on him. He hasn’t cracked the lineup much because of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison being in front of him.
But when he plays, he plays very well.
That’s why it was stunning to see Chris Carter starting for Pittsburgh while Harrison was out. Worilds was hurt for awhile, but he was healthy before he hit the field again.
Worilds has played big in some big games too. Whenever called upon to start, as he has for LaMarr Woodley during his injuries, he has played well and given the Steelers excellent pass rush production. He probably could start for many teams.
If anyone deserves the title of team savior during the last two seasons, it is Max Starks. For two years he’s been brought back after being cut loose because the offensive line needed to be saved.
He’s lived up to expectations both times. There’s a big reason he’s a favorite of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He doesn’t let his quarterback get crushed very often.
The Steelers would have been in a huge bind this season had they been forced to go with Mike Adams on the left side or Doug Legursky at left guard again. Starks allowed Adams time to develop and for Willie Colon to be sent to left guard, where he excelled.
The biggest value of Starks is that he is immune to the fact that the team basically cast him off once. He’s been a true team player throughout his career, and he’s a big reason why this offense, up until recently, was so successful.
Kickers are almost always unsung. The rule with kickers, punters and long snappers is that you don’t want your name mentioned unless you did something to directly win the game. Any other time you’re brought up, it’s usually a bad thing.
Shaun Suisham was maligned by this writer more than once during the offseason, but he’s been the most consistent offensive weapon this side of Heath Miller and Ben Roethlisberger. He's booted 25 of 26 field goals and all of his extra points.
The Steelers offense has sputtered at times, none more so than against the Baltimore Ravens. The offense in the second game was just good enough, but it still came down to the leg of Suisham. He came through and snatched away a victory.
For anyone on this roster, being the reason for beating the Baltimore Ravens is enough to be a hero.
Ramon Foster has endured attempts to replace him, but the Steelers always have had to come back to him. Like Max Starks, he's one of the guys that makes this team tick. He's been a superb blocker on the line, and he's shown versatility whenever needed.
Foster has definitely earned a look as the permanent starter. An interesting situation would be to part ways with Willie Colon and move David DeCastro to left guard when he is ready.
Like Starks, the Steelers would be in terrible shape without Foster to bail them out. He's given them the steady offensive lineman they needed after DeCastro's injury. Once again, a player that the Steelers nearly cast off has become a key cog.