The loss of a key player to injury or suspension can be the difference-maker for a potential Super Bowl team’s season. As the Pittsburgh Steelers can attest, losing more than one of those key players can be the difference between defending your Super Bowl title and missing the playoffs completely.
In 2009, the Steelers lost their way defensively, and while some of it had to do with decision making, it had more to do with losing two game-changing defenders early on.
With All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu out for most of the season, and lacking that extra “disruptive-something” when he was there, the entire Steelers defense changed as a result.
When you take away the most underrated defensive end in the league in Aaron Smith along the way, the Steelers lost two of the biggest cogs in their defense.
While James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and the rest of the Steelers linebacking corps get most of the attention and stats, Aaron Smith is the catalyst for those stats, and might be the most important member of the Steelers front seven.
Case in point: The Steelers struggled to stop the run late in games, and the 16th-ranked passing defense was nowhere near the league-leading performance of 2008.
As the Steelers approach the 2010 season, there are 10 players the team cannot afford to lose for a substantial period of time if they hope to right the ship.