Talk about a bad week. First came a 21-point defeat to the New England Patriots. Next, the loss of the best player on the Steelers whom you've never heard of.
"[Smith] came out a few times and that was worrisome because this guy doesn't come out of games," Tomlin said after the New England game.
High praise, and Smith deserves it. After all, a lot has been said about Pittsburgh's offensive running game and how it dictates the team's performance. Well, how about the Steelers' run defense? Anyone who has watched this team play over the years knows that stopping the run is just as important to what it has been all about as anything else.
Said another way, the Steelers were third in the NFL in rushing 'D' in 2005 and '06, and they were first in '04. This season (2007), Pittsburgh was once again third in the NFL in that department. However, the Steelers weren't consistent.
And Aaron Smith, apparently, was a major reason why.
Consider the following:
When Smith was in the game for a significant amount of time, the Steelers surrendered approximately 70 yards rushing per game through 10 contest. Further, they only gave up 100 yards rushing on two occasions.
During the seven games that Smith was out (we're counting the Denver game as one where he missed time because he left in the first quarter), the Steelers allowed roughly 125 yards rushing per week. In addition, they gave up 100 yards rushing to their opponents on three separate occasions and 90 yards on three more. Even if you take the two Jacksonville losses out of the equation (both of which Smith didn't play in), the Steelers still yielded an average of 103 ground yards per game when Smith was out, which is 30 more yards than when he was in.
Were other players injured on defense for the Steelers this season? Of course. Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu had their share, for example. But the interesting thing is that before the season, most people who weren't close followers of the Steelers didn't know how important Smith was to the defense.
As Pittsburgh heads into the offseason, one thing is for sure: Everyone should now know how integral Smith really is to the Steelers' defense.