LaMarr Woodley Injury: Steelers Would Be Smart to Play Polamalu at Linebacker
No, that headline is not a joke. The Pittsburgh Steelers face off against the Baltimore Ravens this week after a dominant display against the New England Patriots. That victory against the Patriots came at a heavy cost, however, as LaMarr Woodley became the third linebacker that the Steelers have lost to injury.
Overcoming the loss of James Farrior wasn't a major issue, and neither was the loss of Harrison because of Lawrence Timmons' versatility. However, no 3-4 team could deal with losing their top three outside linebackers.
Jason Worilds, the team's first choice backup—outside of Timmons—at the position, is also suffering, and his status is unclear.
Needless to say, the Steelers have very limited options heading into what is a must win game, at least for the fans, against a divisional rival. However, it gets worse.
Stevenson Sylvester played very little against the Patriots; whether by design or due to a lack of production, it is a worrying sign. Sylvester will definitely see the field this weekend and likely play every snap that isn't an obvious passing situation.
Some will call for the Steelers to use Polamalu in that position, much like they did to the Patriots with great success.
Unfortunately, the Steelers' hands are tied there also.
Polamalu was able to stay in the middle of the field after Woodley's injury because rookie Chris Carter entered the game. Carter at least is not injured. By all means, I have no reason not to believe he is fully healthy.
Carter cannot start in this game either, though.
The ex-Fresno State standout had a solid showing against the Patriots despite making little real impact as a rusher. Carter wasn't ever really at fault for anything, and the defense didn't miss a beat without him in the team, even if the pass rush had to come from elsewhere.
Without a dominant rushing game or huge offensive linemen, Carter's size and strength weren't exposed. Carter is not a big player for his position. Sebastien Vollmer, who LaMarr Woodley had dominated physically throughout the game, was able to easily lock onto Carter during the Patriots game.
Of course, it is unfair to compare him to arguably the strongest outside linebacker in the league, but nonetheless, Carter's presence in the defense would give the Ravens a major advantage.
Unlike the Patriots, the Ravens will run the ball on this defense...a lot!
Outside of Carter, there are no other natural outside linebackers to play the position. The best player suited for the job is the Steelers All-Pro star safety.
For some, the idea of moving the team's star player away from his natural position is simply idiotic, but that is a short sighted view. If Troy Polamalu is moved to outside linebacker, I have no doubt that he will be able to play the position to a greater effect than Carter.
Of course, this isn't a computer game; you can't just move him and have a slight ratings drop. It will be difficult and Polamalu won't be anything like LaMarr Woodley, but he at least would allow the Steelers to have 11 strong defenders on the field.
Ryan Mundy has somewhat been slowly emerging in his backup role over the past year or two.
Mundy filled in for Polamalu effectively in two starts last season and played extensively, to great effect, last week. Mundy is not a young player anymore; he has the experience and physical talents to be a starter in this league.
He is also a player that will fit the Steelers game plan. Mundy is a natural free safety with good range and size.
The Baltimore Ravens will play a completely different type of football game to the New England Patriots, provided that Cam Cameron has learned from the last few weeks. Joe Flacco showed last week that he is not a dink and dunk quarterback, Flacco will be looking to throw the ball down the field and work off of play action from a strong running game.
With two natural free safeties, Ryan Clark and Mundy, at the back of the defense, it will be easier to keep guys like Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith in front of the defense. The Ravens will not beat you with underneath and intermediate throws.
A huge loss for the Ravens is Lee Evans, who hasn't featured in recent weeks. Evans was a guy I singled out before the season that would seriously hurt the Steelers secondary by forcing Ike Taylor to cover him.
That was a major reason why the Steelers defense struggled in Week 1.
Taylor was dominant last week against Wes Welker and has been very consistent this year as a whole. Without Evans on the field, the Steelers will be able to move Taylor back to Anquan Boldin. With Keenan Lewis also excelling and William Gay potentially winning over some of his doubters, the Steelers secondary would be in fine shape without Polamalu for a short period.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a tough decision to make this weekend without three of their starting linebackers and one crucial backup. After Dick LeBeau's performance last week, there is no doubt that he will make the best decision for his football team.
In my mind, the best decision is to prevent any passengers from starting on the defense. Look at how well that worked without Farrior last week.
The Baltimore Ravens may not be the best offense in the league, but if you give them an easy target to play through, they will take advantage of it in a matchup such as this.
Troy Polamalu's versatility and discipline may be under a huge amount of scrutiny this weekend, I, for one, believe that Polamalu's commitment to his team doesn't prevent him from moving positions.
At the very least, we know that Polamalu will have no problem trying. This is the same guy that once asked Bill Cowher if he could go in at running back in a playoff game.
NFL" target="_blank">Cian Fahey can be found on Twitter
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