A number of injuries eliminated some of the candidates, such as LaMarr Woodley, who at one point of the season was the most dominating pass-rusher in the league. Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year winners James Harrison and Troy Polamalu each had "down" years by their standards.
However, that does not mean there were not a number of worthy candidates for team MVP as well as other awards.
Here are my award-winners for the 2011 season.
This is not really an award that you would ever want to give out, nor an award that any player would want to earn, but it is worth looking at.
Just a note, injuries do not qualify a player for having a disappointing season.
Chris Kemoeatu: Kemoeatu has always been a player with the physical abilities, but lacked in the mental side of the game. He took that to an extreme this year with mental mistake after mental mistake, whether it was missed blocks or dumb penalties.
Kemoeatu eventually lost his starting job because of it.
Rashard Mendenhall: Heading into the final week of the season Mendenhall only has 890 yards and is averaging only 4.0 yards per carry. Granted he is running behind an offensive line that does not give him much room, but at some point you have to create your own yards.
Casey Hampton: The Steelers' rush-defense has not been as stout as usual, and that all starts up front. Hampton has not commanded the same double-teams he has in the past and is part of the reason they are getting beat up front all too often.
Lawrence Timmons: Timmons is coming off of a big contract, but has not lived up to it. He only ranks third on the team in tackles and has only one sack and one interception.
A lot more is expected from a former first-round draft pick with a huge contract. The Steelers needed him to make big plays this year, and he did not make enough of them.
Most Disappointing Player
Lawrence Timmons—it really isn't even close in my opinion. Timmons has not lived up to expectations this season, and the Steelers need more production from their most athletically gifted linebacker.
Every year someone comes out and surprises, and the Steelers had a couple of these players.
Antonio Brown: Injuries gave Brown an opportunity during training camp and the preseason, and he took full advantage. Brown earned a starting role in the defense with 1,018 yards on 63 receptions, and he is becoming quite the playmaker for the Steelers.
Brown also now holds the Steelers' record for all-purpose yardage.
Cortez Allen: Allen wasn't expected to do anything this season except learn the NFL game.
Instead, he played great during the preseason and earned a spot in the defense.
As though there was any question, Brown went from fifth on the depth chart to being Roethlisberger's go-to receiver.
Is there any question?
William Gay went from the most criticized member of the Steelers last year to a very good player this year.
You would have thought Gay was the worst football player in the history of the game from the criticism he faced last season, and now you do not hear a peep about him.
Gay has been a key member of the Steelers' pass-defense, which is much improved. He is a physical presence against the run and is tied for second on the team with 11 passes defensed. Gay also had two interceptions this year.
Pittsburgh had a solid draft, and it did not disappoint.
After 15 weeks, they had contributions from their first five draft picks, whether it was on offense, defense or with special teams. Here's a look at the candidates:
Cameron Heyward: Heyward's playing time varied throughout the season, and he was generally relegated to last in the rotation, particularly toward the end of the season. Heyward only had 11 tackles, but he did have a sack and a forced fumble. He also had a blocked field goal.
Marcus Gilbert: Gilbert was the only rookie to earn a spot in the starting lineup. He took over at right tackle and started in 12 of the 13 games he played in. He has been solid overall and is a significant upgrade over Jonathan Scott.
Curtis Brown: Before going on the IR, Brown was one of the, if not the best, Steelers special teams player. He had a key block in an Antonio Brown punt return for a touchdown.
Cortez Allen: Described as raw, but athletically gifted, Allen surprised in training camp and earned playing time in the defense this season. He has done well in coverage in his opportunities and looks to be a solid player for the future.
Chris Carter: Carter has made contributions on special teams, but has suffered through injuries.
Rookie of the Year
Gilbert made a difference for a porous offensive line and has shown he could be an effective starter for years to come. He easily had the biggest and most important impact of any rookie this year.
It was an unusual year for the defense with the lack of sacks and turnovers, and the injuries certainly did not help this situation.
Here are the candidates for Defensive Player of the Year.
James Harrison: Harrison was clearly bothered by his back early in the season, then missed time with a broken orbital bone and a suspension. In only 10 games, Harrison had nine sacks and had two games this season with three sacks. He is also tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles.
LaMarr Woodley: A hamstring hamstrung Woodley's season. He had nine sacks in 10 games, including 7.5 sacks in October before injuring his hamstring. If he had played an entire season, we would have been talking about NFL Defensive Player of the Year with Woodley.
Troy Polamalu: He has been close on so many interceptions, but only had one on the season as well as a sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Polamalu has been effective near the line of scrimmage against the run.
Ike Taylor: Taylor had one of his best seasons ever, shutting down top receivers every week. His play has helped improve the Steelers' pass-defense, especially considering the lack of pass-rush. Taylor leads the team in passes defensed with 13, and he also has two interceptions.
Defensive Player of the Year
Injuries knocked out Harrison and Woodley, and Polamalu did not put up his usual stats. No other player really came close to what Taylor did on a weekly basis.
The Steelers are loaded with weapons on offense, yet the production does not always match the talent. Even so, the skill is there.
Here are the candidates for Offensive Player of the Year.
Max Starks: Starks came in and helped turned an awful Steelers offensive line into a solid group for much of the season. Though he is not the top tackle in the league, Starks was a key reason to the Steelers' success.
Ben Roethlisberger: If not for injuries, Roethlisberger would have easily surpassed 4,000 yards for the season.
Mike Wallace: Wallace had an outstanding start to the season, and though he tailed off over the second half of the year, he still has 71 receptions for 1,182 yards and eight touchdowns. Wallace still remains one of the best deep threats in the league.
Antonio Brown: Brown had a huge second half of the season and became the second Steelers receiver this year to surpass 1,000 yards.
Offensive Player of the Year
Though he caught a lower percentage of the passes thrown his way compared to Wallace, Brown added a new dimension to the Steelers' offense. He was huge on third downs and came on strong as the season progressed.
The Steelers will finish with at least 11 wins and have a number of potential winners of team MVP.
Max Starks: Starks was huge in turning around the Steelers' season early on. If they did not sign him who knows how the year would have went down.
Antonio Brown: Brown's production on offense was a pleasant surprise, and he became a top receiving threat, but has not found the end zone enough. Even so, he was outstanding.
Ben Roethlisberger: When he lines up under center you know the Steelers have a great chance of winning. It is what is expected and sometimes not appreciated. Roethlisberger's second-half comeback from an ankle sprain against the Browns was an all-time moment to remember.
Ike Taylor: In today's NFL it is very easy to sling the ball around. Taylor played some of the best ball of his career and was a bright spot in the Steelers' defense.
Ben Roethlisberger—he is simply the reason the Steelers win every year.
Pittsburgh can get by a few games without him, but Roethlisberger takes the Steelers to the next level, and this year was no different.
Here are the Steelers who made the Pro Bowl:
Ben Roethlisberger: One of the top quarterbacks in the league is finally putting up the numbers people like to look for.
Mike Wallace: A top deep threat who was productive and put up eight scores.
Maurkice Pouncey: Injuries and poor guard play kept Pouncey from playing at a consistent level all season, but he is still one of the top centers in the game.
Antonio Brown: A big threat in the return game, Brown also came on as a big-time playmaker at receiver.
Troy Polamalu: Though his numbers are not what they always are, he is still a top safety who can make plays no one else can.
Who are the snubs?
Ike Taylor: He had one of his best seasons, but until he puts up big interception numbers, Taylor will be on the outside looking in.
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