Film Study: Pittsburgh Steelers' Defense Struggles without Troy Polamalu

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst ISeptember 21, 2009

PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 29: Safety Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches the action during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field on August 29, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

After one week without the heart of their defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly feeling like they might be in some hot water until Troy Polamalu returns.

That's not to say that Tyrone Carter doesn't fill in admirably for Polamalu.  Carter just doesn't have the unbelievable versatility that Troy does.  He also doesn't strike fear into offensive players.

In fact, the Steelers' defense hasn't scared anyone that much since Polamalu was taken off the field in week one after trying to recover a blocked field goal.

While the rush defense has not seemed to suffer (43 yards allowed against Chicago), the pass defense has gotten considerably less frightening.

Jay Cutler put up 236 passing yards and two touchdowns Sunday.  Cutler had little trouble finding receivers open in the secondary.  He also didn't throw an interception after throwing four against the Packers in week one.

Polamalu might not have changed any of that.  But it's a sure bet he would have at least made Cutler think twice before throwing long to an inexperienced crop of young receivers.

While the Steelers pressured Cutler often, particularly in the second half, they continually failed to sack him and often lost containment, allowing him to make plays outside the pocket.

Polamalu would have changed that.  The greatest asset Troy has is his ability to be everywhere at once.  He can get anywhere on the field in moments.  Were Cutler to escape the brutal rush of James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, or James Farrior, he would almost surely have had to contend with Polamalu somewhere on the field.

As strong safeties go, Polamalu is an excellent pass rusher.  He creates havoc in the backfield by dropping back a step or two before charging forward and either over or through linemen and backs.  His instincts are unmatched.

The Steelers' defense gets no break, facing the potent Cincinnati offense next week and then taking on Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.  They could also potentially face the Vikings and Adrian Peterson before getting Polamalu back (he's expected to miss three to six weeks, making the game against Minnesota the sixth week he'll be out).

So with the problem identified, where's the solution?

The best thing the Steelers can do for the next two to five weeks is to bring creative blitzes from other players.  William Gay is fast at cornerback, so he is probably as good a choice as any to run some of the exotic Dick LeBeau blitzes. 

The Steelers should also see to it that Tyrone Carter gets help, particularly on deep routes. 

There's no way to really disguise the hole in their defense, but the worst thing that could happen is for the team to stray from its identity while its star safety is sidelined.  Pittsburgh has blitz packages involving any one of their players, so the key is to find out which players can create havoc through zone blitzes and faking drops into coverage.

I'd be interested to see a little of Ryan Mundy, too.  He's never going to be a top safety, but his speed may make him a better option than Carter in some obvious passing situations and for some blitz packages.  The key would be to not allow his involvement to become predictable.

One thing is for sure, LeBeau, his defense, and all of the Steelers will breathe a sigh of relief when they see No. 43 back on the field.


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