The Pittsburgh Steelers are excited about new starting cornerback Cortez Allen possibly improving their turnover production in 2013. But his addition and the return of a healthy coverage unit may also bulk up an area that used to be one of the Steelers’ best weapons on defense: sacks by the secondary.
Quarterback sacks by the cornerbacks and safeties have been missing from the Steelers defense in recent years. Since Mike Tomlin was selected as Steelers head coach, they have not had a member of the secondary recorded more than two sacks in a season. This is a big departure since the days when current secondary coach Carnell Lake and Hall-of-Famer Rod Woodson roamed the Steelers’ defensive backfield.
Back in their heyday, Woodson and Lake not only knew how to intercept the ball, they also knew how to bring down a QB. In 1993, perhaps their finest statistical season as teammates, cornerback Woodson had eight interceptions and two sacks, while safety Carnell Lake had five sacks and three picks. In 1997, the year Woodson broke Steelers fans’ hearts by leaving for San Francisco, Lake became a one-man show with eight sacks and three interceptions.
By comparison, the Steelers secondary under Tomlin has had only one year in which they managed seven total sacks (2010). Top corner Ike Taylor has just three sacks in his career, while their All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu has just 3 sacks since 2008. Where are the sacks?
The Steelers overall sack totals have been down over the past two years; the team had 35 in 2011 and 37 in 2012. The secondary’s contribution to that? A wretched total of three. The injuries to Polamalu have definitely led to a departure from the typical attacking defensive style seen often under coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Without enough talent and speed at safety, the corners have not been able to blitz. Now that Polamalu is back to health and Lake has the corners in position to make plays, LeBeau may be able to re-insert the sack back into the secondary game plan.