As I’ve mentioned before, I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family down in Florida. I tried keeping up with any important news concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers but between food hangovers and travel woes, some things fell through the cracks. Most notably, I missed the news that defensive end Brett Keisel suffered a torn tricep that will officially end his 2014 season.
Well, I didn’t exactly “miss it.” I just didn’t report it here. Watching the game at a Steeler bar, as soon as I saw the Diesel walking off holding his arm I figured he tore his bicep/tricep. Meanwhile, the Steelers waited until before game time to announce James Harrison would also be sitting out with a balky knee so that one’s on them.
The injuries to Harrison and Keisel are a double-edged sword. They’ve both played decently this season although it’s also clear they’re nowhere close to what they once were. This coaching staff has an odd aversion to the unknown which sees them bound and determined to play veterans over younger players who may or may not present an improvement. Literally the only way for the line-up to change is if injuries force it upon them.
We’ve seen that happen in the secondary, where Ike Taylor was immediately restored to the starting line-up after sitting out with a broken forearm. Ike was playing badly when he was injured and he’s been absolutely atrocious since coming back. Yet it took a loss to New Orleans and AJ Green straight up embarrassing them before Ike was yanked from the field in favor of Antwon Blake. I don’t know if Blake is the answer – I’ve seen both good and bad from him – but at this point it’s extremely clear that Ike doesn’t have it anymore.
Keisel was replaced Sunday by rookie Stephon Tuitt (actually Cam Thomas started but he’s been a dud all season). Tuitt only made two tackles but his hit on Andy Dalton squashed any slight possibility of a Bengals comeback. Keisel was the team’s most effective right defensive end although I’m not sure he was the best option. The reason nobody signed him – or Harrison – this off-season is precisely because older players are ticking time bombs. You never know when Father Time will catch up to them be it in the form of an injury or just suddenly losing the ability to play.
Granted injuries can happen to younger players as well. Harrison was only signed because Jarvis Jones has been chronically injured in the two years he’s been in the Black and Gold. Still, with young players you usually have hope they can eventually get things together as long as none of their injuries significantly impact their physical abilities. Look at Sean Spence, who was a human IR machine until this season and has come back to be a decent contributor at ILB. Once older guys become injury prone, there is nowhere to go but down.
Tuitt got a chance to play early on, made some mistakes, and was buried on the bench until Keisel’s injury. Maybe he’s nothing special or maybe he would’ve morphed into the next Brett Keisel with some experience. While I love Da Beard, I can’t help but wonder where Tuitt would be if he had been given a chance to develop instead of the coaches immediately turning to the “safe” veteran. Likewise, Jones may be a colossal dud – good job passing up on a corner, Colbert – but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Arthur Moats. It seems like every time he’s given a chance he makes a big play. Harrison had that epic game against Baltimore and since then he’s been mostly invisible. Given a chance to play, Moats might do nothing or he might blossom into a bonafide playmaker. The point is we’ve seen what Harrison has left and it’s worth the risk to try somebody else.
The Steelers defense has been various shades of awful all season. If they’re going to make a run toward the playoffs, well, there are no magic beans that sprout pass rushing linebackers. However, after what they did against the Saints and that performance against Cincy, I think it’s safe to say the status quo is not working. Unfortunately, we have a coaching staff that seems totally allergic to changing the status quo. Fortunately, it seems like some fortuitous injuries may force them to do just that. And whether or not they work out, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing.