Redskins

Steelers secondary thriving without Polamalu

201211041539563751192-p2.jpeg

Steelers secondary thriving without Polamalu

PITTSBURGH (AP) Will Allen knows he's not Troy Polamalu. He also knows the Pittsburgh Steelers don't need him to be for the defense to play with its typical cruel efficiency.

The checklist for Allen on a given week never changes: Run to the ball. Don't get beat deep. Go where you're supposed to. When appropriate, hit somebody.

Allen has no delusions about what will happen whenever Polamalu's right calf finally heals. He'll go back to the bench and watch one of the best safeties of his generation go to work.

Until then - and Polamalu has already been ruled out for Monday night's home game against Kansas City - Allen will do his best to be Polamalu-lite.

Very lite.

``I'm just doing my job,'' Allen said Wednesday. ``I just want to be on my Ps and Qs and I want to be effective and have urgency. When I'm reading my keys and I'm helping this team, that's the main thing that I care about.''

The Steelers turned to Ryan Mundy to fill in when Polamalu initially hurt his calf in the season opener against Denver. Mundy, however, struggled in pass coverage and earned a couple of costly penalties at crucial times, most notably an unnecessary roughness penalty against Oakland that send wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey to the hospital.

Polamalu returned against Philadelphia on Oct. 7, though his comeback lasted all of a quarter before he reinjured the calf, this time more seriously than the first. He hasn't stepped on the field since, though the secondary hasn't missed a beat.

Pittsburgh (5-3) leads the NFL in pass defense at the midway point, allowing 174 yards per game. That number is dropping every week and took a big plunge when Allen and company shut down Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants last week in a season-turning 24-20 victory.

Manning completed 10 of 25 passes for 125 yards and an interception as the Steelers frustrated one of the league's most dynamic passing attacks.

Then again, it's becoming a habit.

Pittsburgh has beaten Andy Dalton, Robert Griffin III and Manning during its three-game winning streak, three very different quarterbacks with three very different ways of going about their business.

None of them were successful against a defense that has rediscovered its bite even without Polamalu and his flowing locks freelancing all over the field. The only place where the Steelers have really missed Polamalu is in splash plays.

There are few - if any - better than Polamalu when it comes to instinctively creating turnovers. With the four-time All-Pro standing on the sideline for the last month in grey sweats, Pittsburgh has taken the ball away just three times.

The Steelers hope those numbers will pick up against the woeful Chiefs (1-7), whose minus-21 turnover differential is by far the NFL's worst. Pittsburgh just doesn't need to get its hands on the ball to survive, though. The defense is just fine sending the opposition trudging off the field to punt, something happening with increasing regularity.

Pittsburgh is allowing teams to convert just 30 percent (11 of 37) of third down opportunities during its winning streak thanks to better execution on first and second down, and a sudden burst of chemistry in the secondary.

``We're starting to put the pieces together for where we need to be,'' cornerback Keenan Lewis said. ``The (defensive) line, they're getting to the quarterback much faster. The linebackers are playing out of control. It's helping us out in the back end.''

Then again, Lewis and fellow corner Ike Taylor are doing their part. Victimized early in the season - particularly in road losses to Oakland and Tennessee - the duo have shut down the likes of A.J. Green and Victor Cruz in recent weeks.

Lewis sent a message on the first play against New York, swatting down a deep ball from Manning to Hakeem Nicks. It was Lewis' way of saying he wasn't going to be intimidated by the surroundings or the circumstances.

``I just wanted to let `em know that they can't catch us off guard,'' Lewis said.

The Giants never did. Taylor collected his first interception of the year late in the first quarter with a spectacular diving grab. It was a difficult catch, one that allowed him to laugh about the easy one that clanged off his chest in the end zone later in the game.

``I'm inconsistent,'' Taylor said. ``You know my hands (are) suspect, that's just how it is.''

Taylor knows he can afford to joke about it when the Steelers win but he's only too aware the drop extended a New York drive the Giants eventually scored on.

``Is it something we can work on? Yes,'' Taylor said. ``Does it help your team out? Yes, because it gives the offense more opportunities to make plays.''

Just don't expect the defense to take any unnecessary chances to make them happen. That's what Polamalu does. Until his familiar No. 43 is back in the lineup, Allen and the rest of his buddies are fine just sticking to the fundamentals.

Besides, in a way, Allen notes the only difference between a punt and a turnover is who gets to run around with the ball.

``The more and more we play together, the better we're getting,'' Allen said. ``We've just got to continue executing and having a sense of urgency and attention to detail and playing fast and playing hard and I think that'll take us a long way.''

---

NOTES: The Steelers signed WR Derek Moye and put him on the practice squad while cutting TE Jamie McCoy from the practice squad. ... Pittsburgh is 3-0 at home.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Redskins draft countdown: Georgia RB Sony Michel

Redskins draft countdown: Georgia RB Sony Michel

Redskins draft countdown

Sony Michel

Running back
Georgia

Sony Michel is a solid north-south runner who also can bounce outside and pick up yardage. He shared playing time with Nick Chubb last year and still ran for 1,277 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and scored 16 touchdowns against SEC competition. Michel also showed his bona fides in the passing game, catching 64 career passes and showing that he can handle pass protection. 

Height: 5-11
Weight: 220
40-yard dash:4.54

Projected draft round:2

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins have made no secret of their desire to draft an upgrade at running back. They would prefer one who can catch passes out of the backfield and gain yardage between the tackles. Sony Michel can do both as well as pop for yardage on the outside. There is a good chance that he will be on the board when the Redskins draft in the second round. Since they don’t have a third-round pick, this may be the last chance to get an upgrade in this draft. 

Film review: vs. Notre Dame, vs. Alabama

—The first thing to say here is that the Bulldogs had a quality run-blocking offensive line. Michel frequently had big holes to run through. For his part, Michel maximized his gains when he had a big opening, hitting it quickly and working north-south. 

—He also can pick up yards through just a small crease, again by hitting it with urgency and gaining momentum to drive for the final few yards. 

—Michel didn’t do a whole lot of pass protection in the plays I watched, but he was solid when he did. On one play against Notre Dame, he put a blitzing defensive back on the ground. Against Alabama, he got in the way of likely first-round pick Da’Ron Payne long enough to allow the quarterback to get off a deep pass. To be sure, he didn’t blow Payne away but his block was effective.

—Besides the O-line, Michel also got quality blocking from his receivers. Again, he took advantage, reading the blocks and maximizing the gain. 

—He also can get it done without much help. On third and 20 against the vaunted Alabama defense, he headed up the middle and quickly went outside when he saw no running room. He headed to the sideline with four Alabama defenders and no blockers in sight. Michel found another gear and accelerated down the sideline to convert the third and long.  

—He later converted a third and 10 on a draw play, quickly getting up to speed and zipping through traffic to move the sticks. 

Potential issues: Although he has decent speed, he’s not the home run threat you might want in a back taken in the second round. And Michel isn’t really a power back either, although he can fight for extra yards. 

Despite his limitations, there is chatter that Michel might be drafted early in the second round or perhaps even late in the first. It’s hard to separate the smoke and speculation from reality as we sit a week before the draft starts. But he’s a talented back and if Derrius Guice goes off the board earlier than most expect, a run on runners could include Michel. 

Bottom line: Saquon Barkley is the obvious top running back and he surely will be gone when the Redskins pick in the first round. After that, the Redskins have plenty of options. They like Guice but 13 may be too high for him and he is likely to be gone when their pick in the second is on the clock. Michel is one of a few possibilities there, a group that also would include Michel’s former teammate Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones of USC and others. Without a peek at the draft board in Ashburn, we will just have to wait and see. 

Redskins draft countdown

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

 

Quick Links

Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

The biggest surprise of the Wizards-Raptors series through two games, at least from Washington's perspective, has to be the fact Ty Lawson has very quickly earned a prominent role in Scott Brooks' playoff rotation.

Lawson, 30, was signed the day after the regular season and after he played much of 2017-18 in China with the Shandong Golden Stars. He did not appear in one game with the Wizards or any other NBA team during the regular season, yet he was the first point guard off the bench in Game 2.

When John Wall picked up two quick fouls, it was Lawson who got the nod, not Tomas Satoransky. Lawson ended up playing 31 minutes, more than Satoransky and fellow backup point guard Tim Frazier have earned combined through two games.

Though the Wizards had three point guards on their bench behind Wall before Lawson even signed, he has apparently surpassed them all on the depth chart. Satoransky is the most surprising, given he played quite well during the regular season.

Satoransky averaged 7.2 points, 3.9 assists and shot a team-best 46.5 percent from three. He had the highest offensive rating (124) on the team.

Lawson, though, played quite well in Game 2. He put up 14 points, eight assists and three rebounds while shooting 4-for-5 from three.

Lawson outscored four of the Wizards' five starters. Not bad for his first game.

"He did everything I knew he was capable of doing," Brooks said. "I’ve seen him do it for many, many years. He’s tough, he’s a competitor. He competes and pushes the pace. He plays defense. I liked the spirit."

Lawson provided a noticeable spark. He is still quick and aggressive with the ball, not afraid to look for his own shot, and played physical defense against the Raptors. Lawson ended the night plus-8 in the box score in a game the Wizards lost by 11.

"It’s good to see him get into a game and be able to produce for us," guard Bradley Beal said.

Given the Wizards lost Game 2 and face an 0-2 deficit in their series, it is likely that Brooks continues to alter his rotation in the coming games. He could go back to Satoransky more often, knowing he had some solid games against Toronto in the regular season, including on March 2 when he had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Satoransky could see more time at shooting guard or small forward and could play alongside Lawson. That might be Satoransky's best bet because Lawson did nothing in Game 2 to squander the opportunity.

For a team whose effort has been questioned by their head coach, Lawson's energy and urgency was noteworthy. He brought the edge of a guy playing for his NBA career, knowing a good playoff series could earn him a contract next season. 

Clearly, the way Lawson played was refreshing for Brooks given how long he kept him out on the floor. He may have come out of nowhere, but it looks like Lawson is here to stay.

MORE ON THE WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

WIZARDS NEED BEAL TO BE MUCH BETTER TO WIN

BROOKS MAY CHANGE STARTING LINEUP FOR GAME 3

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!