Scouts Inc. on Pittsburgh's defense

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


The Pittsburgh Steelers were the NFL’s No. 1 defense last year with a healthy Troy Polamalu.

But is this still an elite defense with Polamalu out three to six weeks with a knee injury?

We check in with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to get some answers on how Pittsburgh’s defense will look without its Pro Bowl safety.

How big a blow is losing Polamalu to Pittsburgh’s defense?

Williamson: First of all, I think he’s their best player. That really says a lot, because they have elite football players on this team. But I will take Polamalu over all of them, including James Harrison, although that one is close. So, he’s certainly going to be a loss. I don’t think there’s any way around that. But the rest of the supporting cast is so strong that I think it’s still going to be an upper-echelon defense. Troy is not out all that long, and the schedule is not all that brutal. But he’s such a great, movable chess piece that you always need to account for him. Almost every quarterback has to look at No. 43 before they do anything else to see what he’s going to do on this play. He’s really a player without a weakness. He’s unbelievable, in my opinion, and I almost picked him to be my preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

What are your thoughts on his replacement, Tyrone Carter?

Williamson: Carter is going to be a lot easier to account for because he’s probably going to be an in-the-box player or he will be a Cover 2 player. He’s going to be much easier to recognize and know his intentions. He’s not nearly as dangerous or as versatile. But it’s not going to influence the amount of times the Steelers blitz or their overall aggressive nature of their blitz packages. All that should still remain the same.

The Steelers lost arguably their best defensive player and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is struggling. How do you see that matchup playing out?

Williamson: Cutler played terribly against the Green Bay Packers last week. It was his first game with the Bears and he looked like he was pressing, which he does. That’s one thing about him -- sort of like Ben Roethlisberger holding the football — is that you have to take the good with the bad. He’s a natural playmaker who always thinks he can make the play. Sometimes Cutler can and that’s great, and sometimes he can’t and costs his team dearly. Watching the game, though, I attribute at least a handful of the bad throws to not being on the same page with his receivers. Those guys are really young, and if you watch it, immediately you assume it’s the quarterback’s fault. But I expect Pittsburgh’s pressure to be on him, at least as bad as it was against Green Bay. He’s going to get hit.