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NNAMDI ASOMUGHA: THE MISSING PIECE OF THE STEEL CURTAIN? 91

After Aaron Rodgers carved up the Steelers secondary for 304 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XLV, a game in which every time the Pittsburgh got close they couldn’t stop Green Bay’s third down passing, it got the Steeler Nation talking. Being a faithful lifelong member of that Nation, I believe it is time to make a couple changes in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers secondary, outside of Troy Polamalu, is not overly talented. Their best cover corner, Ike Taylor, has never recorded more than three interceptions in a season and only has eleven in an eight year career. While he is speedy and solid in one on one coverage, his lack of playmaking and tendency to be penalized leave him out when talking about the league’s premier corners. At the other corner, both Bryant McFadden and William Gay were targeted all Super Bowl long, with Gay giving up two long scoring passes. With the lack of consistency on one side (Taylor), and lack of solid play on the other (McFadden and Gay), the time has come for the Black and Yellow to seriously consider an upgrade at corner to compliment safeties Troy Polamalu and his partner in crime, the hard-hitting Ryan Clark.

Enter Nnamdi Asomugha, considered by some to be the best corner in the NFL, and easily a top three. He is a free agent this offseason, and would fit the Steelers almost perfectly. Last season, he was thrown at a mere 27 times, only allowing 10 receptions. He has the speed, skill set, and instincts to have an immediate, game changing impact on a secondary that rarely makes plays other than Polamalu. Asomugha would mesh well into the Steelers’ defensive scheme, which allows corners more chances to blitz and make plays outside of coverage. Given his incredible football instincts, he would excel as a multi-purpose defensive player in Pittsburgh, not just a lockdown corner.

Asomugha can shut down elite receivers and sometimes, whole sides of the field. The possibility of Asomugha and Polamalu in the same secondary would take an average group and make it excellent, almost off the charts. The problem here is the Steelers are always gun shy when pulling the trigger on big name, high-priced free agents. They prefer to draft, and let the defensive system mold players into ones that fit the team defensive concepts. While this is an admirable quality of this prestigious organization, there hasn’t been bigtime corner in a Steeler uniform since Rod Woodson. The Super Bowl loss shows that the Steelers can’t always rely on their pass rush or Troy Polamalu to make spectacular plays every game. They would highly benefit from an upper echelon player like Asomugha. Just imagine with him shutting down a whole side of the field, the havoc Polamalu could wreak? The only reason I could see the Steelers not at the very least entertaining the thought of trying to sign Asomugha is the crop of young corners they have behind the current starters. Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler have both been praised coming out of training camp, especially for their speed, but Lewis saw limited action due to his inability to control his emotion on the field, and Butler was sidelined with an injury.

Do the Steelers have enough faith that one of these two will rise to the occasion and at least deliver solid and consistent play opposite Ike Taylor? Or will the chance to bring in a player of Asomugha’s caliber once again slip through their grasp? Consider this fact: if the Steelers were to lose Ike Taylor and clear cap space to sign Asomugha, then that would still make room for Lewis or Butler to step in and play opposite him, and that to me is a win-win situation for the Steelers, especially if the positive reviews of Crezdon Butler is actually deserved. But we haven’t seen him on the field yet, so who knows?

That said, a change is needed in Steel-Town in one form or the other. I personally would be watering at the mouth should the Steelers enter the mix of possible destinations for Asomugha. It’s just a no lose situation with this guy, and he certainly seems like the perfect piece to solve the Steel Curtain’s secondary puzzle. If the change has to come in the form of drafting another corner, or promoting Lewis or Butler to starter, I wouldn’t mind that either. McFadden and Gay simply haven’t gotten the job done, and no matter how well your offense plays, if your pass defense is giving up 304 yards and three touchdowns, you will not be winning many games. I believe I speak for all of the Steeler Nation when I say I can only handle so many disastrous performances by the Steelers air defense. The unit is just plain ineffective when Polamalu isn’t on the field, and should he get hurt again, Nnamdi Asomugha would be a life saver. It all comes down to the risks the Steelers are willing to take, and the faith they have in their current players compared to the immediate impact Asomugha would have.

The time has come to shake things up in Pittsburgh. Nnamdi Asomugha could be that shake up in a big way. We’ll just have to see what happens, considering there may not even be a football season come September, unfortunately!

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