PITTSBURGH – Safety Will Allen doesn’t know much about the Steelers’ early-season struggles. As far as he’s concerned, Pittsburgh is 5-2.
After signing with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in the offseason, Allen wasn’t with the Steelers during their 0-4 start.
But when Dallas released Allen following an Oct. 6 loss to Denver, the Steelers (5-6) quickly brought the 10-year veteran back to provide depth at safety.
That proved to be critical when rookie safety Shamarko Thomas suffered a severe ankle sprain three weeks ago in a win over Buffalo. Thomas had been playing extensively in passing situations, a role Allen took over after the rookie was injured.
All Allen has done in the last two games is record 12 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and recovered another fumble.
For a team that failed to force a turnover in its first four games, taking a player out of the lineup who has been involved in three takeaways in the two games would be folly. Though Thomas is healthy, Allen will continue as the Steelers’ third safety when they play at Baltimore Thursday night in a critical game against the Ravens (5-6).
The Ravens use a lot of no-huddle offense with three wide receivers, meaning the Steelers could be forced to play extra defensive backs.
In the first game against Baltimore, a 19-16 victory by the Steelers, the Ravens ran so much of that package that nose tackle Steve McLendon, who is nursing a sprained ankle and won’t play in this game, was on the field for only 17 plays. Thomas played 50 snaps.
Allen, who spent the previous three seasons with the Steelers, credits his ability to work well with safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark for being a factor in his success.
“The communication has helped us tremendously,” Allen said. “It’s knowing how Ryan likes to play, knowing how Troy likes to play, because I’ve played with each of them independently. It’s all coming together. In the game, we just look at each other and it all comes together.”
Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick last spring, has been on the sideline watching Allen interact with Polamalu and Clark and has seen the differences between his approach and that of Allen.
“He’s a veteran. He’s definitely going to play it different than me,” said Thomas. “He’s smarter and can figure out things. That’s why he’s making big-time plays. He’s playing a lot different than me.
“It’s a veteran savvy. It’s the way he disguises things and just knows what’s coming. That comes with years.”
Between Polamalu, Clark and Allen, there are a lot of years of experience – 33 to be exact.
“It’s a lot of experience,” said Allen, stressing the amount. “But that helps us. We’ve seen a lot of ball, played a lot of ball. Thankfully, we can still run around a little bit.”
It’s been an opportunity Allen wanted for quite some time. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2004 draft by Tampa Bay – where Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was the secondary coach – Allen made 24 starts in his first three seasons. He made only nine starts over the next six years, including seven for the Steelers last year while subbing for an injured Polamalu.
That desire to be a starter again is what caused him to take Dallas’ free-agent offer, despite some talks with the Steelers at the time.
“That was a huge factor – being able to go to another team and start and contribute right away,” Allen said. “I started seven games the previous season with Pittsburgh. I knew I had the ability. Why not take the opportunity?
“Obviously, that didn’t work out.”
Odds and end zones
Thomas, defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) were full participants in practice Tuesday. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) were limited. … The Steelers placed cornerback Curtis Brown, who suffered a torn ACL Sunday in Cleveland, on injured reserve. Cornerback Isaiah Green was activated off the practice squad and cornerback Devin Smith was added to the practice squad.