How is it possible that the player Pro Football Focus ranked the fourth-best inside linebacker in 2012 didn’t make the Pro Bowl? How does it happen that the linebacker who increased his team’s win probability the most last year according to Advanced NFL Stats didn’t make a single second-team All-NFL squad? How did the world not notice an inside linebacker who had two critical, game-changing interceptions—at Pittsburgh Steelers 16, one that set his team up for an overtime win and the at Cleveland Browns 20, the other a return for a touchdown that kept his club in a game in which it committed eight turnovers? Why didn’t more people recognize what a great year Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons had in 2012? The six-year veteran arguably had the finest all-around season of any inside linebacker last year. Timmons joined Seattle’s Bobby Wagner as the only two linebackers to receive positive grades from Pro Football Focus’s analysts in each of the three main areas in which that position is evaluated: stopping the run, defending against the pass and rushing the quarterback. As well as Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman and Luke Kuechly played, none of those stalwarts could boast such a comprehensively high level of play in 2012. Timmons was particularly strong as a pass rusher, finishing the season as the fifth most productive inside linebacker at generating pressure and netting the second most sacks of anyone at his position. Though slightly weaker against the run, Timmons’s efficiency at making tackles helped the Steelers linebacking corps rank fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed between five and 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. More importantly, as was demonstrated by the interceptions that won the Chiefs game and nearly won the first Browns game, Timmons was one of the few impact players on a somewhat disappointing Steelers defense. So with all this in mind, why did everyone overlook Timmons while heaping praise on Willis, Bowman, Kuechly, Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson and, sigh, Ray Lewis? There are several reasons. For starters, not everyone expected him to have such a good year. Timmons came into the 2012 campaign on the heels of a disappointing 2011 season that may have made many observers forget how good he was in 2009 and 2010. According to Advanced NFL Stats’ analysis, the Steeler ranked a dismal 69th among all linebackers in win probability added over the course of the 2011 campaign. That one down year may have overshadowed his stellar play in the previous two seasons, which saw him finish first and 14th in the same category. His struggles in 2011 were largely the result of having to play out of position while teammate James Harrison recovered from a facial injury. During the four games in which he was forced to play outside linebacker, Timmons generated only three quarterback pressures, a terrible figure for a player who excels at rushing the passer. He was also held without a tackle in a game for the first time in his career. Whatever the reason for the drop-off in his performance, a subpar 2011 may have led many to dismiss Timmons as a once-promising talent who had failed to live up to his early potential. As a result, they may have not been looking for a big 2012 from the Steelers linebacker and weren’t paying attention when he turned one in. Reputation counts for a lot in how NFL players are viewed. Fans and league talent evaluators tend to give stars with a long track record of success a break when they have bad seasons later in their careers. Likewise, they will sometimes turn on less experienced players when they have an off year, believing that any previous good years were the aberration. Unfortunately, a good reputation is not something that can be built overnight. Timmons will have to put up more stellar seasons before he is cut the same slack as established stars like Lewis. The second reason why Timmons’s excellent season went largely unnoticed was the relatively poor play of his team’s defense. After several years of dominant play, the normally stout Pittsburgh defensive unit struggled to stop opponents in 2012. And in football, poor play from a group tends to taint how its individual members are viewed. Because it is difficult to isolate a particular player’s performance from those of the rest of his teammates, excellent individual play can get lost if the unit fails to produce overall. There is a reason why the Texans’ offensive line and the 49ers' linebacking corps had two Pro Bowlers each.