Going into Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, the biggest headlines were about Charlie Batch and Jonathon Dwyer getting the start at quarterback and running back. Flying under the radar was the return of safety Troy Polamalu after being sidelined 7 weeks with a calf injury.
Polamalu has been the staple of the Steelers defense his whole career, and on Sunday the Ravens Joe Flacco notice he was back. It was rare to see Flacco throw in the direction Polamalu during this game, probably bringing back nightmares. When he did drop back to pass, it was mainly to the side of cornerback Cortez Allen who came into the game after pro bowl cornerback Ike Taylor fractured his ankle. Polamalu only played 78% of the defensive snaps while Will Allen took over the rest.
Though only recording two tackles, seeing the strong safety back on the field brings a feeling of solidarity to the Steelers defense. From 2009-2010 the Steelers had a record of 6-7 without Polamalu in the lineup. This season they are 4-3 without him, and everybody could tell that something was missing without the pro bowler in the secondary.
The Steelers were missing out on 29 career interceptions, 8 forced fumbles, and 467 total tackles. Obviously the statistics speak for themselves but it is more than just the numbers that make him a future hall of famer.
The first thing that comes to mind is trust. Polamalu has the trust from every one of his teammates on the field. They believe that whatever he does is right and whatever he says goes. With that he is a leader on the defense.
His overall football intelligence is what makes him a marvel to watch. Unlike many other players in the NFL (especially at the safety position) he makes quarterbacks double-take before the snap of the ball. One of his best talents on the field is being able to figure out the opponents snap count which in his career has turned into sacks and turnovers.
Ryan Clark and Polamalu are comparable to how linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley feed off each other on the field. They both have great intelligence on the field, in addition to understanding each other’s talents. Polamalu is known for his blitzing scheme and his speed while Clark is the rock in the secondary pass coverage. When they play together there isn’t a safety duo stronger in the NFL.
Polamalu’s health has been his Achilles heel over the last few years. Though the defense has played well, there is no replacing Polamalu and the Steelers are certainly a better team with him on the field. For the Steelers, they hope his return can help make way to another trip to the Super Bowl.