Steelers' Polamalu powerful behind scenes
It was unquestionably "The James Harrison Show" against Baltimore, but Troy Polamalu earned accolades as best supporting actor.
Harrison, an outside linebacker, earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his monster Monday night, one that included nine tackles, three-and-a-half sacks, six quarterback hurries, one interception, three forced fumbles (including one on special teams) and one fumble recovery.
But Polamalu, the Steelers' starting strong safety, was as involved as he was active.
On the Ravens' second third down of the night, it was Polamalu who lined up alongside Harrison to quarterback Steve McNair's left. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden blocked Polamalu. Harrison came free and wound up with a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
On the play that ended the Ravens' second possession, Polamalu blitzed again, which helped free defensive end Brett Keisel to breathe down McNair's neck and register a pass-defensed in close quarters.
On the Ravens' third possession, Polamalu shot a gap and forced a fumble by running back Willis McGahee. Steelers free safety Anthony Smith recovered.
And on the Ravens' first possession of the second half, another Polamalu blitz helped create havoc and a lane for linebacker James Farrior to drop McNair.
|The Steelers have been ranked No. 1 in defense for the past five weeks. They've gotten a variety of contributions from a variety of players while ascending to and maintaining the top spot in the league on defense:|
|Pos.||Player||Tackles||Sacks||INT||Pass def.||Fum. forced||Fum. rec.|
Polamalu made other plays against the Ravens that were less noticeable but no less essential, in the estimation of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
"He had a tremendous game," LeBeau said. "I can remember four or five plays that were potentially threatening plays to us that Troy just erased. He does that pretty much on a weekly basis."
Polamalu's impact was more obvious against Baltimore because he spent more time in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage.
"Against a team like Indy, I'm not going to be blitzing every play. I'm going to be dropping (into coverage) a few times, as well," Polamalu said. "A team like Baltimore, where you know they're going to run the ball, I'm going to be doing the opposite.
"It depends on what type of offense we're playing."
His role is subject to change when the Steelers host Cleveland on Sunday, as has been the case from week to week this season.
Polamalu, a second-team All-Pro in 2004 and a first-team All Pro in 2005, is the most decorated of the Steelers' defenders (Farrior made All-Pro once, as a first-team selection in 2004).
Still, Polamalu isn't among the 11 players who have contributed at least half a sack to the Steelers' total of 25, or the six who have combined to intercept seven passes.
Polamalu has made his share of spectacular plays in four-plus seasons, but his true value lies in his ability to prevent opposing offenses from making their's.
"From a coach's viewpoint, when you get a player that's erasing potential big plays on a consistent basis, that's as pretty as a sack or an interception, because those plays win games for you," LeBeau said.
"He's having a great year. He's our last line of defense."
The Steelers' defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards per game (237.8) and points per game (12.3).
Polamalu, who missed the Steelers' win over Seattle on Oct. 7 with a rib injury, has played a leading role in amassing the statistics.
At least that's the way Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards sees it.
"Obviously, No. 43 is the bell cow of that defense," Edwards said.
No matter who winds up being named Player of the Week.