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Steelers' Polamalu downplays emotional outburst

| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, 8:18 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu pulls in a second-quarter interception against the Eagles during their preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, at Lincoln Financial Field.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu gets in position during a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, at Lincoln Financial Field.

Troy Polamalu usually allows his performance to speak for him. This time was different.

Angered at an across-the-board defensive performance he deemed unacceptable by Steelers standards, Polamalu vented his emotions during an in-huddle outburst midway through the third quarter of a 31-21 loss Thursday in Philadelphia.

With the Steelers down 24-0 and giving up yards at a “Madden”-type pace, Polamalu had seen enough. For one of the few times in his 12-season Steelers career, he yelled, gestured and pleaded — and with so much emotion, it took defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to calm him down.

Polamalu didn't care that the game and the statistics didn't count. What mattered to him was the Steelers' season is only two weeks off, and this wasn't nearly good enough.

“We're lucky that it wasn't Week 1,” he said Saturday.

It took something this bad to get Polamalu this mad.

The fact the eight-time Pro Bowl safety said it — and in a way some of his teammates hadn't seen or heard before — caught the Steelers' attention.

“Troy's a leader. We're playing with a future Hall of Famer, so not only do you listen because of that, you listen because of his pride and how much work he puts into, (how much) energy,” cornerback William Gay said. “When he says something, he means it. We try to respond to it.”

Brett Keisel and Cam Heyward also said that because Polamalu doesn't speak out often, his words make an impact when he does.

“I hope everybody appreciates it because you don't hear from him a lot,” Heyward said. “We've got guys that really care about this defense, guys who have been in this defense. And it's up to everybody to play with that sense of pride and continue to go out there and do it.

“When someone wants more from you that way, the whole defense has to step up.”

Some teammates pointed out that the Steelers didn't game plan for a pedal-to-the-floor Eagles offense that generated 482 yards, but Polamalu said, “I don't know if it would have mattered.”

Heyward agreed, saying the Steelers will lose to the Cleveland Browns if they play that badly Sept. 7 — no matter who is the quarterback for Cleveland.

Polamalu didn't want to talk in detail about his blowup, saying, “What goes on on the sidelines, to me, it gets a little too TMZish,” he said, referring to the see-all, tell-all celebrity news outlet.

But he denied that he stepped out of character by being emotional and demonstrative, saying: “I don't think at all, to be honest with you. Probably over the last (12 years), I lead the team in personal fouls.”

His immediate concern is getting this corrected.

“Hopefully, that's not the telling story of how we'll be this year. Hopefully, we'll be able to learn from these mistakes and get better,” he said.

However, the starters likely will play only a series or two — if that — in the final preseason game against Carolina on Thursday at Heinz Field. That means most of the corrective measures must be done in practice.

There is much to fix. Every starter on defense — with the exception of Polamalu — was graded poorly in Philadelphia by Pro Football Focus. Cornerback Cortez Allen gave up four first downs by completion or penalty, and rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier allowed six catches for 70 yards in pass coverage.

And while it's only the preseason, the Steelers are the NFL's lowest-graded defense at minus-36 on a complicated grading scale by Pro Football Focus. They're also giving up the third-most yards in the league. Even a year ago, when the Steelers were 0-4 in the preseason, their cumulative defensive grade was a plus-15.6.

“We've got to get this rolling,” Heyward said.

That's because the Steelers would much prefer Polamalu be the talk of the defense rather than having to do the talking.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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