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11-15-2006, 05:30 AM
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Losing Troy Polamalu for a game would not help the Steelers' defense in the best of times. The way they have played lately, they would miss him more than the receivers who run free through their secondary.
Coach Bill Cowher listed Polamalu as questionable for the game Sunday in Cleveland because of the concussion that knocked him out of the game last Sunday against New Orleans in the first quarter. To add to it, starting cornerback Deshea Townsend also is listed as questionable (ankle).

Polamalu has not missed a start since he took over the job at strong safety to open the 2004 season. He missed four games with a concussion that occurred in practice when he was a freshman in 1999 at Southern California, and he had as many as four other concussions dating to his freshman year in high school.

"Aww, the concussions weren't so bad," he told a reporter in 2002. "The worst one was one of my first tackles in my freshman year in high school -- one minute it was daylight, the next it was dark, and I heard people calling for smelling salts."

Those previous concussions will cause doctors to turn more cautious when they conduct tests this week on Polamalu. Those tests will be similar to the ones they ran on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after his concussion Oct. 22 in Atlanta. Cowher said the doctors must clear Polamalu before he practices.

"I know he hasn't had anything since he's been here," Cowher said yesterday. "He's had a history, and the doctors will take that into account. It's not my place to be judgmental about that. I've got to leave that up to the doctors, and we'll make decisions accordingly."

Polamalu was injured in the middle of the Saints' second series when he tackled Reggie Bush after a 5-yard gain. He remained in the game for the next five plays until New Orleans scored a touchdown. On one play, he covered the wrong man, but free safety Ryan Clark noticed it and took the receiver Polamalu was supposed to cover.

"He wasn't out of it," Cowher said. "He just confused the one defense."

It wasn't until he came to the sideline that the team's medical staff realized he had a concussion. He did not play after that.

"Troy could still talk to you about a lot of things, it just wasn't football at that time," Cowher said. "Hopefully, everything will be fine."

The Steelers' defense does not need to lose its two-time Pro Bowl strong safety at a time when it has been particularly vulnerable to the pass and putting little pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Drew Brees passed for 398 yards against the Steelers Sunday, and Denver's Jake Plummer, who has come close to losing his job because of his ineffectiveness, passed for 227 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against them the previous game.

They have allowed 62 points in the past two games.

"I'm concerned about it; I don't like it," Cowher said of all that scoring. "Some of it has been field position. Some of it has been that we have to do a better job in the red zone holding people to field goals instead of touchdowns.

"I have a lot of confidence that we'll be able to do that. Every week will be a challenge, and this team this week will be a challenge. But we've given up way too many points."

There may be all kinds of reasons for it, but surely one has to be that Plummer and Brees stood in seemingly touch-free zones. Each was sacked once.

In fact, take away their six-sack performance against Oakland, which has the NFL's lowest-ranked offense and worst passing offense, and the Steelers' pass rushers have done little since the fourth game. They recorded one sack in each of the two games before Oakland and one sack in each of the two after Oakland.

The Steelers have 24 sacks, not far off their pace of 47 last season, but they just haven't come lately. That could account for why offenses are having more success passing against them lately and why the Browns should be the next team to try Sunday.

"I would think so," Cowher said of Cleveland's offensive strategy. "They'll look and see what New Orleans did and incorporate that within their own scheme."

A week earlier, Cowher said he contemplated making changes in his lineup, and cornerback Ike Taylor said he was told he might be one of them.

Taylor started and "did some things well," but Cowher was dissatisfied with some of his play against New Orleans.

"I'd like to see him play the ball better,'' Cowher said. "There were a couple of balls down the field. Don't be afraid, just go make a play. I just don't want them to be afraid to make a play.

"You just don't want to get beat, but, in the course of not trying to get beat, you get beat. You have to go out there and be confident enough and aggressive enough that you put yourself in position early and at the end, go play on the ball.

"Sometimes. you're going to miss. But I'd rather see guys attempt and fail than not make an attempt at all. ... Get your head around. And they're going to continue to be tested on jump balls. Go, take your shot. Put yourself in position and try to make a play."