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Old 09-30-2009, 11:02 PM   #1
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Default Steelers' Polamalu defends defense

Steelers' Polamalu defends defense
By Scott Brown
Thursday, October 1, 2009

There is modest.

Then, there is Troy Polamalu.

Consider what the player thought by some to be the best safety on the planet said Wednesday about his absence -- and its impact on a Steelers' defense that has failed to protect fourth-quarter leads in the last two games.

"I really feel I wouldn't have made a difference in either of those two games," Polamalu said.

That's not to say Polamalu hasn't shown a sense of urgency since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He has been lifting and doing cardiovascular work, and yesterday, the five-time Pro Bowler took a significant step toward returning when he ran for the first time since getting hurt.

Polamalu said his knee feels good enough that he has not ruled out playing Sunday when the San Diego Chargers visit Heinz Field for an 8:20 p.m. game.

"It would be nice to play this weekend," said Polamalu, who hurt his knee Sept. 10, when Tennessee Titans tight end Alge Crumpler fell on his left leg. "We'll see."

His return to the starting lineup is a long shot -- at best -- and no one would be happier to see Polamalu in street clothes Sunday night than Chargers coach Norv Turner.

Polamalu made a spectacular interception and a late fumble recovery in the Steelers' 11-10 win over the Chargers last November. And Turner knows there is more truth in a supermarket tabloid than Polamalu's assertion that he would not have made a difference in the two games he has missed this season.

"You lose what most people would say is one of the top five players in the league, and I don't care who you are, it's going to have an effect," Turner said yesterday in a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters. "He has a knack, a lot like (Ravens safety) Ed Reed, for when you think you don't have to account for him, there he is making a big tackle or making a big hit where you say 'That's not even his responsibility.' It's those types of players that are the hardest guys to prepare for."

The Chargers will likely get a pass on having to play against Polamalu; a more realistic return date for the seventh-year veteran is Oct. 11, when the Steelers visit the Detroit Lions.

The Steelers could use him this week.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers leads the NFL with 991 passing yards, and his favorite targets, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates, provide matchup problems because of their size.

Rivers, in fact, has an unusually tall group of receivers. Three of the Chargers' wide receivers are 6-foot-5, including Jackson, while Gates is 6-4.

"If they're being covered, Philip Rivers is putting the ball in the right spot, and they're body positioning guys, kind of like basketball, and making the plays," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said, "So, it's going to be difficult for us to kind of simulate that in practice, but we need to get the ball to the highest point to work on those things."

If Polamalu is unable to play against the Chargers, Tyrone Carter will start his third consecutive game at strong safety.

Polamalu insists there is no drop off on the Steelers' defense when he is out despite ample evidence to the contrary.

"I can truthfully tell you there's a lot of times in a game where T.C. or Ryan make a play, and I'm like 'Wow. There's no way I would have made that play,' " Polamalu said.

Too many people know better.

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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