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Old 10-16-2009, 09:51 AM   #1
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Default Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

By ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer Oct 15, 4:40 pm EDT

PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Steelers’ defense, one of the best in NFL history only a year ago, isn’t the dominating unit it was expected to be. The once-relentless pressure is sporadic. The ability to finish off teams is vanishing.

Maybe that little bit of edginess—the quality that Browns coach Eric Mangini says makes the Steelers “salty”—is missing, too.

Troy Polamalu(notes) is about to see if he can bring it back.

“There’s always opportunities in every game, and I just don’t think we are seizing those opportunities that we normally make,” said Polamalu, who watched the Steelers go 2-2 while he was out with a knee injury. “But all the problems that we had are easily fixable.”

At least he hopes they are.

The Steelers (3-2) are fourth in overall defense and second against the run — hardly a huge falloff—but they’re only 14th against the pass and 18th in points allowed after leading the NFL in both categories last season. And they’ll play the rest of the season without defensive end Aaron Smith(notes) (rotator cuff), one of the NFL’s best run defenders, starting Sunday against the Browns (1-4).

Since Polamalu went down with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee Sept. 10 against Tennessee, the fourth quarter has become a misadventure for a team that traditionally is as good as any in finishing off teams.

The Steelers have been outscored 55-13 in the fourth quarter, and 71-20 dating to the Super Bowl against Arizona. Those down-the-stretch failures cost them losses to the Bears and Bengals and endangered victories against the Chargers and Lions. Last season, by comparison, the Steelers won six times after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.

After Polamalu was hurt, the five-time Pro Bowl safety said he couldn’t imagine any drop-off without him. Not surprisingly, there was a significant one by a defense that, in 2008, narrowly missed becoming the first since the 1970 NFL merger to lead the league in fewest points, yards, passing yards and rushing yards allowed in a season.

“That’s a big plus for us because of the splash plays that he can make,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday of Polamalu’s return. “There’s only one Troy and when he’s not on the field, we’re not the same.”

Polamalu won’t concede the collapses wouldn’t have happened if he had played.

His teammates know what they were missing, and they recall how many plays Polamalu made against Tennessee—including a one-handed interception—before he was hurt. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, watching from afar, called them three of the finest plays he’s seen a defensive player make, much less in one half.

“I’m excited to have him back,” safety Ryan Clark(notes) said. “It makes other teams have to plan for him, makes them figure out where he’s going to be on blitz protection and coverages. He worked really hard this offseason, and you could see how good of shape he was in that first game and how prepared he was. So it was really sad to see him go out so early.”

The Steelers don’t believe Polamalu is coming back too soon; they initially thought he would be out 3 to 6 weeks, and he’s returning after four. Polamalu is wearing a brace that may slow him slightly but greatly protects the knee.

“I think another month (of rest) would make a huge difference,” Polamalu said. “The season is short. The season is long when you’re healthy, but short when you’re injured because you don’t have as much rest time.”

While the Steelers aren’t acknowledging it, they’ve dialed down their once-frequent blitzing without Polamalu to play more base defense. While they had seven sacks Sunday against Detroit, which has won once in 21 games the last two seasons, that was nearly as many as the eight they had in their first four games.

Polamalu simply is “hard to handle,” Mangini said, and creates plays for other players with his speed, versatility and instincts even when he doesn’t make one himself.

“He has great closing speed,” Mangini said. “He’s an excellent tackler. He’s a good blitzer. He has good hands. He has great range. … He seems like a really good guy. You appreciate those qualities from the outside looking in.”

Browns quarterback Derek Anderson(notes) has opposed Polamalu in high school, college and the NFL, so he doesn’t need to be told what having Polamalu means to Pittsburgh. The Browns are 31st in passing yardage and total yardage, and now they must go against one of the NFL’s premier defenders.

“He trusts his instincts. He reads routes. He tries to read your eyes,” said Anderson, who completed only 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards against the Bills on Sunday. “I know the magnitude and effect he can have on a game.”

Go Troy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 10-16-2009, 01:09 PM   #2
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

We're 18th in points allowed? That surprises me. Unless they lump in special teams and interception returns under "points allowed."

Looking at it closer, the DEFENSE is only giving up 15.4 points a game -- 77 in 5 games when you subtract Logan's "fumble" and Ben's two pick-sixes. That's #2 in the league behind Denver. Counting the offensive/special teams f***ups bumps us up by almost 5 points a game, which puts us 18th.

Actually, it looks like I just answered my own question. We've got the #2 scoring defense in the league, and probably would be the best if Denver didn't have a freakish start to the season. They just tabulate the rankings in a way that covers that up. Not maliciously or anything like that; just the way they do it.
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Old 10-16-2009, 01:14 PM   #3
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

One of the killers of him getting hurt after the titans game was that I felt this was the year he was going to be DOPY. Even though he has missed 4 games, if he comes back and makes the defense #1 again and dominate, he may still get it. I really hope so. Because with our offense being as potent as it is, if our defense gets back on track, Steelers may not lose another game the rest of the year.
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Old 10-16-2009, 01:33 PM   #4
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

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One of the killers of him getting hurt after the titans game was that I felt this was the year he was going to be DOPY. Even though he has missed 4 games, if he comes back and makes the defense #1 again and dominate, he may still get it. I really hope so. Because with our offense being as potent as it is, if our defense gets back on track, Steelers may not lose another game the rest of the year.
i agree. i thought after the 1st half he was DOPY, best halfive ever seen as a steeler fan for my 21 yrs of life...i think he should have won it already at some point, but he will at least once in his career, i just really wanna see him go into the hall...i checked the schedule out, and realistically i see us going 11-5 or at best 12-4, and thats only if we win tougher games, or else we could go 10-6 which admittedly isnt horrible we might make the playoffd with that
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Old 10-16-2009, 02:17 PM   #5
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

I'm so glad Troy is back for this game. It gives him a chance to shake off the rust before we really need him next week against the Vikes.
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Old 10-16-2009, 08:18 PM   #6
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

Middle coverage has killed us in games. So many 3rd and long conversions were happening against the D across the middle. I just hope 43 isn't rushing back too soon we need him in the playoffs.
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Old 10-16-2009, 09:27 PM   #7
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

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“He trusts his instincts. He reads routes. He tries to read your eyes,” said Anderson, who completed only 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards against the Bills on Sunday. “I know the magnitude and effect he can have on a game.”
Atta boy Derek. Now you'll be prepared when Troy knocks you on your ass several times on Sunday. Better make sure your health insurance premium is paid.

I can't wait to see "da Hair" back on that field!
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Old 10-16-2009, 10:04 PM   #8
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

As the article states, Troy does cause the other defenders to make plays. His being on the field will bumb the "entire" D up several notches......
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Old 10-16-2009, 10:34 PM   #9
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Default Re: Polamalu tries to restore edginess to Steelers

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Middle coverage has killed us in games. So many 3rd and long conversions were happening against the D across the middle. I just hope 43 isn't rushing back too soon we need him in the playoffs.
When he comes back, it'll have been more than a month. A month and a week, actually. That's plenty of time for a sprain to heal, even a pretty serious one.

I REALLY messed up my ankle one time playing basketball -- I mean, an on-crutches-for-three-or-four-days kind of sprain -- and in about a month it was completely back to normal. He ought to be OK.
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