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Old 01-14-2011, 07:39 AM   #1
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Default Safeties could decide Steelers-Ravens playoff

Safeties could decide Steelers-Ravens playoff
http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sp...layoff.htmlext size
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Thursday January 13, 2011 11:55 PM

Times photo by LUCY SCHALY Troy Polamalu on the bench.

In the rubber match between the NFL’s fiercest rivals, a multiple of playmakers could wind up being the difference. Talented players on both sides have a chance to do something special that might advance their team closer to the Super Bowl.

But by the time Saturday night’s playoff game at Heinz Field ends, don’t be surprised if one of the star safeties comes through with the performance that matters most.

Batlimore’s Ed Reed and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu have been coming through in the clutch all season. So it figures that they’ll be even better with the stakes so high.

Reed and Polamalu have been so extraordinary that it’s not enough to say they’re the best safeties in the league.

“It’s a real honor to sit back and watch, probably, two of the best safeties to ever play this game go at it,” said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, a future Hall of Famer who knows a thing or two about great defensive play.

Those who’ve watched the Steelers in recent years know all about Polamalu’s influence on games. Last year, the Steelers missed the playoffs largely in part because they went 5-6 in games Polamalu missed with knee injuries. This year, they’re 11-3 in games Polamalu played.

The guy with the most famous hair in the NFL isn’t a one-man show, but he was clearly the Steelers’ most valuable player. A strong safety, he tied for second in the league with seven interceptions, and the timeliness of his game-changing plays that catapulted him in the national spotlight. Three late-season wins — at Buffalo, at Baltimore and home against Cincinnati — had Polamalu’s fingerprints all over them.

Of course, it was Polamalu’s sack and forced fumble on Dec. 5 that allowed the Steelers to beat the Ravens. It was a win that in essence wrapped up the AFC North title and a first-round bye.

Meanwhile, Reed, a free safety, has had a similar impact in Baltimore. He missed the first six games of the season with a hip injury. Once he returned, he was the Reed of old and led the NFL with eight interceptions in just 10 games.

In the next week or so when The Associated Press releases its annual postseason awards, Polamalu and Reed will get plenty of votes for Defensive Player of the Year. One of them should win the award.
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“I think I’d rather go for him,” Polamalu said. “He’s played in something like five games and what’s he have, 22 interceptions?”

OK, Polamalu was exaggerating. But his point is well taken. Reed, who’s well on his way to a Hall of Fame induction someday, has had an amazing season.

A ninth-year pro, Reed is tied for 18th on the NFL’s all-time pick list with 54. Even though he’s a defensive player, he’s scored 13 TDs. He’s the only player in NFL history to score off a blocked punt, punt return, interception and fumble recovery.

“I don’t know if there’s that much of a difference between them,” Lewis said when asked to compare Reed and Polamalu. “They both play the game with great instincts. They both prepare incredibly (well) and they just love the game. And they can actually turn the game into an offensive possession when they do have the ball in their hands.”

Polamalu, who is in his eighth season, doesn’t quite have stats like Reed. Polamalu only has 26 career interceptions and he’s only scored three regular-season TDs. But the last time the Steelers and Ravens met in the playoffs, Polamalu clinched victory by returning an interception 40 yards for a touchdown in the 2008 AFC Championship Game.

That interception was the first postseason pick-six in Steelers history and propelled the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII.

On Saturday when the Steelers and Ravens meet again, there will be so many players to focus on ... like quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, linebackers Lewis and Suggs and James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley or the fact that both teams are solid at running back, wide receiver and tight end.

Considering that the last four Baltimore-Pittsburgh games were decided by three points, Saturday’s outcome could come down kickers Billy Cundiff and Shaun Suisham.

Still, watch out for those two star safeties. One of them could decide who wins and who loses.
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Old 01-14-2011, 07:42 AM   #2

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Default Re: Safeties could decide Steelers-Ravens playoff

when was the last time reed showed up in a big game against pittsburgh... ben just knows too well to completely phase him out of the game.
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Old 01-14-2011, 07:57 AM   #3
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Default Re: Safeties could decide Steelers-Ravens playoff

it could....but i think there's other bigger issues that will probably decide the game.
Penalties or lackthereof. Field position/Special teams. OL play. QB efficiency.
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Old 01-14-2011, 09:10 AM   #4
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Default Re: Safeties could decide Steelers-Ravens playoff

Honestly.. while the two safeties might be the best players on each team respectively.. I think the difference comes in the QB play. Although our defense is better than theirs, theirs has been playing great lately as well so defenses are *basically* a wash. The biggest mismatch in this game is Ben against Ravens D vs. Flacco against our D. I'm quite confident that this game will come down to a Joe Flacco mistake
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