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Old 02-04-2011, 07:23 PM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default What makes Polamalu so great? You figure it out

What makes Polamalu so great? You figure it out
By Gregg Doyel
CBSSports.com National Columnist
Feb. 4, 2011Tell Gregg your opinion!

DALLAS -- You're not getting a breakdown from me on the unique greatness of Troy Polamalu for the same reason you're not getting a lecture from me on astrology, biophysics or Lane Kiffin's allure: Because I don't understand it.

I mean, I agree with it. Don't get me wrong -- Polamalu is indeed uniquely great. I'm positive of that. But how? Why? How does he do what nobody else does?

No idea. And I tried to learn this week. You should've seen me at Media Day, ducking the bozos and bimbos and asking players and coaches -- on both teams -- to explain why Polamalu plays so much bigger than his 5-feet-10, 207 pounds. Why he plays faster than his above-average, but not blazing, speed. Why the Steelers have James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel and James Farrior, yet Polamalu is the most dangerous player on the most dangerous defense in the NFL.

All I got was a bunch of existential nonsense.

"Great instincts," said Packers quarterbackAaron Rodgers, who'll deal with Polamalu on Sunday in Super Bowl XLV.

"He understands what he's looking at," Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton said.

"He was born to play football," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

"He has a sixth sense," said Steelers receiver Hines Ward.

Thanks a lot, guys. That's tremendous. You make Polamalu sound like a palm reader, not the most destructive player in football. He was named AP Defensive Player of the Year this week, and although he probably won't be named MVP when that award is announced on Sunday, maybe he should. A defensive player has won the award just twice in 53 years -- Alan Page in 1971, Lawrence Taylor in 1986 -- and a defensive back has never won it.

Polamalu likely won't be the first, but the argument can be made that he should be -- instead of whoever (Tom Brady) becomes the ninth quarterback in 11 years to win MVP. How valuable are quarterbacks? Plenty, of course, but Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger didn't play the first four games of the season, and the Steelers went 3-1. But over the past two years, in games without Polamalu, the Steelers have gone 6-7. They are 16-4 in games with Polamalu.

That's startling. So are the plays Polamalu has a penchant for making. "Game-changing plays," Woodley says.

There was Polamalu's sack-and-strip, late in the fourth quarter, of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Dec. 5. Pittsburgh's fumble recovery set up the Steelers inside the Baltimore 10, where they scored three plays later for a 13-10 victory that helped give them home-field advantage in the playoffs -- which came in handy on Jan. 15, when the Baltimore had to come to Pittsburgh, and not vice versa, in a divisional playoff won by the Steelers.

Polamalu has a host of game-changing plays against Flacco alone. In the 2009 AFC title game, he dived over Ravens center Jason Brown to stop a Flacco sneak on fourth-and-one early in the game, and later that game he returned an interception 40 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.

"Playing with Troy," says Steelers safety Ryan Clark, "is like having a front-row seat to the circus."

Good, Ryan. Go with that. How does Polamalu do it?

"Well," Clark said, pausing. "He does his job in a way that I don't think anybody else could do it."

Terrific. Thanks so much.

I gave Horton a second chance to explain Polamalu's greatness, and this time the Steelers' secondary coach was helpful. He called that fourth-and-one tackle of Flacco in 2009 his favorite Polamalu play because it combined Polamalu's preparation, intelligence and instincts into one playmaking package.

"The Ravens had Adam Terry, No. 75, who always came in as an extra tight end -- and I noticed that he never, ever went out [for a pass]," Horton said. "I told Troy that one time, on Wednesday of game week, and we never mentioned it again. So the game comes, and it's fourth-and-one, and here comes No. 75 onto the field. The way we were lined up, he was Troy's responsibility as a receiver."

Three seconds before the snap, Polamalu was indeed standing over Terry. Two seconds before the snap, Polamalu was drifting toward the middle of the field. One second before, Polamalu was standing over the center, Brown. The instant Brown snapped the ball -- maybe an instant before Brown snapped the ball -- Polamalu was jumping over him, onsides but just barely, and landing on Flacco. No gain. Change of possession.

Horton was thrilled, then livid. Great play, but Polamalu's responsibility was Terry. He summoned Polamalu to the sideline phone.

Horton: "What're you doing?!?"

Polamalu: "Coach, I had No. 75. He never goes out."

Horton: "Well done."

That's Polamalu. So is this: "MVP of the league," says Packers running back Brandon Jackson.

"The best defensive player I've ever seen," says backup Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich, an eight-year NFL veteran.

"The best player in the league right now," says Harrison.

"The greatest player I've ever played with or even seen play in person," says Jets receiver Santonio Holmes.

"The most instinctive player I've ever had," says LeBeau, the Hall of Fame defensive coordinator and an NFL coach of 37 years.

That's a mouthful, but I saved the best for last. As I was talking to Horton at Media Day, another reporter wandered over and interrupted our conversation. The reporter wanted to know, "Is Polamalu the best defensive player you've ever been around?"

Horton was silent a second. He had played a decade in the NFL himself, and earlier in our conversation Horton had mentioned how he had played for the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII against the 49ers' Ronnie Lott, considered by many to be the best safety ever. Maybe Horton was thinking of Lott when he started to answer that question.

"Troy is the best defensive player ..." but then he paused. Thought some more about it. And continued.

"... the best defensive player of all time."

For more from Gregg Doyel, check him out on Twitter: @greggdoyelcbs
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Old 02-04-2011, 07:31 PM   #2
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Default Re: What makes Polamalu so great? You figure it out

The hair?

But really, Aaron is right. He has the best instincts of any football player. He knows where to be and what to do when he's in position. One of a kind.
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