Troy is 'healthy.' But is that healthy for a defense and team that's struggling? Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Has Troy Polamalu Really Been A Positive For Steelers In 2013?

The Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety and hair product aficionado Troy Polamalu sat out 22 games over the last four seasons.  Every game with Troy standing on the sidelines in street clothes you were sure to see a stat listing the Steelers record with and without #43 on the field (11-11 for those 22 games in case you were wondering).  Troy’s been called the ‘X’ factor.  He’s been feared by many offenses – if you didn’t know where #43 was, chances are you’d see him quickly in the backfield.  Despite the .500 record without Troy Polamalu, the defense was the #1 statistical defense for the last two seasons.  Troy is back and healthy, and folks like Dick LeBeau, Ike Taylor and Mark Kaboly (from the Star-Trib) think that is paying dividends so far in 2013.  Really?

In four games, the Steelers have gone from the #1 defense to one that is slightly better than average statistically.  The pass defense ranks 5th in yards but 25th in rush defense and 23rd in points against.  The Steelers are the only team in the NFL without a turnover.  Let me repeat that.  In 16 quarters of football, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only team in the NFL without a turnover.  What makes/made Troy Polamalu so special on this defense – he was explosive off the ball, he was explosive in his pursuit, and he caused turnovers.

Polamalu can be all over the field prior to the snap of the football as much as he wants (one of Kaboly’s positive points in his write up on Polamalu), but if he is not getting in the backfield to blow up plays (which he’s not), and if he’s not causing turnovers directly or indirectly (which he’s not) then how is the presence of Polamlu any better than without?  Don’t get me wrong, I respect the opinions of Kaboly and I respect Troy Polamalu.  But, I think Mark is a bit off in thinking that LeBeau’s and Taylor’s pumping up of Polamalu actually means something.

Just having a healthy Troy out there … just having his presence, let alone having a healthy Troy out there, brings a whole other dimension to the defense.   – Ike Taylor

And that dimension would be no turnovers, 25th in the run defense, and an 0-4 record.  Can someone teleport me now to some other dimension that has the Steelers at 3-1 or better and has say maybe 4 turnovers or more?  Too much to ask?

Troy is still a very good defender.  He can still tackle well, but he seems to have lost that little extra pop that causes the ball to hit the turf.  He can still pursue, but AFTER the ball carrier is past the line of scrimmage.  He can still move all over the field prior to the snap, but seems to put himself in bad positions.  Perhaps it’s age.  Perhaps it’s the evolution of the league regarding player safety.  Polamalu is not the ‘X’ factor he once was, and maybe it’s time to look into the positives of trading him for future picks instead of letting him rot in a 2-14 season.


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  • Dom DiTolla

    Good article, Craig. Although I’m not sure how much of a trade market exists for a 32 year-old player set to earn $8.25 million in base salary alone next fall. Plus, Troy’s recent injury history isn’t sure to peak high levels of interest either. Steelers would be best served to wait until his contract expires in 2015 and take a compensatory pick. Heck, it might be the only route they can go.

  • Bob

    I have been saying this for the last 4 years, but have to agree with Dom. With his salary & age, it will be hard to find any interest. Still, it can’t hurt to explore the market, and possibly do a package deal.

  • SamyyCiao

    Slow Slow Slow Slow

  • bk

    I think there would be some interest from the Packers and the Falcons… maybe even the Patriots…
    I think the biggest reason why he is not having the same impact is that the run defense is so bad, he has to sell out to help there and that takes away the free-lancing that makes him so effective… it used to be that the other team had to try to figure out what Troy was doing, now they pretty much know he is up to support the run D.

    • Craig

      But if you read the Kaboly article that I reference and link to, Troy is still ‘freelancing.’ LeBeau discusses in the article that Troy is still allowed to run around where ever Troy thinks he needs to be within the confines of the play that is called. Him admitting that only weakens any case to say that Polamalu has been a positive asset to the defense. He may have 14 tackles – but what makes Troy ‘Troy’ is missing and that is what makes me question whether it matters if he is on the field or not.

      • bk

        I see what you are saying, but, I think his free-lancing is leaning way too much to the run D. Usually defensive issues start up front, it’s been so long since anyone could run on the Steelers consitantly that now when it is happening, no one knows how to respond. That and no pressure on the QB is making life difficult for everyone else… I still think the personnell are more suited to a 4-3 right now.