NFL fans would struggle to find a more fierce competitor than Troy Polamalu. The Pittsburgh Steelers safety has repeatedly shown he's willing to sacrifice his body, but his latest injury setback proves it's time to shut him down for awhile.
Polamalu was trying to return from a nagging calf injury against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, but was forced to leave the game early after aggravating it. Jamison Hensley of ESPN is already reporting he's likely to miss Pittsburgh's next game.
The 31-year-old veteran is always going to push the envelope when it comes to getting back on the field. That's just his nature. It's up to the Steelers coaching staff to make the decision to keep him sidelined until his calf is back to full strength.
It's one of those injuries that will continue to linger until completely healed. Sunday was a perfect example of that, as a seemingly innocent play by Polamalu ended with him limping off the field.
When healthy, Polamalu is one of the league's best safeties. He's capable of making game-changing plays on a weekly basis, taking the Steelers defense from a good to an elite level. There aren't many players at the position who can match his importance.
That's not the Polamalu fans have seen when he's been on the field this season, though. The bad calf has sapped his playmaking ability and without it he's just another run-of-the-mill safety, which isn't what the Steelers need from him.
Ryan Mundy, who has been filling in, can match that level of performance. He's able to make the basic plays, helping keep the Steelers secondary afloat and has even shown signs of improvement with the added playing time he's received.
What should the Steelers do with Polamalu?
Mundy gives the Steelers some flexibility. They can afford to keep Polamalu out of the lineup for awhile, hopefully leading to a full recovery to the point where he can return to the starting lineup without the fear of another instant setback.
Nobody knows how long that will take, but the patient approach is the right one here. Pittsburgh should wait as long as it takes for Polamalu to feel confident his leg won't be an issue moving forward. It could take two weeks or two months.
Even though the Steelers are only 2-2, they are still in good shape as far as the playoff race goes because the team's schedule isn't overly difficult the rest of the way. Having Mundy in the lineup instead of Polamalu for awhile shouldn't make a huge difference.
If it means the Steelers can get Polamalu back to the top of his game for the stretch run and playoffs, the time off will be well worth the short-term secondary downgrade.
Trying to rush him back certainly hasn't worked so far. It's time for a new approach.