Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers' One-Man Defense, is Missing in Action

Tim KingCorrespondent IOctober 5, 2009

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the game at Heinz Field on September 10, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

If the Pittsburgh Steelers find their way through the thicket that is the NFL season and are playing to defend their title this coming February in Miami, then it is already obvious who is the only logical choice for team MVP.

Troy Polamalu.

The NFL's finest defense suddenly has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese in the three-plus games Polamalu has been out nursing a badly sprained left knee. Last night's 38-28 victory over the San Diego Chargers was simply the latest example of a defense that just can't close the door without No. 43.

The script was familiar. The offense chugged along, getting busy on the scoreboard with seemingly large enough cushion for the final 15 minutes...only to have the defense implode and put a night's work in peril. The defense coughed up comfortable leads in Chicago and Cincinnati, but it seemed nearly impossible for a team whose Super Bowl rings aren't even dirty yet to blow a 28-0 lead. 

Nearly impossible.

Phillip Rivers threw and threw and threw, and all of the sudden the Steelers' ghost of the recent past was standing in the huddle again, pointing the finger all around. James Harrison couldn't cover a receiver in the short middle where Polamalu would have provided a blanket of cover. William Gay couldn't get players on the ground, where No. 43 would have torpedoed them. 

About 20,000 fans who had already made their way back to the tailgate were walking en masse toward the Allegheny River, threatening to take a final plunge if someone didn't out a stop to the madness. 

Fortunately for all concerned, the Steelers offense mounted a pair of late drives of their own to salvage the night. But how much longer can this continue?

The Steelers awoke late this morning with a 2-2 record, a game behind Baltimore with what appear to be a pair of layup games ahead against Detroit and Cleveland. Neither game appears to be tough enough to force the Steelers to put their best player back on the field before he's ready. A 4-2 record headed into Halloween might buy the Steelers some time to get Polamalu healthy and patch their defense back together.

But pull another el foldo against two teams who would have been crushed beyond recognition by the Steelers defense of 2008, and suddenly the peril of sitting at home through the first two months of 2010 becomes VERY real.

All because of one man. You know, the one with the hair, not the cape.