Breaking Down Troy: Why the Steelers' Polamalu Is Defensive Player Of the Year

Ben AshunContributor IDecember 10, 2010

Troy Polamalu
Troy PolamaluRick Stewart/Getty Images

It’s 2nd-and-5, with 3:22 left in the game. You’ve got the ball on your 43, up by four to your division rivals. You could just run the clock out, but you decide to throw the ball. You drop back to pass, and BOOM! The ball is smacked out of your hand by what looks like a demon in black, white and gold.

Welcome to Joe Flacco’s world on December 5th, 2010.

It’s 1st-and-goal on the one, with 1:16 left in the game. You’re already down 16 points so really, there’s no coming back from this one. You try to drive the ball in on a quarterback sneak anyway, and BAM! You’re stopped by this same demon—what on earth just happened?

Welcome to Kerry Collins’ world on September 19th, 2010.

This demon? Troy Polamalu, the best defensive player in the NFL, safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Above are just two plays that are indicative of what this guy can do, and why he is easily one of the most feared defensive players in the league. He is, in my opinion, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

To be the DPOY you have to have the numbers right? Troy Polamalu has recorded 60 tackles this season, five for a loss. He has also recorded a sack and a forced fumble.

When you realize that he plays the safety position, the tackle for loss numbers become a little bit gaudier. Troy has recorded four INT’s this year, including 44 return yards, and eight passes defensed. He isn’t among the league’s best for either category, and statistics-wise this isn’t his best year, but the numbers are solid nonetheless.

The Steelers defense is fifth overall in the league. They hold teams to 15.9 points per game and 62.2 rush yards per game, good for first in the league. Their only flaw is the fact that they give up 239.3 pass yards per game, placing them at 23rd in the league in that category—this could be attributed to the fact that their starting cornerbacks are very average, and combined have less interceptions than Troy Polamalu this year.

Where you get to see Troy’s real impact is not through the numbers, but when you watch the games. The Buffalo Bills were driving near the end of the fourth quarter against the Steelers, looking to score a touchdown that would put them up 20-16. Instead, Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick throws a pass that is tipped, and with amazing extra effort, intercepted by Troy Polamalu to deny a Bills touchdown.

Another example is against the Falcons in the season opener. The game was tied 9-9, with 1:45 left in the fourth quarterback. Elite Falcons QB Matt Ryan dropped back to pass from his own 21, and the pass was jumped in front of and intercepted by Polamalu—a turnover that led to an eventual botched Jeff Reed FG (Steelers won, nonetheless).

To see if Troy is worthy of the award, besides stats and impact, we would have to evaluate his competition. The two other front runners for the award, I believe, are Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, and Miami’s Cameron Wake.

Both have had phenomenal years with Wake posting 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed, and Harrison posting 10 sacks, six forced fumbles, two INT’s and 79 tackles. Both players have had exceptional years, but I give the slight edge to Polamalu over Wake, who has been a nuisance in other team’s backfields this year.

Polamalu is the anchor of one of the league’s best defenses, and hopefully he can take home the award to prove it.