Steel City Showdown: Is Ring No. 7 Pittsburgh's for the Taking?

Josh DelpContributor IJanuary 21, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 15:  Running back Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens is hit by safety Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

After a rough, tough, high-scoring victory over their rival Ravens last week, the Steelers are one win away from reaching the Super Bowl for the third time in six years. Standing in their way is a very cocky, confident Jets team coming off consecutive wins against the two of the best quarterbacks in the game today.

The Steelers have a pretty good quarterback too in Ben Roethlisberger, who has already won two Super Bowls through six years in the league. He, like Michael Vick, is on his own personal road to redemption after missing the first four games this season due to off the field issues. His play will be a major deciding factor in who comes out victorious, but it’s on the defensive end where the game will be won.

It’s no secret that the Steelers have one of the top defenses in the league. It has pretty much been a foregone conclusion throughout most of the decade. If the Steelers win, it will most likely be because of their defense. As indispensable as Big Ben is, the Steelers have a much more important player on the defensive end of the ball in No. 43: Troy Polamalu.

The Steelers lost their Week 15 game against the Jets 22-17. Brad Smith ran a kick back for a touchdown to start the game. The other deciding sequence was the safety that extended the Jet lead to 22-17, making a chip-shot field goal to tie the game out of the question when the Steelers were in the red zone during the waning seconds of the contest. There was another reason as to why the Steelers let one slip away. Polamalu was on the sideline.

I can say this with confidence. Troy Polamalu is the most important defensive player to any one team. His absence is almost like an offense missing their starting quarterback. Just his presence alters a quarterback’s initial passing progressions. He single-handily accounted for the Steelers division-deciding win over the Ravens in the regular season when he forced Joe Flacco to fumble which led to Roethlisberger’s game-deciding touchdown to win the game. He even snagged seven interceptions in the regular season, good for second in the league despite missing two games.

So it’s safe to say he’s the main man when he steps onto the field. He’s not the only guy you have to look out for. Don’t forget about the big three linebackers in James Farrior, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley.

The Steelers are excited to have Polamalu for this game against the Jets. Mark Sanchez is not excited.

“He’s the ultimate playmaker,” Sanchez said of Polamalu. “He’ll do anything. He’ll sacrifice his body. He’ll kind of freelance out there and read your eyes. Especially a young quarterback, he’ll try to get after you early and rattle you.”

Good luck with that.