Super Bowl Snub: Clay Matthews Overlooked for NFL's Defensive Player of the Year

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 23:  Linebacker Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers looks down the line against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was gracious when accepting Defensive Player of the Year honors yesterday.  The Green Bay Packers on the other hand, have every right to feel slightly envious.

Amongst Polamalu's humbling and appreciative comments, the Steelers' six-time Pro Bowler happened to mention how similar both teams defenses are when talking with reporters. 

Pittsburgh coordinator Dick LeBeau has prided himself on years of hard work behind the front lines in the Steel City, while Dom Capers newly formed 3-4 scheme has been a hit amongst the fans in Green Bay.

Maybe that's why this year's defensive voting came right down to the wire.

Receiving 17 total votes, Polamalu outmuscled Matthews on Monday to earn the Steelers their sixth Defensive Player of the Year Award. 

Green Bay's leading nominee managed 15 total votes, a questionable statistic given the circumstances that lay ahead this weekend.

Not that any of this matters now, though.

But to the always cooperative folks up north in Green Bay, Packer fans have every right to feel displaced on this call.  Matthews recorded 13.5 sacks during the regular season, not to mention the fact he has become a major force in only his second year in the NFL.

Still, Matthews' efforts in 2010 only make up for half of yesterday's story.

When voting was closing on Monday, numerous reports emerged indicating that Matthews was the victor. 

MSNBC along with other media outlets were confident that Green Bay had won the award for the second straight time, but were puzzled to find they were incorrect as time passed.

Turns out the NFL nearly blew another call, and not for the first time this season, either.

After a quick challenge from the voters, Polamalu was handed the trophy.  A panel of 50 media members made the crucial call at the end of the day, and decided to go with the trustworthy mane of No. 43, rather than promoting "Suave's" new front man, Matthews.

But what has Polamalu achieved in comparison?

Undoubtedly so, he has matched Matthews word for word.  Yet that isn't to say Green Bay are undeserving by any stretch of the imagination.

The confusing part of this whole melodrama is the fact that Polamalu failed to partake in the full 16 games this season. 

Injured in Weeks 15 and 16, the Steelers' eighth-year player made a questionable comeback against the Cleveland Browns in the final week, going on to play for only six tackles in the postseason.

This kind of absence has more or less cost both Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick the MVP award.

Mind you, by placing Matthews up against Polamalu's playoff campaign, some serious differences are noticeable.

In the past three weeks, Matthews has tallied three and a half sacks to his name, two of which came against Atlanta's Matt Ryan in the Divisional Round. 

More impressively, however, is the fact that Matthews has also managed to stop three of the league's top running backs recently.

Against Philadelphia, runner LeSean McCoy was limited to just 46 yards.  In Atlanta, Michael Turner's forceful ways were contained to just 39 yards and a score. 

And last but not least, Chicago's Matt Forte was good for only 70 yards in the Bears' 21-14 loss.

Some of this can be credited to the defense as a whole, of course.

The uncanny thing that stands tall when considering Matthews, though, is his laid-back attitude.  Missing out on Defensive Player of the Year is stressful, but it hasn't deterred the Packers second-year player from what really matters this Sunday.

"Despite Defensive Player of the Year, I get the chance to play Sunday for the world championship."

In Dallas this weekend, two of the league's best defenses will butt heads in an unfitting surrounding. 

Cowboys Stadium is a glamorous selection for the Super Bowl, but one gets the feeling an outdoor stadium would have been more appropriate with two of the league's oldest teams matching up.

That may have to wait for another time.

In the meanwhile, Polamalu was quizzed on what he thinks the Packers game plan will be on Sunday.

"I don't imagine their game plan changing over one player," Polamalu stated. "We don't single out anybody. Anything we achieve here is done as a team, as a whole."

The Steelers' first-ranked regular-season rush defense reflects that.

It's almost ironic that two of the league's best defensive players came so close in this year's voting.  Perhaps the scarier thought is that these two men will be placed under the spotlight in six days time at Super Bowl XLV.

What is the league's perspective on this?

New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes summed it up quite nicely when speaking of Polamalu.

"With all due respect, I honestly think Troy Polamalu is probably the greatest player I've ever played with or even seen play in person," said Holmes in a respectful manner. 

"Everybody has their one person they think is the greatest player. In my eyes, I think he's the greatest player I've ever played with."

Matthews may find himself in the same sentence as Polamalu in 10 years' time.

Missing out on the award was controversial at first, but when it comes down to it, Green Bay is set to experience much more defensive success as the years draw on.

Tramon Williams is experiencing tremendous success at corner, while rookie Frank Zombo is also set to soar.

Polamalu has been great this year whilst accumulating seven interceptions and a sack, making him the deserving Defensive Player of the Year. 

So I ask you, what else is new?

Follow Ryan Cook on    Twitter.

Ryan Cook is an Australian author for Acme Packing Company, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer to Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Sports Haze.


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