Troy Polamalu has been named AP's NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In a year where Ben Roethlisberger missed the first four games and the Steelers offense was lethargic at times, Troy and the defense stepped up and helped the Steelers go 12-4 and get into the playoffs.
Troy, who was also voted to his fifth Pro Bowl this year, was absolutely electric for most of the season. He impacts the game unlike any defensive player I've ever seen.
The play he made early in the season against the Tennessee Titans, jumping over the offensive line to tackle Kerry Collins, who was trying to do a quarterback sneak, was incredible. Nobody makes that play besides Troy. He also had an interception in that game and has seven picks on the season, despite not playing in every game.
Polamalu practically defeated the Cincinnati Bengals single-handedly in the teams' second meeting. He intercepted two of Carson Palmer's passes and returned one for a touchdown. The Steelers might have trouble winning that game if Troy doesn't play. That pick-six by Troy set the tone for that game.
Perhaps no bigger play was made by a Steeler all year than the play Troy made against the Baltimore Ravens at Baltimore. The Ravens had the lead with 2:51 left in the game and Troy blitzed Joe Flacco, causing a fumble which the Steelers recovered. That play set up a game-winning touchdown pass by Big Ben to Isaac Redman. Nobody makes that play at that time besides Troy.
The only negative on the season for Troy is that he once again fell to an injury. Last year, he missed 11 games and the Steelers defense, especially the secondary, suffered without him. This year marks three out of the last four seasons in which Troy has failed to play in every game. It's frustrating because who knows how his stats look if he's healthy every year.
The Steelers just aren't the same team when Troy doesn't play. Look at the game against the New York Jets in the regular season. Playing against a young QB that's prone to make mistakes, the Steelers defense forced zero turnovers. I would like to think the outcome is different if Troy is able to play.
Troy was certainly the logical choice to be named the Defensive Player of the Year. You may have an argument that James Harrison, Troy's teammate who has played every game this year, also deserved consideration. Despite his penalties and fines, Harrison has a had another big year statistically.
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews finished second in the voting and lost to Polamalu by just two votes. Matthews had a great year, making the All-Pro team thanks to 60 tackles, 13.5 sacks (fourth in league), an interception return for a touchdown and, like Polamalu, a penchant for delivering game-turning plays.
Also receiving votes for AP's NFL Defensive Player of the Year were Chicago end Julius Peppers with six and linebacker Brian Urlacher with two, and Baltimore safety Ed Reed and nose tackle Haloti Ngata with one each.
Looking forward, I hope Troy can make a few of those big plays one more time, as he and the Steelers get set to play for another Super Bowl title. Polamalu is quickly becoming an all-time great player, and if he can stay healthy, he could end up going down as one of the greatest players in NFL history.