The NFL Network recently completed their series The Top 100 Players of 2011. With the rankings finally over it was interesting to see where the two most prominent Pittsburgh Steelers were rated amongst their peers.
While you could argue their respective rankings on the NFL list, it cannot be argued that they are not the two most important Steelers. However, which one is more important to the success of the team?
This past season, Polamalu won Defensive Player of the Year while Roethlisberger came off of a suspension-shortened season to have one of the best year’s of his career.
Both players are vital to the success of the Steelers.
Roethlisberger’s career regular season record is 69-29 and is even better in the playoffs, compiling a 10-3 record.
The Steelers have just as much, if not more success when Polamalu is in the game. Over the last two seasons, Pittsburgh is 14-4 when he is in the lineup but 6-7 without him.
If you examine this year’s playoffs, Polamalu was no where near 100 percent and the defense was not the same. This was particularly evident in the Super Bowl where Polamalu was virtually a non-factor, in part due to his health.
Even a healthy Roethlisberger was not enough to defeat the Green Bay Packers. But could the Steelers have gotten that far without him?
Yes, the Steelers managed to get to 3-1 with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch under center, but would they have maintained that success? Unlikely. It would have been a challenge for them to win the division let alone make it to the Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger brings leadership to the huddle that few in the NFL can match. He has led the Steelers to 19 fourth quarter comebacks and 25 game-winning drives, including the spectacular drive to lead the Steelers to a championship in Super Bowl 43.
The Steelers may not have made it to that Super Bowl if Polamalu did not come up with a big interception against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. His interception returned for a touchdown turned the Steelers two point lead into a 23-14 victory.
It is the propensity of Polamalu to make the big play that makes him so special. Whether it is a one-handed leaping interception, a fingertip diving interception, breaking to come out of nowhere to step in front of a receiver to intercept the pass, timing the pass rush to leap over the line to make the sack at the instant the ball was snapped or blitzing from the blindside to force a fumble, Polamalu does it all.
He also does it better than anyone in the NFL and is widely recognized as the top safety in the league, maybe even the best defensive player.
Polamalu is a dynamic player. He can play deep in coverage, play near the line to rush the passer or defend the run, or even start near the line but end up deep in coverage.
His closing speed is second to none and his natural instincts allow him to freelance on defense.
Quite simply, offenses have to game plan for Polamalu like no other player in the league.
Roethlisberger is quite the freelance player himself.
The scrambling ability of Roethlisberger may frustrate the head coach and annoy fans at times, but it results in big plays.
Receivers know that once the play breaks down they better get open because Roethlisberger will no doubt find them.
He has a rare combination of size and strength that few quarterbacks possess allowing Roethlisberger to fight off defenders to escape the pressure to make a play downfield.
Roethlisberger’s unconventional backyard-style also makes him tough to defend. The play is never over as long as his feet are moving. Look at how he fought of Terrell Suggs to throw a pass away against Baltimore last season. Then there were his classic game-winning touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes in Super Bowl 43 and Mike Wallace against Green Bay in 2009.
Critics will argue that Roethlisberger cannot win without the outstanding defense that the Steelers have traditionally had, making Polamalu more valuable. The counterpoint is how many championships did the great defenses in the 1990’s win without a franchise quarterback?
Three Super Bowls in seven years. That is the line for Roethlisberger whose main career goal is to surpass the four Super Bowl championships won by the Steelers of the 1970’s. It is this drive that will keep the Steelers in the hunt for the foreseeable future.
With that said, both players are outstanding and vital for Pittsburgh’s success. Polamalu is a special talent who cannot be replaced. He is the best defender in the league. Can the Steelers go far without him? No.
But Roethlisberger is a special talent as well. The NFL is a quarterback’s game now and if a team does not have a franchise quarterback they are not going far. Pittsburgh may be a good team without him under center, but they are not a Super Bowl team.
Both players are necessary to make the Steelers an elite team. If I had to choose one, though, I take Roethlisberger for the simple reason that he has a chance to make a play every offensive snap.
When it comes down to it, though, they are equals when it comes to being the most valuable member of the Steelers.
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