A Question of Timing: The Return of Troy Polamalu

The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers are not the same team without all-world strong safety Troy Polamalu.  He aggravated his injured knee during last week’s game vs. the Bengals at Heinz Field.  Should he play and how soon?  That’s the question.

The situation in Pittsburgh is not critical.  It’s just complicated.

After 10 weeks, the team is 6-3 with control of their own playoff destiny and a chance to win the AFC North.  In each of three losses this season, Polamalu’s absence has been felt, but it was arguably not the decisive factor.

Turnovers and special teams defense have been crucial in each game.  In Week 2, the Steelers lost at Chicago and were minus 2 in the turnover battle.  One turnover was an underthrown ball to speedy WR Mike Wallace who was running behind the Bears defense.  That interception, influenced by spirited pressure from Bears RDE Alex Brown, turned that game around.

The following week, the Steelers were dominating the Bengals 13-3, in Cincinnati when Ben Roethlisberger fired a “pick six” to Bengal DB Jonathan Joseph.  The Bengals woke up and won the game making the same pass that defeated the Steelers a week before.  In Chicago, Jay Cutler zipped a ball in front of Tyrone Carter for a 7 yard score.  In Cincinnati, Carson Palmer found Andre Caldwell from 4 yards out and a score.  Both slants to the right side are probably never even considered with Polamalu on the field.

Nonetheless, it shouldn’t have come to that.

The Steelers can win every game remaining on their schedule without Troy Polamalu.  In order to do so, they’ll need to do little things like take care of the ball, maintain lane discipline and tackle on special teams, and run in the Red Zone.  They did not do these things well in Week 10 and lost a tough game.  A defense capable of holding the Cincinnati Bengals to 218 yards of total offense can run the table.  The offense and special teams need to carry their weight.

Remaining games: at Kansas City, at Baltimore, Oakland, at Cleveland, Green Bay, Baltimore, at Miami.

The Bengals still have tough games on the road at San Diego, at Minnesota and at the Jets.



  1. Dwayne Bowe, the biggest threat on KC is suspended for the next four games. That should give the Steelers a little relief. Unfortunately, the way that Polamalu plays lends itself to him getting injured alot. Baltimore is definitely the biggest obstacle in this stretch. They’ll need Polamalu against them. Green Bay, also, the way that Aaron Rogers is throwing the ball. Against Miami, with him on the field. The Wildcat will be a house cat.

  2. kos:

    I think the defense has made significant progress since the beginning of the season. I really like how they’re playing. They’ve not played with the same overall speed and power as in ’08. They haven’t forced as many turnovers or had as many sacks, but they’ve been solid. When you consider that Aaron Smith is also missing, it means guys are doing a really solid job.

    The defense is, at the very least, as good as Cincinnati’s even without Polamalu. The Bengals beat BAL twice. I think the Steelers can do it as well — but they have to play better on offense and on special teams. Same goes for Miami and Green Bay. I suspect that those last two games are going to decide first place in the division.

  3. I agree w/ T3. The defense, even with the injury to Polamalu, has been solid. And if not for mishaps by the offense in three losses, this team would STILL be unbeaten, considering all they’ve been through this year.

    I hate to say this but, I have a feeling that the Ravens will get one of those games this year. And since the Steelers have decided to play down to their level of competition this season, it’s probably inevitable. I really hope that i’m wrong but this gut feeling just won’t go away.

  4. Thanks GN.

    kos: I was super pessimistic after Smith went down. I’ve been really impressed by the D-line since then — especially Brett Keisel.

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