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.