PITTSBURGH – Is Troy Polamalu the Steelers’ Most Valuable Player?
Does a coach seek advice from a reporter, in the woods or otherwise?
Well, yes and yes. Polamalu was named Steelers MVP on Thursday, a day after Browns coach Eric Mangini asked a reporter for his opinion on whether Polamalu would play Sunday in Cleveland.
The Q&A reversal explains why Polamalu is under strict orders not to provide information about his health. Polamalu makes that much of a difference in game preparation.
“He’s hard to deal with in so many different ways, whether it’s the running game, blitzing, the disguise, or the threat he is, in terms of being able to create turnovers,” Mangini said. “So we are preparing like he is going to play and we’ll see what happens.”
Polamalu gave no indication either way Thursday when he accepted the MVP award. But Polamalu did provide some insight on the lower-leg injury that’s kept him out of the last two games.
“I struggled with the injury for about a month before I missed the first game,” he said. “It feels better than then. We just don’t want any real setbacks before the playoffs.”
Polamalu will practice today and coach Mike Tomlin will then decide whether to use his MVP in a game that can clinch the division title and give the Steelers a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Steelers have Polamalu to thank for being in this situation in the first place. After missing 11 games with a knee injury last season, Polamalu made his impact clear in the season opener when he jumped a route and intercepted Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan late in the fourth quarter of a game the Steelers won in overtime.
Polamalu intercepted another pass the next game, but the strong safety had to wait until Nov. 21 for another one. That began a streak of four consecutive games in which Polamalu created a turnover, and two of those turnovers clearly turned games around.
Against Baltimore, Polamalu sacked quarterback Joe Flacco and forced a fumble that set the Steelers up for the game-winning touchdown. Against Cincinnati, Polamalu returned an interception for a touchdown that tied the game.
The Steelers won all four of those games, and then lost without Polamalu the following week against the New York Jets.
The Steelers won their last game – against the two-win Carolina Panthers – to improve to 6-7 without Polamalu in the last two seasons. The Steelers are 14-4 in the same span with him.
Of course, Polamalu dislikes that type of talk, and particularly talk of MVPs.
“Unless it’s the Indianapolis offense or the New England offense, you can’t really know who the MVP is,” he said. “One thing about our defense is it takes 11 parts to play the run and to play the pass, and if there’s one little problem that occurs within the run or the pass defense it can be really explosive against us. I think that’s what’s really unique about our defense and that’s why I don’t think you can ever really say someone’s more valuable than anyone else.”
Yesterday, Polamalu added that, “If I was ever a coach, I would never have an award like this because it’s such a team sport.”
Polamalu was also named on Thursday the Steelers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community service.
Again, he was less than enthused.
“I don’t really know what to say about any charity award,” he said. “I don’t think people do it so much for any type of recognition, so it’s kind of uncomfortable winning anything like this.”
Voted upon by teammates, the Steelers MVP award is the first for the 29-year-old Polamalu, who’s been in the league eight years, has been named to six consecutive Pro Bowls, and will likely be named an Associated Press first-team All-Pro for the third time at the end of the season. He leads the Steelers with 6 interceptions and appears to be improving with age.
“Athletically he’s certainly still right at the peak of his athletic ability,” said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “And his knowledge allows him to be more productive. I think he is getting better.”
“I think he’s raised his level of play a little bit more this year,” said linebacker James Farrior. “He’s making the same plays he’s made in the past, but they’re more impactful on the game.”
“A lot of us in here think he should be the league’s Defensive MVP,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “He deserves it. He’s one of those players that’s special. He makes plays that no one else can make on the football field. We’ll be happy to get him healthy and back out there with us.”