When the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award is voted on in the coming weeks, it’s likely Reed will garner quite a bit of support.
But despite the fact that Reed leads the NFL in interceptions with eight, many feel Polamalu deserves similar accolades.
“Troy Polamalu is the best safety in the game today,” Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said following the Steelers’ victory two weeks ago over the New York Jets. “And I’ll go on record in saying that. The things you ask him to do and the production that he has, and what he does week in and week out, I wouldn’t want any other guy.”
The Steelers did, however, covet Reed in the draft three years ago but were beaten to him by the Ravens, who picked just a few spots ahead of them. The Steelers instead went with their No. 2 option, taking guard Kendall Simmons in the first round and then selecting safety Chris Hope in the third. Simmons is out for the season after injuring his knee in training camp, but is considering an anchor of the team's offensive line. Hope, meanwhile, stepped into the Steelers starting lineup this season at free safety alongside Polamalu and has helped improve the Steelers' defense immensely.
Had the Steelers gotten Reed in 2002, they wouldn't have felt the need to move up to take Polamalu in 2003. But given what the Steelers ask of their safeties compared to what the Ravens want of Reed, things probably worked out for the best.
While Reed is a supreme ballhawk – he has 20 interceptions in 46 career games – Polamalu is asked not only to drop into coverage, but also play up at the line of scrimmage as well.
“(Reed) covers a lot of ground and he reads the quarterback’s eyes very well,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. “The quarterback has to be very comfortable with what he does with the ball with a guy like Ed Reed because he’s very aggressive. He reads the quarterback’s eyes and … he’ll go where he thinks the ball is being thrown.”
Polamalu doesn’t get as many opportunities for interceptions because many times he’s helping the Steelers stuff the opposing running game.
“There is a lot asked of safeties in our defense,” said Polamalu. “Safeties are a big part of this defense.”
Polamalu was asked as a rookie to learn the entire Steelers’ defensive package. As a result, he didn’t become comfortable until late in the season. And by then, the Steelers’ season was effectively over as they struggled to a 6-10 record.
But Polamalu has come out strong in 2004, leading Pittsburgh with five interceptions, while ranking third with 91 tackles.
That’s why he’ll be joining Reed on the AFC’s Pro Bowl squad in Honolulu in February.
Sunday will be a big day for Polamalu, who likes to study other NFL safeties, looking for little tips on ways to improve his game.
“I spent the offseason watching film of Ed Reed, Rodney Harrison and Brian Dawkins just looking for the little things they do,” said Polamalu. “Those guys are the best in the league as safeties and I wanted to see what the best players do.”