View Full Version : Unpredictable Polamalu Will Challenge Cowboys

12-06-2008, 09:35 AM
Rob Phillips
December 5, 2008 5:33 PM

IRVING, Texas - There's no trouble spotting Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu on the football field. Just look for the curly locks bunching beneath his helmet - a tribute to his Samoan heritage.

Knowing exactly where he'll line up Sunday at Heinz Field (3:15 p.m. CST) - or better yet, where he'll end up once the ball is snapped - is an entirely different task.

Polamalu, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is the long-haired anchor of Pittsburgh's wicked defense. He also might be the envy of every defensive player in the National Football League - past or present - because of the freedom he's afforded by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

"I'm so jealous when I watch him," said former safety Darren Woodson, the Cowboys' all-time leading tackler (1,350) who won three Super Bowls in 13 seasons with the team. "He's free most of the time. He doesn't really have a whole lot of coverage responsibilities. Every once in a while he'll cover a tight end.

"But I look at that situation and say, 'I'm covering the slot receiver on third down with my back to the quarterback,' I'd be in the Hall of Fame right now if I had that gig."

Woodson meant so much to the Cowboys' defense because of his coverage skills at the safety position. Polamalu has them, too, and there's a good chance Sunday he'll be in the slot from time to time covering Cowboys tight end Jason Witten or maybe even wide receiver Terrell Owens.
But Polamalu also embodies the unpredictable nature of the Steelers' defense, which has an NFL-high 42 sacks and is on pace to become the first group since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles to lead the league in all three major defensive categories: rush defense (71.2 avg.), pass defense (238.0 avg.) and total defense (238.0 avg.).

On one play, he's locked into coverage. On the next, he's bringing a blitz - probably from a different spot than the last time he rushed the quarterback.

"I haven't seen that since Pop Warner," Cowboys inside linebacker Bradie James said of Polamalu's "unorthodox" job. "He has range. They pretty much tell him to line up wherever he wants and get to his spot, and that's what he does. That's what makes him the player he is.

"Some players have to sit there and try to get a pre-snap read, but he plays on the run and he does it well."

Polamalu has used his range and anticipation to tally nine pass breakups and six interceptions this season, the most by a Pittsburgh defender since Rod Woodson in 1996. The Steelers have come to rely heavily on his playmaking skills - they're 12-3 all-time in games he's intercepted a pass.

Some of Polamalu's free will can be credited to the Steelers' formidable front seven, whose production takes pressure off cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend. Polamalu, in turn, gets to chase both quarterbacks and receivers.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo realizes he'll have to identify Polamalu on every series. The Steelers rested the sixth-year veteran's calf injury on Wednesday and Thursday, but he had full participation on Friday and is expected to start.

"He definitely has great instincts," Romo said. "He has a great feel of the game. I tell guys sometimes when you watch him, he does a great job with his mannerisms. He almost has like a basketball player's hesitation - and then bam, he'll blitz. Or he'll be pretending like it and then he'll drop.

"He does a great job of understanding people's tendency to feel something or see it or react and he knows what people are going to do. I think that's just a smart player."

Polamalu is not a separate, one-man platoon on defense. LeBeau consistently places him in opportunistic situations within the Steelers' scheme, and Polamalu capitalizes with athleticism and intuition.

The Cowboys' variety of offensive weapons - Owens, Witten and Roy Williams, among others - might keep Polamalu in coverage more often than usual. But he'll also get his chances to make a game-changing play in what's expected to be a defensive struggle on a potentially sloppy field.

"They give him a lot of latitude certainly, and that's what you need to do with a player like that," Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said. "He's a special player."

12-06-2008, 11:18 AM
Troy challenges every team he faces, you have to account for him on every play. Sometimes he's playing the run, sometimes he's in coverage, sometimes he'll blitz, the dude is really a monster on that field. It's great to have the old Troy back.

12-06-2008, 11:47 AM
Troy challenges every team he faces, you have to account for him on every play. Sometimes he's playing the run, sometimes he's in coverage, sometimes he'll blitz, the dude is really a monster on that field. It's great to have the old Troy back.Its great to have him back. Just wished he could throw in a few sacks along with those league leading 6 INT's. Thats another thing Troy brings is being a distraction, just when Romo is worried about where Troy is, along come Silverback and Da Wood to bring Tony back to reality and remember there are 2 more guys he should've accounted for. Anyone want to bet there will be about 10 false starts on Dallas?

Props to you Reg for posting up these articles. :yellowthumb:

12-07-2008, 12:49 AM
Yeah, Troy is as much a threat even when he's not in the tackle. If you watch the offensive line on any given play where Troy is playing close to the line you'll see the center or one of the Guards pointing at him. I happens on almost every play that he's hovering around close to the line; you have to always account for him and the fact that he's such a solid tackler and big hitter just makes it all the worse for opposing offenses.

12-07-2008, 08:50 AM
Who has the edge?: Tony Romo vs. Troy Polamalu (http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/12/who-has-the-edge-tony-romo-vs-troy-polam.html)

7:00 AM Sun, Dec 07, 2008
Brian Davis

Few safeties in the NFL have as much impact on the game as Polamalu, a hard-hitting four-time Pro Bowler. Polamalu has 16 career interceptions, five in the fourth quarter. He's also had one interception in each of the last three games.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau allows Polamalu to move around before the snap, and quarterbacks are forced to adjust. Polamalu is still responsible for covering a receiver or a specific area. As long as Polamalu eventually gets into position, it doesn't matter where he lines up.
Former Cowboys coach Tom Landry allowed Cliff Harris to move around in his Flex defense. Harris said he played mind games with quarterbacks, just like Polamalu does.

The trick is that Romo must catch Polamalu out of position with quick snap counts, Harris said.
"If it takes Romo more time to figure out what he's doing and figure out where the strength or weakness is in the defense, it gives your linebackers a chance to drop deeper into the zones," said Harris, who played for the Cowboys from 1970 to 1979. "By the time he figures it out, hopefully it's too late.

"It's a guessing game that you play with the quarterbacks. That's such a hard thing to define or describe to the public. They don't know what's going on in the minds of the quarterback and the safety."

EDGE: Polamalu