The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

Polamalu is the real MVP

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The 2010 Steelers team brings to mind the team from 1976, which lost quarterback Terry Bradshaw for four games due to injuries and finished with the worst offensive totals during its Super Bowl run in the 1970s. The 1976 team eventually lost out to the Oakland Raiders, but may have featured the greatest defense in NFL history. In a single 14-game season, the '76 Steelers pitched five shutouts, and allowed just 138 points in the entire season.

Without Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games of the 2010 season, the new Steelers have had to rely in a similar fashion on their defense. Fortunately, that defense is up to the task. Through the first two weeks of the season, Pittsburgh's defense has been impenetrable, finishing first overall in Football Outsiders' Defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metrics, and making things much easier for a conga line of quarterbacks. Allowing just 33 points through the first three games, the team has been performing at that 1976 level, and has a 3-0 record to show for it.

And to me, this proves one thing: The most valuable player on the Pittsburgh Steelers is not Ben Roethlisberger -- it is safety Troy Polamalu. With Polamalu healthy after injuries kept him out of 11 games in 2009, that Steelers defense is mystifying every offense it faces. Polamalu is the perfect spark for Dick LeBeau's defense because he can do so many things -- he can blitz from any angle, plays center field as well as anyone at his position, and will tackle like a linebacker. When he was out in 2009, the Steelers went 5-6. This was with Roethlisberger and a full array of offensive weapons, not to mention the rest of the current Steel Curtain. When he's patrolling that defense, everyone else can focus on their own jobs, because replacing him causes so many other players to play outside their own skill sets. And that is a recipe for disaster in such a disciplined game.

It's difficult to place so much responsibility for winning on one player in the ultimate team sport. But it's clear to me that in the Steelers' case, the fortunes of this team will so as far as Troy Polamalu will take them. Ben Roethlisberger will be a great addition, and the wins will be easier when he returns.

But Polamalu makes the wins possible.

By Doug Farrar  |  September 28, 2010; 9:17 AM ET  | Category:  Ben Roethlisberger , Doug Farrar , NFL , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: How far will the Steelers go? | Next: All is well in the Steel City

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