Before the season started, I wrote a pretty scathing piece about Troy Polamalu. If you haven’t read it yet, click here. In that piece, I gave Troy the nickname “The Shadow”. The reason for this was that last season, Troy was a mere shadow of his former self. Sure, he made the Pro Bowl, but every Steelers fan knows that Troy made it more on reputation than on actual on-field production.
Let’s take a look at Troy’s performance last year. In 2007, Troy only played in 11 games. He missed 5 games due to injury. That’s almost 1/3 of the season. That alone should have prevented him from making the Pro Bowl. Statistically, last season was the worst season of Troy’s career aside from his rookie year (in which didn’t start a single game). He had no interceptions (that’s right, zero), and no sacks. He also averaged the lowest number of tackles/game since his rookie year. As I said, he was a shadow of his former self.
I’m sure that fans remember watching Troy running around on the field last year with one arm hanging at his side. I acknowledge that Troy was a warrior. He tried his best to play. But an injured Troy is just not an effective Troy. What makes Troy great is the way he lines up in unpredictable places on the field, and the way he sacrifices his body like a gladiator. An injured Troy can’t do that, and last season was proof of that fact.
Lest I be accused of being a hater, let me clarify that Troy Polamalu is one of my favorite players. When Troy is at his best, he is a joy to behold. I believe that he is one of the most disruptive players in the NFL, and opposing teams have to account for his presence.
Troy’s detractors will argue that he often plays with poor fundamentals, and that he needs a very disciplined free safety (like Ryan Clark or Chris Hope) to counter-balance his freelancing. That is probably true. Moreover, it’s why Troy Polamalu and Anthony Smith should NEVER be on the field at the same time. Other critics would claim that Troy has poor tackling fundamentals, and that he launches himself at opponents like a missile, rather than wrapping his arms around the opponent to secure the tackle. This too is probably true, but correcting it would require that we change the fundamental way that Troy plays the game. Troy’s unorthodox approach is part of what makes him great. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
So 2 games into the 2008 season, what have we seen so far? Troy looks like the Troy Polamalu of 2006 (cue the Hallelujah Chorus). He’s active, he’s throwing his body all over the place, and the TV commentators are calling his name on almost every play. That’s the Troy that we all know and love. On the very first play of the Steelers-Browns game, guess who made the tackle? Troy Polamalu. When the Browns’ offense was driving at the end of the 1st half, who made the interception that completely derailed their momentum? Troy Polamalu. In the second half, who did Kellen Winslow Jr. out-jump to make a critical catch of a tipped pass during a key Browns’ drive? Troy Polamalu………. Oh wait. Forget that last one.
The Steelers have only played two games, and Troy has two interceptions already. I don’t expect him to continue to average an interception per game, but is sure is great while it lasts.
It may be too early to pronounce “The Shadow” officially dead, but every indication is that he’s on life support. Troy Polamalu appears to be back. Good-bye “Shadow”. Hello Troy. It’s great to have you back.