Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Steelers Safety, Troy Polamalu, Selected as Defensive Player of the Year

It was announced today that the Pittsburgh Steelers' safety Troy Polamalu has been voted Defensive Player of the Year for the 2010 NFL season.  A panel of 50 Associated Press sports writers voted in one of the closest votes in years edging the Steelers' Super Bowl XVL opponent Green Bay Packers' inside linebacker(and fellow hair aficionado) Clay Matthews.

It was suspected by most that it would be Matthews who would take home the honors with his 13.5 sacks which was good for 4th in the NFL in addition to his 60 tackles, which is not a mind-numbing number of tackles for an inside linebacker(175 lead the league - New England LB Jerod Mayo) but is notable considering that offensive lines keyed on Matthews all season for double teams and other schemes that were designed to take Matthews out of the game.  His presence alone enabled fellow Packer linebacker, A.J. Hawk, to amass a career high 111 tackles because of the open looks he got due to all of the attention Matthews received from opposing lines.  Making the players around you better is the staple of an MVP award, but a Player of the Year award, it's your statistics that matter the most.

Clay Matthews(52) and A.J. Hawk gang tackle the 49ers Vernon Davis in Green Bay.  The two have proven to be a dangerous combination on defense for the Packers

Polamalu was a deserving recipient of the award, statistically outperforming Matthews in tackles(63) from the strong safety position which traditionally has fewer opportunities to make tackles than a linebacker, the position Matthews plays, and finishing second in the NFL with seven interceptions, trailing only Baltimore Ravens' All-Pro free safety Ed Reed who had 8.  Even more to his credit, he attained these statistics while missing two games to an achilles injury while Matthews played in all 16 regular season games.  Even with the numbers, many times what separates two players in a race for player of the year is an indelible moment that sticks in the voter's minds.  Polamalu's candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year was stamped on a single play when he made the single most important play of the season for the Steelers in their most important game against the Baltimore Ravens.  In a game that would likely decide the division, Polamalu made a miraculous leaping tackle on Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco and forced a fumble that would lead to the game winning score and sewing up a division title for the Steelers.

Troy Polamalu sacks and forces a fumble against the Ravens' Joe Flacco in a division deciding game on December 5, 2010.  The turnover setup the go-ahead score for the Steelers

Though Polamalu had the statistics to be considered a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year, it's likely the award may have gone to Matthews without a little help from his friend and teammate, James Harrison.  You may remember Harrison this year as the heavily fined Steelers linebacker who racked up a cool $100,000 in NFL fines for illegal hits.  His season was somewhat overshadowed by his tendency to hit players illegally, but his play was worthy of Defensive Player of the Year recognition, finishing with 100 tackles and 10.5 sacks.  Considering the very small margin of votes that separated Matthews and Polamalu, each finishing with 17 and 15 respectively, Harrison's 8 votes were likely the difference between Matthews and Polamalu.  Voters who voted for Harrison likely pulled their votes away from Matthews especially considering Matthews and Harrison play the same position.

James Harrison was better known for his illegal hits in 2010 than his high level of play.  Here he gives Browns' receiver Mohamed Massaquoi a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit that cost him $50,000

Though Polamalu was a deserving winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award, he may owe a small bit of credit to Harrison for the assist.

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