No Brainer: A Healthy Troy Polamalu Equals More Production

By Jeremy Hritz

The Pittsburgh Steelers begin training camp today, and the team can finally begin the work of crafting a winning squad. On defense, the Steelers will be aspiring for a return to the dominant style of play that they showcased in 2008 and 2010. If the team is to return to that level of play, keeping Troy Polamalu on the field for a full season is a must.

Polamalu has earned his greatness and his eventual enshrinement in the Hall of Fame with his otherworldly performances. He is synonymous with the big play, and his catalog includes such gems as the incredible one-handed interception against the Chargers, his strip of Joe Flacco in the 2010 season that led to a fourth quarter win in Baltimore, and most memorable, his pick six in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens that propelled the Steelers to winning their sixth Super Bowl.

Sadly, since 2006, Polamalu has only been healthy for 16 games twice. This past season, he played in only seven games as he struggled with a calf injury. The result were innumerable questions of whether or not he could return to an elite level of play. But what do the statistics say about his production and how it is influenced by the number of games he plays in?

Take a look at Polamalu’s statistics in the seasons where he has played in all 16 games:

Games PlayedTotal TacklesForced FumblesInterceptionsPasses Defended
2003 (R)1638104
200416961515
20051691128
200816730717
201116910214
AVERAGE1677.80.63.211.6

And here, take a few moments to examine Polamalu’s numbers when he does not play in all 16 games:

Games PlayedTotal TacklesForced FumblesInterceptionsPasses Defended
200613771310
20071158309
2009520037
201014630711
2012734013
AVERAGE1048.40.82.88

While it is common sense to know that Polamalu produces more when he plays in all 16 games, examining these two tables quantifies what the impact on his production actually is. For instance, in seasons where Polamalu plays in all 16 games, he makes 29.4 more tackles, which across 16 games average out to 1.8, or about two more tackles per game. While two tackles might not seem like it would make a game-changing difference, considering Polamalu’s explosive style of play, one of those two tackles could have resulted in a forced fumble, tackle for loss, or a sack.

There isn’t a huge discrepancy between the average number of forced fumbles or interceptions between full and partial seasons, but in the category of passes defended, Polamalu averaged 3.6 more passes defended in full seasons. Again, while this may not seem like a tremendous difference, 10 more passes defended could have resulted in a game changing interception.

Another aspect worth noting from the table that shows Polamalu’s statistics from the seasons in which he didn’t play 16 games is that when he played in 13 or more games, he still had productive seasons. So while expecting 16 games from Polamalu may be a stretch, if history is to be relied on, 13 games will result in enough production to strengthen the defense.

Marc Sessler from NFL.com wrote yesterday about players and coaches that are on the hot seat in the 2013 season, and he identified Polamalu as one of them. He writes, “The Pittsburgh Steelers must take a long look at their once-dominant safety. Polamalu’s achievements speak for themselves, but he’s injury prone and expensive.” Despite his assessment, Sessler sees Polamalu staying put in Pittsburgh next season despite his exorbitant salary, and hopefully he is correct.

If Sessler is, it will more than likely mean that Polamalu was able to stay healthy and produce in 2013.

  • VaDave

    Injury prone and expensive… Sounds like a Jaguar……..( car)
    Troy is going nowhere unless he retires, on his shield or not.

  • steeltown

    Elevated play when you’re completely healthy kind of goes without saying

  • dgh57

    With fingers crossed(on both hands I might add), 16 games from Polamalu and Woodley returning to form on top of our #1 pass defense sounds good to me!