The clearest sign that Troy Polamalu is back to being Troy Polamalu is to watch where he lines up on short-yardage plays. When he is healthy, he is typically up against the line or bursting through a hole off the snap on critical, drive-changing snaps.
The last game for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Minnesota Vikings was not rife with the finest examples of his overall success, but there is a large enough body of work to establish a theme.
First, take a couple of examples that worked out well. Here is a second and two play in the red zone in the top half of the third quarter.
Here, Polamalu is able to work his way through traffic to trip up Adrian Peterson by the ankles while Ziggy Hood and Al Woods clean up the play to set up a third and one. As highlighted elsewhere, unfortunately, a missed tackle helped convert the first down, however.
On this play later in the third quarter, the Vikings are facing a third and one, and Polamalu is once against lined up along the defensive line.
He is too fast for Matt Kalil and is able to penetrate the B Gap. Peterson flows right to him, and while he is not able to make the tackle, he is the one that stalls the play long enough for it to be stopped—eventually by Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Clark, and Brett Keisel.
It does not always have to be a short-yardage situation, however. On this occasion, in fact, it is the first play of the drive. Polamalu is set up at linebacker depth and slowly creeps forward before the snap. While it certainly does not seem like much, he is able to get enough pressure to force Matt Cassel’s arm to work quicker than his brain, and it results in an incomplete pass.
Not everything works out in Polamalu’s favor on these calculated risks however, and, as previously mentioned, this was not his most successful game of the season doing so. Take this late-fourth quarter drive in which the Steelers were looking for a stop on third and one.
Once again, Polamalu is at linebacker depth before the snap, but comes up to the line. At the snap, he fits into the B Gap and eludes the tight end and fullback, but at that angle, is unable to make a play on Peterson, who easily secures the first down, which helps the Vikings drain another minute off the clock and the rest of the Steelers’ timeouts. On this occasion, Polamalu’s assertiveness leaves open a gap that may otherwise have been filled.