Redemption was a big theme this week, with several players that have struggled the past couple weeks having somewhat of a bounce back game against the Cleveland Browns. Perhaps nobody needed, nor had, a bigger turnaround than Troy Polamalu.
Against both the run and the pass, Polamalu was all over the field, occasionally at deep safety, but most often at linebacker and up at the line. Most importantly, he helped the defense—and the offense—by causing turnovers. He had the first multiple-forced fumble game of his career and nearly intercepted his second pass of the year. But as noted, it began against the run.
Before the snap, Polamalu crept up between Cameron Heyward and Jarvis Jones. The Browns moved their whole line to the right on a zone run, but Polamalu squeezed past left tackle Joe Thomas and easily chased down the running back after just a short gain.
In the second quarter, he took advantage of the pressure supplied by Jason Worilds, which forced Jason Campbell to force a pass to his tight end. Polamalu, in close coverage on the play, was able to jump the route and nearly made a diving, athletic interception.
Later in the quarter, the Browns were driving with under two minutes to play. On a first down play, Polamalu blitzed right up the middle, but was rebuffed by center Alex Mack. Seeing Chris Ogbonnya head toward his right, Polamalu peeled back, and after the back got through the traffic, he was there to bring him down. In the process, he ripped the ball out of his hands and recovered it himself.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, with the Browns trailing by 17, Brandon Weeden tried to scramble on third and 10 after Polamalu’s blitz left open a welcoming hole. Accepting the invitation, Weeden took off, but Polamalu was quick to react, and in the process of making the sack, he knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hand with his right arm. Heyward recovered and returned the fumble.
It has been a rather curious season for Polamalu, seemingly alternating between vintage performances and others that seem well past their prime. He had been particularly culpable of leaving his cornerbacks vulnerable in coverage by jumping on other routes of late.
Of course, this was the Browns, with Campbell and Weeden at quarterback, but the Steelers are no doubt hoping that this performance will help stabilize Polamalu’s play during the home stretch of the season and into a playoff run, because they will certainly need him to step up.