After the last game in which Tom Brady helped make Troy Polamalu look like a fool, the veteran safety looked to rebound at the expense of a rookie quarterback just returning from an injury in E.J. Manuel.
Of course, it helped that Manuel only attempted five passes down the field of 10 yards or more with Ryan Clark staying deep almost the entire game, allowing Polamalu to do what he (usually) does best.
Depending on what source one uses, Polamalu had either one pass deflection or zero, but that doesn’t paint the full picture. There is more than one way to prevent a reception other than deflecting a pass.
My guess is that this does not go down as a pass deflected. The result is the same though, so whether or not it shows up in the stats column is irrelevant. Polamalu transitioned well here in order to stay with Stevie Johnson and then read Manuel in order to break on the pass after it was delivered. Polamalu went over Johnson’s left shoulder in order to ensure that neither would come down with the ball on this third down play.
Tight end Chris Gragg also got a chance to experience Polamalu’s pass coverage. The safety was about eight yards away and in a back pedal before he broke on Gragg’s route over the middle, covering a lot of ground in order to make a diving play on the ball.
It is ridiculously hard to tell on every available angle of this play whether Polamalu actually gets a fingertip on this ball to slightly reroute it and cause an incompletion. Were I forced to guess, I would give him the deflection, but I don’t fault Pro Football Focus for not doing so. It just goes to show that what the stats sheet shows sometimes just doesn’t matter.
Of course, a completion for no gain is just as good as an incomplete pass for a defense—if not better, depending on the circumstances, since he keeps the clock moving. Midway through the fourth, Polamalu broke on Manuel’s check-down pass to the back to bring C.J. Spiller down at the line of scrimmage.
More impressive still though was his ability to adjust after a reception, in this instance late in the fourth. Manuel again hit Spiller, this time on a screen. Kraig Urbik tried to block Polamalu out of the play, but he swam past the effort and grabbed on to Spiller after about a two-yard gain, though his momentum carried him an extra five. Note that Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward were also down there helping on the tackle.