SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers tries to run out of the grip of Earl Thomas #29 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during the season-opening game at Candlestick Park on September 11, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have likely been hard at work getting their minds and bodies ready for redemption in Week 2 when they host the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon. They should be able to handle Seattle easily. The 14.5 point line in their favor certainly suggests that they're expected to cruise easily, even if they did look utterly unimpressive in their 35-7 Week 1 loss to Baltimore.
I will write a bit more about Seattle before kickoff on Sunday, but suffice it to say that from the top of the roster on down, the Steelers have a decided advantage over Seattle. That's still the case even if we later learn that this team is not what we thought it would be because of age, an unfortunate injury or two, and of course, the vulnerabilities in the defensive secondary and along the offensive line.
Which team will have the best player on the field on Sunday? That's a more interesting question. Comparing different positions is too difficult, so there's no right or wrong answer here. Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Casey Hampton if he's pissed off, Troy Polamalu, hell, even Heath Miller -- all could stake a claim to that title -- but there's only really one guy in contention on Seattle and that's Earl Thomas. He may just be a second-year pro on a rebuilding team, but as far as I'm concerned, he's going to be one of the very best to suit up each and every week, regardless of the opponent. From what I've seen, he's that good.
A second-year DB out of Texas, Thomas has been everything and more that Seattle hoped he would be when they took him with the 14th overall pick in the 2010 NLF Draft. As a rookie Thomas picked off five passes, started all 16 games, forced a fumble and was a part of 71 tackles (60 solo). Those five picks? Should have been like nine. That's not to say he has bad hands. Far from it. But he left some catchable balls on the table last year, and I'm sure he wasn't happy about it.
If Week 1 was any indication, Thomas is ready to really emerge in year two. He had 8 tackles in Seattle's loss at San Francisco, several of which were downright filthy plays. Thomas is just 5-10 and 205 pounds -- a cornerback's size really -- but he packs a mean punch. To me at least, that appears to be the area he's made the most progress in from year one to year two -- he's not necessarily any bigger, but he's now really squaring up guys and bringing them down in their tracks. He did just that behind the line of scrimmage to Vernon Davis, SF's beastly tight end.
Thomas was Pete Carroll's second pick at the helm of the Sehawks organization. He took Russell Okung with the 6th pick, but it was Thomas that Carroll eyed with the second of two first round selections that year. Pom Pom Pete as I like to call him coached Troy Polamalu at USC. Naturally the comparisons between Polamalu and Thomas are starting to be made. There will never be another Troy Polamalu. There may be strong safetys who have better all around careers, but nobody will have -quite- the jaw-dropping highlight reel that No. 43 will when it's all said and done.
The comparisons aren't laughable though. Thomas takes the same type of great angles, has the same type of predatory closing speed, and though not as refined and probably not quite as amazingly god-given, Thomas also has an incredible sense for where the football is going on any given play.
Speed, toughness, intelligence and an unteachable ability to anticipate. Not a bad combination for your playmaking safety to possess. As Steelers fans, we know that all too well.