Steelers Troy Polamalu leads through painful example

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Two takeaways came after Troy Polamalu crushed Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill at the end of the first half. Perhaps it inspired a defense that hadn't showed its teeth all season.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu sized up Jets receiver Stephen Hill carefully. Don't want to hit him too high. That would tack on 15 yards to his likely completion, and cost around $20,000.

So Polamalu went straight for the man's breath.

Polamalu cracked Hill square in the rib cage, in what could be the biggest hit of the Steelers' season. Sure, it was a completion, but it was the most painful completion the Steelers are likely to allow this year.

Maybe the fact the Jets failed to score in the second half is simply a coincidence. Polamalu's hit certainly didn't inspire a proud defensive unit that's been at or around the top of the league's defensive categories as well as cumulative amount of dollars fined over the last three years.

Maybe it's just what they needed.

Leadership through action. Polamalu didn't send Hill to La-La Land like he could have by aiming high. He hit him hard enough to make Hill pound his leg on the ground afterward - for anyone who's suffered a rib injury doing cardiovascular activities, they know it's a common reaction when one suddenly can't breathe but needs to quickly.

Lawrence Timmons made a few pretty big hits after that. Vince Williams stuck a few guys they're likely feeling today.

Turnovers came more frequently than points - something that used to be the modus operendi of a Steelers defense but has been pushed down to footnote status over the last two seasons. More than anything, it seemed like the defense suddenly had obtained silent permission from one of its elder statesmen.

"Hey guys, don't let these bastards breathe," Polamalu says in the imagination of Steeler Nation. In reality, Mike Prisuta paraphrased Polamalu as saying he was "trying not to take a knee," after the hit. It's unclear whether Polamalu meant because he felt the impact of the hit himself or he wanted to pose to bask in the glory of his hit.

Likely the former, but again, it shows Polamalu laid his body on the line for the defense when he had an opportunity to do so. If it's a coincidence the Steelers pitched a shutout with two turnovers and two sacks over the second half after Polamalu's hit, then fine. It was just a great hit.

It just seems possible again this defense can dominate a game. It was an awakening.

Ike Taylor, a master of inspiring rhetoric about the Steelers' defense, summarized it well, as quoted by Prisuta.

"Once we start hitting as a defense, that’s when the tips and turnovers come in.”

With nine games to go - five within the AFC North - if the defense can keep hitting, the turnovers can continue to come.

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