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Steelers First Half Awards: Defensive MVP, free safety Ryan Clark

Midseason Steelers Awards are coming out, and the team's defensive MVP is barely a question.

Joe Sargent

Steelers safety Ryan Clark doesn't appeal to the stat geek crowd. He draws as many unwarranted "blow to the head" penalties as he gets interceptions. Whether looking at a stat sheet or simply watching the game, Clark stands out - and has stood out through the Steelers first eight games - with his intelligence and aggression.

Clark, despite playing in only seven games, is tied for the team lead with 40 solo tackles, and has been the bedrock of a secondary that is playing without strong safety Troy Polamalu, that is starting cornerback Keenan Lewis for the first time (and has seen him improve dramatically) and is giving up less passing yards per game than any other team in the NFL.

Defenses today are predicated on the splash play - they are surrendering yards for the sake of the big play. The Steelers are the opposite, and no one else is having the success they are without generating takeaways.

The takeaways will come, but without veteran leaders like Clark, a young secondary cannot mesh. Without Clark's run-stopping presence as well as his coverage in deep center field, the Steelers are not among the stingiest defenses in the league (allowing 16.3 points a game in their last three, all wins).

With Clark playing at the level he is, imagine if Healthy Troy Polamalu returns to this lineup.