Remember when people used to compare Polamalu and Ed Reed, but no one ever compared James Farrior to Ray Lewis? Look, I loved Farrior, and I've tried to develop an argument that he was just as good as Lewis. It can't be done. I certainly prefer Farrior to the Squirrel Dancer, but all the stats and scouts point to Lewis as the superior player. That's not to say Farrior wasn't a great linebacker though. And Reed is no slouch either, but the gap between his game and Polamalu's are at least the same width as the Lewis-Farrior dichotomy -- if not, wider.
As I watched the Steelers hand the ball to the Bears defense on Sunday night, I realized Polamalu is a safety in name only. He doesn't have a specific position. He was rushing on the edges, playing deep, Bucking, Macking, reading audibles as if they were spelled out in ten-foot letters on a theater marquee, and about a hundred other things I'm not smart enough to have noticed.
He's sometimes referred to as a "joker" in the scheme, and that's a great name for what he represents. He's wild. But what he does on the field is utterly unprecedented. Yes, he gambles. And sometimes he loses. But if I'm going to Vegas with the dude, I'm handing him all my money just to see how much he comes back with. It'd probably be something along the lines of a tenfold return on the money I gave him in the form of a pyramid of 43 solid gold bars being pulled down Las Vegas Boulevard by a viking-helmeted albino tiger on a policeman's motorcycle.
I'd like to see Ed Reed try to line up as a linebacker.
It's easy to remember the spectacular plays he's made. And I'll probably be trying to remember the miraculous plays more often in light of Pittsburgh's already dwindling playoff chances. But it's also a lot of fun to remember the plays that other made because of him. Last Monday against Cincinnati, Troy was lined up where inside linebackers are typically posted up and he cut around the also blitzing Lawrence Timmons to the outside and was picked up by both the right guard and right tackle. Needless to say, they absolutely devoured Troy -- about 650 lbs. of adipose sumo-sandwich action is going to stop just about anyone. The reason I'll remember that play for a long time is the fact that both of those linemen were so concerned with Polamalu that they allowed Timmons to dart through the line, untouched, and splash Andy Dalton into an incompletion on third down that limited the Bengals to a field goal. There are many more plays like that that I don't remember at the moment, but it's not just the highlight reels that make him one of the best defenders of all time. Even when he's "neutralized", he's effective.
There aren't any largely available stats that gauge a defensive player's performance in a cumulative way. Interceptions are a huge part of the game. And there is certainly an impressive amount of skill involved in picking off as many passes as Ed Reed has, not to mention his ability in the open field. But if you want to use stats as a platform for defensive superiority, there are plenty of numbers you could throw out there to support the Ed Reed Is Just a Cherrypicker Theory. The argument between these two is tired, I know. They just aren't the same kind of player. But Polamalu's versatility continues to amaze me. Enough to resurrect and reanimate a mutilated horse carcass just to tirelessly beat the hell from out of it again.
He also constantly reminds me of the harmonious carnage inherent in other parts of the animal kingdom as well.
Even if his team posts a losing record this year and the defense fails to stand alone at the top of the league for a third straight season, watching Polamalu play is enough to keep me stationed in front of the tube until the last seconds tick away. His career will be over someday soon and I don't want to miss any of it.