Expectations were tremendously high for the Steelers in 2006, and why shouldn't they have been? Those expectations of course shifted when Big Ben got hurt, but we still had our Super Bowl champion defense to hang our hats on right? Sorta. Last year's defense was good, real good, but not quite great. There were no discussions of our defensive unit in 2005 being as good as the Bears or Ravens defense. That said, it was still a top-tier defense highlighted by All-Pro Safety Troy Polamalu.
Can we get a nickname for this guy by the way? I hate typing his name.
Let me begin by saying that Polamalu didn't have a bad year. By any stretch. In the 13 games that he did play, Polamalu averaged nearly 6 tackles per game, a shade higher than his average in 2005. He even recorded one more INT than in 2005.
But the numbers don't quite tell the whole story. Polamalu, who was undeniably hampered by a nagging shoulder injury all year, seemed one step late on far too many occassions this year. That split second of tardiness prohibited him from making some of the game changing hits we were accustomed to, or causing fumbles or breaking up passes. Again, more often than not he made a tackle, but there were far fewer momentum-changing plays out of Troy this year.
Although not one to complain or create tensions within the locker room, Polamalu let his displeasure be known over the decision to let S Chris Hope leave Pittsburgh via free agency. Troy said he had a special rapport with Hope on the football field, a telepathic understanding if you will, of where the other was on the field. That was missing this year with Polamalu and newcomer Ryan Clark. Perhaps they'll improve as a tandem next year with more experience under their belt.
I salute Troy for playing through pain this year (he did miss two games to have surgery). Without him, our defense would have struggled even more than it did. At the same time, I believe much of our future success hinges on his ability to play at an even higher level. Even though I list him as my #5 dissapointment for 2006, I still find him the most entertaining player to play defense in the NFL, even when he's not 100%.