Mike Mitchell came to Pittsburgh this offseason and was immediately thrown into comparisons to Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
They both play a safety position, to an extent, the comparison is unavoidable. Silly, easy and unfounded, but unavoidable nonetheless. Mitchell sees more of that same insanity now, with the notion Polamalu, who's missed the team's last two games with a knee injury, makes the team worse.
"You don't disrespect [future] Hall of Famers like that," Mitchell said, as quoted by ESPN's Scott Brown. "That's just absurd."
The Steelers' defense yielded not a touchdown against them in a 20-12 Week 16 win over Kansas City without Polamalu. It held Cincinnati to 17 points in a Week 17 win over the Bengals. Both games were played with Will Allen as the team's starting strong safety. Polamalu is said to be healthy enough to play this weekend against the Ravens in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but whether Polamalu plays, or the Steelers stick with Will Allen, is the decision of coach Mike Tomlin.
See Brown run all over the Bengals in Pittsburgh's AFC North title-clincing win.
Mitchell doesn't seem to think Allen has earned the job over Polamalu, who could be a salary cap casualty this offseason. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau admitted there is only one Polamalu, while diplomatically giving credit to his stalwart back-up, Allen. The Steelers were able to utilize an effective underneath zone against the Bengals in Week 17, one that bracketed A.J. Green in coverage and held him to eight catches on 13 targets for 82 yards - low numbers for the perennial Pro Bowl receiver.
The Steelers will already be down a bit on the offensive side of the ball, where they face a situation in which, at best, Le'Veon Bell will play after not practicing all week. Tinkering now with the chemistry of a defense that appears to be improving over the last few games may not be ideal, but as Mitchell implies, if Polamalu is healthy, Polamalu plays. It may be that simple.
Allen's strength appears to be his ability in coverage, but Polamalu, for what he may have lost in terms of coverage, is still the better run-defending safety. Baltimore is an excellent outside zone running team and will likely look to employ plenty of that, as they may enter this game starting two rookies in lieu of regular starters Eugene Monroe (ankle) and Rick Wagner (foot, out for the year).