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Steelers vs. Jets Key Matchup: Geno Smith vs. Troy Polamalu

The Steelers' sage-like veteran looks to beat Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith mentally more than physically.

Justin K. Aller

Part of the reason the Steelers are 15-2 against rookie quarterbacks under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is the role of safety Troy Polamalu.

He has no role.

Sure, there's something he's doing within the framework of the defense, but LeBeau isn't calling goal line plays that include Polamalu leaping over the center at the precise instant the ball is snapped. Rookie quarterbacks are less likely to consistently keep the snap count random, and that's what Polamalu keys on.

He's in coverage and he's in the box. He drops to deep half after showing blitz. In turn, quarterbacks who key on him can get mixed up, unsure of which coverage the defense is showing. Upon the snap, it's completely different than it was, and that extra second or two it takes for the quarterback to figure it out gives the defense an advantage.

Smith has done a good job to this point in his young career of taking what defenses are giving him, but he's still forcing throws when confused, and he hasn't shown great enough arm strength to bail him out.

Polamalu has been creating that kind of havoc his entire career, and Smith will get a dose of that today when the Steelers take on the Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 6.

The key for Smith is to locate the correct hot receiver when seeing a blitz, and get rid of the ball before it lands. Seems simple, but against a rotating zone defense that's based in disguise, usually, the defensive call is guessing who that hot receiver is, and the scheme is designed to get a defender in that space to make a play on the ball. Polamalu's presence is unnerving enough for quarterbacks, but rookies in particular will have a tough time winning the mental battle against the All Pro safety.

Expect the Jets to try to avoid these situations as much as possible by establishing the run and keeping the game between the hashes. But in third and long situations, expect LeBeau to give Polamalu free reign to mentally torment Smith, and at long last force a takeaway.

Or two. Or three.

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