Time to shine: Steelers S Polamalu a go for Sunday

Troy Polamalu might as well be wearing a Superman cape as far as

Rex Ryan is concerned.

Now, if only the New York Jets coach could find some kryptonite

to neutralize the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fly to-the-ball star safety

when the teams meet Sunday at Heinz Field for the AFC title.

”There’s some things he does that are unbelievable, like the

Superman dives that he does. I don’t know how you’re supposed to be

ready,” Ryan said. ”His timing and playmaking ability is almost

second to none.”

And to think, the great Polamalu isn’t even 100 percent healthy.

He sat out practices Wednesday and Thursday this week, as has

become the norm, because of a right Achilles’ tendon injury.

But fear not, Pittsburgh. No. 43 returned to practice Friday,

and plans to be on the frozen Heinz Field turf Sunday, when the

Steelers (13-4) meet the Jets (13-5).

Which should come as no surprise, of course. After all, with a

Super Bowl trip on the line, this is Troy’s time to shine.

”The thing about Troy is, it’s not like he needs much

practice,” safety Ryan Mundy said, ”because you know he’s going

to show up when the lights come up on Sunday.”

Mundy should know. He fills in when Polamalu isn’t taking those

midweek snaps.

And with all due respect to Mundy, the Steelers clearly miss

Polamalu, in practice or games. He missed the contest vs. the Jets

last month, in fact, and New York escaped with a 22-17 win. With

Polamalu sidelined, the Jets ran for 106 yards on the league’s

stingiest run defense. And quarterback Mark Sanchez played mostly

error-free football, completing 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards.

Granted, no Steeler has used Polamalu’s absence in that game as

an excuse. At the same, they know this week will be a different


”Troy brings this defense from a ‘C’ defense to an ‘A’

defense,” linebacker James Harrison said. ”He’s someone that you

have to account for in the secondary.”

This season’s extensive highlight reel includes a lunging,

one-armed swing on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that forced a

fumble near midfield with less than 4 minutes left and the Steelers

trailing by four. That set up the winning score in a 13-10


In Week 17, after missing two games, he intercepted Cleveland’s

Colt McCoy on the second play from scrimmage. Pittsburgh scored on

the next play in a 41-9 win that secured the No. 2 seed.

Freakish athleticism – and flowing hair – aside, Polamalu also

excels because of his off-field preparation. He’s always taking

notes in team meetings as if he’s a rookie. And he mentally runs

through plays during practices when he’s not dressed, Mundy


”A lot of people think he’s just out there taking chances or

just guessing, but he actually knows what he’s doing,” Mundy said.

”It’s more of a calculated educated guess, as opposed to a guy

just running around, going crazy.”

But don’t ask Polamalu about the perception the Steelers don’t

fare well without him. It’s a team game to him. And, remember,

there’s always respected coordinator Dick LeBeau to thank, as


”I have no reason to explain (it),” Polamalu said. ”But I

know that no matter who’s out there, coach LeBeau always calls a

good game. And we always have an opportunity to win games.”

For that to happen Sunday, the Steelers need to turn up the

pressure on Sanchez, forcing the Jets into third-and-longs. That,

in turn, means limiting tailbacks LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn

Greene on first and second downs, which, of course, is the

Steelers’ specialty.

”We’ve always worried about stopping the run first here,”

Polamalu said.

Polamalu isn’t the only injured member of the secondary, though.

Starting cornerback Bryant McFadden practiced Friday for the first

time after suffering an abdominal injury last week vs. Baltimore.

Nickel back William Gay could start if McFadden can’t go.

As for Polamalu, coach Mike Tomlin needed just four words Friday

to address his status.

”Troy’s going to play,” he said.

Superman is back.