Woodson, Polamalu ready for spotlight
Posted: February 4, 2011 3:11 p.m. CT
By BILL HUBER
Troy Polamalu is a hard-hitting safety.
Charles Woodson is a graceful cornerback.
Despite those obvious differences, the Steelers' Polamalu and the Packers' Woodson are the once-in-a-generation players and the heartbeats of these star-studded defenses. While the other players will be playing and seeing one thing, Polamalu and Woodson will be seeing something else entirely because of a sixth sense born of a supernatural football savvy and unparalleled film study.
"I think if you look at both of us and the way that we're allowed to move around on the defensive side of the ball and the different things we do out there on the field, I think that we probably are" the most versatile defensive backs in the game, Woodson said.
When the Packers' Tramon Williams talks about what he's learned from Woodson, it's trusting what he sees. Hours of film study are wasted unless you trust your eyes, trust your training and go for it. That's a hallmark of Woodson's game, and it's the same thing with Polamalu.
Asked how his version of the 3-4 defense remains one step ahead of the offense at almost all times, Steelers coach Dick LeBeau said: "That's easy: Just get Troy Polamalu back there and he'll move around and disguise anything you want to do, and usually it works when he's doing it. The players make it work. We give them parameters and let them create. We've got some pretty creators. Troy and James Harrison are two very good players."
And what are those parameters?
"Depends on who the player is," LeBeau said with his typically wry smile.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has seen enough film to know that he must know where No. 43 is at all times. Polamalu, who matched his career high with seven interceptions, is arguably the NFL's best player at making plays at the line of scrimmage and in coverage.
"Troy's a great player," Rodgers said. "Definitely he's deserving of Defensive Player of the Year. He had an incredible season. Any time you play a guy like that you have to find where he is on the field. Baltimore didn't find where he was and he had a sack-fumble that ended up winning the game against them late in the season. He's a guy you've got to account for. It's going to be most important for us protection-wise to figure out who's coming and find a way to block it up or get the ball out because they do a great job of disguising their blitzes and playing different coverages behind those blitzes."
Similarly, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to know where No. 21 is at all times, especially in three-receiver sets when Woodson is apt to blitz from the slot.
"Charles (Woodson) is an excellent blitzer," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "He's got the strength of a linebacker and then he's got the speed of a DB. He presents a lot of problems. We have to know where he's at all the time, whether he's back there and we're throwing it or he's rushing us. The same thing with Clay Matthews. They're extremely difficult in planning for. It helps that we see it all the time from our own defense, but they're still different."
Woodson's interception total plunged from nine to two but he set career highs with 105 tackles and five forced fumbles. Over the last three seasons, he ranks third in the league with 18 interceptions, first among defensive backs with seven sacks and third among defensive backs with 10 forced fumbles.
"I am a football player. Just put me in the game, that's the way I like to play," Woodson said. "Dom (Capers) uses me in multiple positions. I might play safety, or corner he puts me at nickel. I blitz, I cover, I do it all. He's able to draw packages to put me in the positions to make plays. It's a lot of fun for me."
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and Packer Report Magazine. PackerReport.com is the only all-Packers Web site that publishes stories and features 365 days a year. The 64-page, full-color magazine was founded by Ray Nitschke in 1973 and is published 10 times a year. Click here for subscription information.