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With the way Mark Sanchez has played over the past two weeks, the Steelers could probably hold the Jets to under 10 points with only eight on defense. But they don’t want to make it a habit of not having safety Troy Polamalu around.
Polamalu has dealt with a lower-leg injury for several weeks and will not play on Sunday against the Jets. With him in the lineup, the Steelers are allowing an average of just nine points per game over the last four weeks and he leads the team with six interceptions. There may not be a defender in the league playing better than Polamalu is right now.
That’s why the trop from him to either Will Allen or Ryan Mundy is significant. Again, with the way Sanchez’s confidence has deteriorated over the past couple of weeks, the Steelers can win without Polamalu on Sunday. But when he was out of the lineup for most of last year, the Steelers failed to make the playoffs at 9-7 and also suffered a five-game losing streak during the season (something that most likely wouldn’t have happened had they had their defensive unit intact).
It’ll be interesting to see if the Steelers rush Polamalu back for next Thursday’s game against the Panthers. They may hold him out until Week 17 against the Browns, or may even rest him until the playoffs. Either way, they’ll need him back for the postseason or else we could be looking at an entirely different Pittsburgh defense for the playoffs.