Quantifying A Healthy Troy Polamalu (Also Known As Water Is Wet)

Trying to tell a fellow Steelers fan how important a healthy safety Troy Polamalu is to the Steelers defense is like proclaiming that water is indeed wet. It is a pretty obvious statement. That being said, I was thrilled to learn just a few days ago that Polamalu would be heading down to Orlando to work out with Tom Shaw (ETA: I have been alerted by sources close to Troy that despite the claim made by Shaw, Polamalu will remain working out in California) and the other group of Steelers players that include Ike Taylor, James Farrior and William Gay. In the past Troy has chosen to work out in the offseason back in California and that has included time with Marv Marinovich, who focuses more on iso-kinetic workouts.

Thus far in his career with the Steelers, Polamalu has missed 21 games due to injury. The ultimate quantifier of those games missed is the wins and losses. In those 21 games that Troy has missed, the Steelers record is 12-9 compared to 75-29 in games he has started. These are wins and losses dating back to 2004, Troy\’s second season in the league and first year as a starter.

I was curious about the Steelers defensive stats with and without Polamalu over that same time frame and have compiled both in the tables below. These are also broken down by home and away games in addition because it was just easier to compile that way. A few things that surprised me right off the bat was that there was hardly a difference in passing yards a game allowed, yards per attempt and the completion percentage with and without Troy. In addition, the points allowed per game was roughly the same. The defense did allow just .14 more passing touchdowns a game in Troy\’s absence so that too is not that big of differential.

The biggest thing that jumped out of these statistics overall is the fact that the Steelers defense averaged nearly a half an interception more a game than they do when Polamalu is out. In the 125 total games the Steelers have played since the beginning of the 2004 season, the defense has registered 118 interceptions and I should note that all of these stats include playoff games as well. What does not show in the stats below is the fact that Polamalu has 30 of those 118 interceptions. That is just over 25% of all picks dating back to the 2004 season. That is a huge quantifier of his worth to the Steelers defense right there and pretty much all you need to know.

Another interesting fact not shown below is that the Steelers have given up 338 plays of 20 yards or more during that same time frame and 59 of them have come in games that Polamalu has missed. While not a huge difference when you break it down by game average, it is still a difference nonetheless. Also not showing in the stats are the splash plays that Troy usually contributes at key points in a game. Whether it be leaping over the line of scrimmage on an anticipated snap count or causing a sack fumble just when you need it the most, these types of plays are what quantify Polamalu the easiest, not stats.

The Steelers defense benefits greatly when Polamalu is on the field and this is just another instance of full stat lines not telling the full story or is it a complete measurement of ones worth to a team. The interceptions that I noted is about the only difference that sticks out in these stats, well that and the wins and loses when he is sidelined. Trying to quantify him with stats outside of interceptions and big plays at key moments can\’t be done. The Steelers are just plain better when a healthy Troy is on the field, but as I stated in the opening, you already knew that. Did you also know that water is wet?

Here is too a healthy Troy in 2011.

Please alert me to any stats discrepancies below you might find:

Steelers Defense With Polamalu
Visitor 9940 194.9 1697 5.86 1010 60% 862 16.9 53 1.04 21 0.41 52 1.02 51
Home 10242 193.2 1797 5.70 1028 57% 932 17.6 61 1.15 31 0.58 54 1.02 53
Total 20182 194.1 3494 5.78 2038 58% 1794 17.3 114 1.10 52 0.50 106 1.02 104
Steelers Defense Without Polamalu
Visitor 2143 214.3 336 6.38 206 61% 208 20.8 14 1.40 6 0.60 6 0.60 10
Home 2072 188.4 363 5.71 195 54% 156 14.2 12 1.09 4 0.36 6 0.55 11
Total 4215 200.7 699 6.03 401 57% 364 17.3 26 1.24 10 0.48 12 0.57 21
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