Safety Troy Polamalu has long been among the best at his position league-wide playing the run. His run support from the back end had a lot to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers boasting one of the best defenses of the 90s.
With that once vaunted defense no longer what it once was, he still finds ways to keep it afloat with his impact plays against the run. He was credited with eight tackles against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, most of which came in the run game.
On the Browns’ second play of the game, for example, Polamalu shadowed tight end Jordan Cameron pre-snap to the left side of the formation. When he read the run, he knifed in around the left tackle, beat the fullback by a couple steps, and tripped up Ben Tate in the backfield for a three-yard loss as he tried to step aside.
While he failed to make the tackle on this play above on Tate early in the second quarter, his advancing on the ball carrier flushed him out to the edge, where Cortez Allen was able to make the stop on second and one before the first down.
Late in the first half, Polamalu lined up in the nickel across from the slot receiver on second and 10 deep in Browns territory. After Tate got the ball, the safety did a nice job of keeping the receiver away from his body so that he could flow to the ball. Once he got past the blocker, Polamalu read through Tate’s stutter step and twisted him down by the foot after a gain of just two yards.
Early in the third quarter, the Browns ran an end around with Travis Benjamin that got the Steelers defense flowing the opposite direction on second and two. Polamalu was able to shake off the block from Cameron and help bring the receiver down, but not before he gained three yards for the first down.
Later on in the same drive, he did as he so often does, and does so better than most, be chasing down runs from the back side and holding them to a short gain or a loss. On this occasion, Tate actually ran into his right guard first, but Polamalu was there to make the play regardless of the friendly fire, and made the tackle.
Of course, playing the run isn’t Polamalu’s only assignment, nor is it his only skill of note. But it may be what he does best at this point in his career, as he seems to play best coming forward rather than pedaling backward. Maybe that partly explains why he forced a career-high five fumbles a year ago.