Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 Jan 2011

Troy Polamalu Wins Defensive Player of Year Award

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has been named the AP's Defensive Player of the Year, according to Newsday's Bob Glauber.

CORRECTION: Upon further review, Clay Matthews did NOT win Defensive Player of the Year. Troy Polamalu won the voting, 17-15, to beat out Matthews.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 31 Jan 2011

69 comments, Last at 04 Feb 2011, 4:06pm by BC


by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 8:44pm

was eithher him or J. Oeppers. Winder why they can't annoucne this between week 17 and 18 but thosoe are the brekas.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 10:22pm

Peppers came in 4th place in the voting (although, his vote did get split with Urlacher receiving 2).

Looks like the voters did a good job this year. Pittsburgh had by far the best defense, and Polamalu and Harrison were their best players.

by kevz911 (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 1:13pm

By far? Come on, that's a bit of a stretch. Plus, he was out for two games. I think the difference between Polamalu and Matthews (who missed a game himself) is negligible and I don't have a big disagreement, but I don't think Polamalu should get any edge because of playing for the Steelers defense because it wasn't that much better than the Packers defense. Plus, with Polamalu's extra missed game, that difference should be negligible.

by tuluse :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 5:20pm

Pittsburgh Defensive DVOA: -18.5% ranked 1st
Green Bay Defensive DVOA: -10.8% ranked 2nd

So yes, by far.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 5:36pm

And GB is closer to #8 Ten than Pittsburgh.

by ebongreen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 9:18pm

According to NFL Network, not so much. From a Packers fan, congratulations, Troy Polamalu.

by andrew :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 10:26pm

I would have gone with Peppers.

by Annnnnnonymous (not verified) :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 10:42pm

Was Troy Polamalu really so much better than everyone else that missing 1/8th of the season, he's still the player of the year?

By this logic, Bob Sanders was the defensive MVP of 2006: Look at how much better the Colts were with him!!!

by Yaguar :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 11:33pm

Two games is generally considered not to be a big deal in these votes.

by some guy (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 2:43pm

I wouldn't really have a problem with Bob Sanders being the 2006 defensive player of the year.

by KnowsHow2RamIt :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 11:07pm


by Independent George :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 11:25pm


by JoseTortilla :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 1:04am

Hey man, no politics!

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/31/2011 - 11:32pm

I admit I haven't seen that many Pittsburgh games this year, but I thought that Harrison had the better year this season, but Polamalu should have won it the year Harrison did. In my admittedly small sample size, Polamalu just seemed to guess wrong far too often, leaving big holes in the secondary. I know he's always been a gambler, but it just seemed like he was wrong far more often (or, at least, far more noticeably) this season.

by Theo :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 8:25am

That was last year.
This year, Harrison was a little bit less of the Superman he was last year. And Polamalu guessed right a few more times this year.
He made some really game changing plays. And played well all over.
Timmons however might be up there with the best Steelers defenders.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 9:37am

Harrison had great numbers this year. Harrison had 3 fewer sacks than Matthews, but he had 40 more tackles, one more INT, 4 more forced fumbles, more passes defended, more stuffs.

Matthews racked up 6 sacks in the first two weeks of the season, then was pretty average for the rest of it.

If anything it should have been a two man fight between Harrison and Polamalu.

Troy is definately deserving though.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 9:31am

" In my admittedly small sample size, Polamalu just seemed to guess wrong far too often, leaving big holes in the secondary"

I agree with this. Polamalu is responsible for a lot of big plays, both in the positive and the negative. I only watched a couple of Pittsburgh games this year, but in quite a few, it seemed like the other team's strategy was "Get Troy to guess wrong, and take advantage". The Patriots took particular advantage of him crashing the line, mostly in the wrong place.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 9:41am

"I only watched a couple of Pittsburgh games this year, but in quite a few, it seemed like the other team's strategy was"

How many is quite a few of a couple?

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 9:57am

I watched 6 games. I don't remember finishing any of them with a very positive opinion of Polamalu. He gave me the same sort of feeling as Asante Samuel in his last year with the Patriots: For every pick, there was a play where he bit on a playfake and a WR was wide open for a big play because of it.

I think there are days when hes one of the best Safeties ever, but I also think there are days where hes one of the worst guys on the field.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 10:55am

"but I also think there are days where hes one of the worst guys on the field."

1st, I dont even know what to say to that besides that maybe you are just making an intentionally ridiculous argument.

He must have done something right if he made the probowl, 1st team all-pro, and won DPOY (despite playing several games injured)?

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:16am

Pro Bowl voting is almost as useful a metric for performance as Gold Gloves in baseball.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:22am

Which is why First team All-Pro and DPOY were also mentioned. The font was small, maybe you missed that.

I only mentioned probowl to illustrate that the fans/players/coaches seemed to agree with the sportwriters that he was pretty good and not the worst player on the field.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:47am

Did you watch the NE/Pittsburgh game earlier this year? Almost every big play was a result of Troy Polamalu biting on a playfake, looking into the backfield and getting caught in the wash, or simply gambling and being out of position. The entire Patriots gameplan was to basically take advantage of Polamalu being overly aggressive and putting himself in a poor position.

He was definitely the worst player on Pittsburgh's defense that day.

by MJK :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:27pm

It's also a little unfair to take a player's single worst performance of the year and use that as an example of why he shouldn't have won the award, unless you do the same for all the candidates and show that the player you are arguing against had a significantly lower low than any other candidate.

I agree that Polamalu was a big part of why the Pats were able to destroy the Steeler's vaunted defense, but Matthews, Peppers, Urlacher, etc., weren't actually all that effective against the Pats either. And I don't even know that the Pats game was their worst game. I'm pretty sure the Pats game was Polamalu's worst game.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:47pm

OF course its unfair, which is why I couched it by saying I hadn't seen all of his games. The thing is though, in all of the games I saw, I saw the same thing: A guy who made some big plays, but was frequently out of position in such a way that it led to big gains.

Now, this works just fine on a defense like Pittsburgh where there are a ton of good players around to cover when he guesses wrong, but I feel like if Polamalu played for the Bills, we'd talk about him a whole lot differently.

I don't think Polamalu was significantly worse in the Pats game then he was in other games I watched. The Pats just did a better job keying on it. The Ravens game they seemed to completely ignore it (or be oblivious of it).

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 3:21pm

Lets concede your point. If you think Polamalu shouldnt have gotten the award, who was it that was clearly more deserving of it?

Matthews may be the logical choice since he was 2nd, but if you take away his first two games of the season, is he even in the conversation? Take away those 6 sacks, 12 tackles, and 1 forced fumble (which were 44%, 20%, and 50% of his season output respectively) and his numbers are below average for a 3-4 OLB.

If you can point to 6 Polamalu games (a number I am a little skeptical of) to say he wasnt deserving, then I can point to 13 of Matthews games (48 tackles and 7.5 sacks) to say that he wasnt.

Harrison (3rd) could make a case, but seeing that he was the poster boy for NFL fines this year there was little chance of him winning.

As another post mentioned, it is easy to point out a player's bad games...but Polamalu had a very good year stats-wise and made multiple highlight reel game changing plays. He deserved the award as much as anyone else.

by Anonymous Coward (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 3:45pm

I think you're just making stuff up. You don't know what position Polamalu is supposed to be in on any given play, and generally if he is in coverage he is not on screen until well after the ball is thrown. I think you're blaming him for not being places he isn't supposed to be.

And William Gay was the worst player for the Steelers in that Pats game

by CoachDave :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 7:14pm

RichC making stuff up? You must be new here.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 5:19pm

Mmmm...I agree as well...shallow and pedantic.

by Independent George :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:10pm

You're missing the point - we all agree that when he's right, he's a game changer. What I originally said is that when he guesses wrong, he's a liability, and I've seen more bad games from him this season than I've seen in previous years. Rich cited the NE game as a specific example of a very bad game from him, where his gambling truly did make him one of the worst players on the field that day.

Nobody is saying he's the worst player on the field for the whole season.

by Bobby Wommack (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 3:11pm

Everyone, do NOT argue with RichC. He is the 2nd worst poster on FO, sorry RaiderJoe. He is clueless. He's the same guy who went to bat for Brandon Merriweather making the Pro Bowl because he "claimed" Belichick had him clean up Kyle Arrington's mistakes the entire year, so he put him on his side of the field for every game, every play. Meanwhile, every other Pat fan in the world was laughing at him.

Yeah, he's a real good judge of safety play, let me tell you.

That is all.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 3:35pm

I sort of picked up on that when he said that Polamalu consistantly bites on play fakes resulting in wide open receivers getting big plays.

That ignores the fact that 1) he is not a CB that covers receivers 1 on 1 and 2) 99% of the time he is not even the safety that provides over the top coverage (that would be Clark). His job is (by LeBeaus's design) to take chances that result in big plays, put pressure on the QB, and support the run.

Regardless, he is entitled to his opinion. Of course, by his logic I could point to the 1st and 3rd Jets games and the Baltimore game and say that Brady doesnt deserve MVP.

by Geronimo (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 5:31pm

Not to mention, the Steelers allowed very few big plays at all this year. I think that safety play has something to do with that.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 6:18pm

I never said anything about Polamalu covering Wide Recievers. Not once.

I said something about Asante Samuel covering wide recievers. Your reading comprehension clearly needs some help.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 10:58am

In referring to the Patriots-Steelers game: "Almost every big play was a result of Troy Polamalu biting on a playfake"

How many big running plays did the Pats have? What is a playfake?

Let say a "big play" is 10 yards or more. Then NE had THREE big running plays (17, 13, 13) vs 18 big passing plays.

Lets say a "big play" is 20 yards or more. Then NE had none in the running game vs 3 in the passing game.

Regardless of how you define it, according to you nearly every one was because of Polamalu. Which implies that he was a liability in pass coverage (especially considering that you used the term playfake)....correct?

My reading comprehension is just fine, maybe you pay attention to what you write.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 6:16pm

It would be awesome if you actually read my posts instead of just making your own argument and trying to attribute it to me.

What I said was that Merriweather played almost entirely deep coverage on Arrington's side. Its tough to judge how well he played on TV footage, because hes almost never on the screen.

by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 6:20pm

I thought this place was better than this. I though Ad Hominem attacks weren't allowed here? What the hell ever happened to arguing against the post in question?

What happened? What happened is that you're not capable of doing any of those things, so you need to resort to this sort of juvenile shit.

by CoachDave :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 7:20pm


by Joe T. :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 10:05am

I'd also like to add that he misses a lot of tackles because he's trying to break kneecaps. His tackling form is anything but textbook. Perhaps the NFL should have recognized a standout defensive player that tackles the way they want everyone to tackle and hold him up as an example in their campaign against concussions and debilitating injuries.

by Don (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:21am

There are plenty of players in the league who miss tackles because they try to blow someone up and make it on SportsCenter. That's not the case with Polamalu. When he misses tackles it's because he takes the wrong angle or gets himself out of position. That happens from time to time because he tries to anticipate the play before it happens.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 1:01pm

I'm just replying here, to address a bunch of posters above, not the specific post I hit reply to.

Yes, Polamalu is out of position on many plays because he gambles at a lot. He's actually gambling more this year than in years past, which has resulted in more game winning blow ups and more out of position plays. This is primarily because of the development of Lawrence Timmons. Timmons has gotten much better at the physical aspects of run stopping and the mental aspects of RB/TE/WR3 coverage, which is something that Troy did more of in the past. He's now free to gamble, knowing there are 10 other players playing responsible, conservative defense around him.

This has resulted is probably his flashiest year, but maybe not his best. I'm not sure he was better than Timmons or Harrison over the course of the year, but what ev. I could see why flash gets votes.

He does miss a few too many tackles by torpedoing instead of form tackling, but I always chalked that up to his small size lack of physical strength, and I don't expect that to ever change.

by Zilla (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 1:38am

I demand a hand recount.

by Theo :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 8:23am

What a country!

by nat :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 9:30am


by RickD :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 2:27pm

+1 for the joke

by nat :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 3:11pm

That would make three, which might come in handy as I finish up my work today.

"I found this in the back!"

by A Different Kurt (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:35pm

He got votes due to fear of what the Polamolecules would do if they didn't vote for him... ;)

by andrew :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 12:41pm

How much of a role did his hair play in this?

by RickD :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 2:28pm

The hair made the play calls for the defense.

by ArchnerdUW :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 3:48pm

To play devil's advocate to the general trend of arguing that Polamalu is out of position a lot...
Don't forget that he looks like he took a bad angle or was out of position because he arrives in the vicinity of the play from somewhere on the field that maybe 1 or 2 other guys playing in the league right now could make it from. Many times in the games I watch, it looks like Polamalu took a bad angle or poor gamble during the live shot, but in the replay you realize he came from the opposite side of the field and 20 yards downfield and still just missed the tackle.

by JonFrum :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 6:15pm

So out of position is the new in position?

by ArchnerdUW :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 6:34pm

Of course not. Out of position is out of position. Polamalu is obviously out of position on several plays a game, as he is clearing gambling or playing some sort of hunch. However, what I am trying to argue is that there are several times that during the game, at least from the angles initially shown during the tv broadcast, he appears out of position, taking a bad angle, etc. When you watch the replays and such that include other angles, often times it is because Polamalu's fairly unique skill set has allowed him to become involved in a play that only a few other players in the league could. In other words, I argue that he gets criticized for being out of position, when he really had no business being only inches from the tackle to begin with.

by T. Diddy :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 7:24pm

So Polamalu is the equivalent of the baseball fielder who has a lot of "errors" because he gets to balls that an inferior fielder (*cough*Derek Jeter*cough*) never gets close enough to make an error on. It's at least a reasonable hypothesis.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 6:43pm

Not new, but it's called "baiting the quarterback" by announcers. Ed Reed is really, really good at it.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 7:29pm

No, but there is a distinction between out of position and not in position to make a play. Consider this made up example:

3rd and 10. A safety is playing deep over the top. Coverage is good all over the field, but containment breaks down. The quarterback identifies a large running lane likely to yield first down yardage on a scramble. The quarterback scrambles. As soon as the quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage, the safety moves to intercept the scrambling quarterback. He covers the 25 yards to make a diving attempt at a tackle, after a five yard gain. The tackle misses but slows down the quarterback enough for a linebacker to make a tackle after two more yards.

Was the tackle out of position? No, he was covering deep and no receivers were ever open enough to be targeted. Did he take a bad angle? Possibly (it's also possible that due to other players' positioning no route would allow a tackle before a ten yard gain).

by Theo :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 7:55pm

Can't measure the times a player guesses right when he's given carte blanche.

by scottybsun (not verified) :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 10:50pm

It seems like this award is given:
50% for the current year
50% for lifetime achievement

This is not such a bad thing, but it does explain Woodson over Revis last year and Polomalu over Matthews this year.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Tue, 02/01/2011 - 11:41pm

"100% for the current year" would also explain Polamalu over Matthews this year.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 12:26am

As a Packers fan, I respectfully disagree. Revis did outplay Woodson last year and Matthews outplayed Polamalu this year. That's just how it goes; credit for career achievement. For anyone to take out a player's best games and then say he was merely average is joke. Cherry picking is for losers.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 12:53am

I don't get it. Why are we taking out best games before comparing?

Here's some simple reasoning to explain why Polamalu over Matthews at least makes sense this season. I'm going to assume that stats do not tell you which player had a better season when the players do not play similar positions, but subjective observation does. I'm further going to assume that stats do tell you which player played better when they do play the same positions.

Observing all their games this season tells me that Troy Polamalu had a better season than James Harrison. Statistics tells me that James Harrison had a better season than Clay Matthews. By the transitive property of the "better season than" relation, Polamalu had a better season than Matthews.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 1:40am

Matthews' role is a bit different than Harrison's, though they are both play OLB. Harrison had more tackles. Matthews had more sacks. Matthews also missed 1.5 games due to injury. To say Harrison had better stats is ridiculous. We'll see Sunday.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 2:14am

Harrison has 40 more tackles, 1 more interception, and 4 more forced fumbles. Matthews has 3 more sacks. There are valuations that could conceivably claim Matthews' statistics are superior, but I wouldn't agree, and it certainly doesn't seem warranted to claim that "to say Harrison had better stats is ridiculous."

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 10:14am

And almost half of Matthew's sacks came in the first 2 games of the season. If the award was Defensive Player of the first 12.5% of the year...Matthews would have won hands down.

by joepinion :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 8:56am

I'm a Steeler fan who watches the games multiple times and watches them analytically.

In my opinion James Harrison deserves the award. He didn't win simply because he's won it before and he had a couple fines this year. I also think it works against him that he's older so he's not seen as having some great future of a reign of terror over the NFL for the next 10 years like Matthews hopefully has ahead of him.

Polamalu was great early, with my favorite play of the year being that ridiculous tackle of Kerry Collins at the goal line. After he got injured, LeBeau switched his and Ryan Clark's positions in a lot of situations, keeping Polamalu back deep and helping Clark make some plays for once. So Polamalu disappeared for entire games at different points because the Steelers keep their deep safety way deep, always behind the play. So he didn't have a chance to earn the award due to his injury and the way they protected him via scheme due to the injury.

And, yes, Polamalu misses tackles once in a while because he has terrible form. He even concedes this himself and has brought it up in interviews. But it's certainly not enough of a factor to matter to me.

James Harrison is just the best defensive player in the NFL. He's so dominant that I hope and pray he's not caught for taking something illegal (especially since he's a guy who's known for doing anything that he thinks helps, such as acupuncture and hyperbolic chambers). He's unblockable on run defense, unblockable on the pass rush, is always in the right spot, never makes a mental mistake, never slows down, and can even cover pass catchers for a second or two.

by joepinion :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 9:03am

Addendum: I just can't stress enough how incredible Harrison is on run defense. Every running play to his side he gets blocked and still makes the tackle at the line of scrimmage. He never gets fooled by reverses; he always stays disciplined. If you want to complain about Polamalu's tackling, take a look at Harrison's; he never misses.

I know "haters" like to diminish the accomplishments of the Steeler defense by claiming dirty play, but you just don't get to be this good of a defense without some elite players like Harrison. He's been the best defensive player in the league for about 4 years now, and nobody else is all that close.

Clay Matthews, if he wants to win this award, should watch a few hours of tape on Harrison.

by dmb :: Wed, 02/02/2011 - 8:37pm

"He's so dominant that I hope and pray he's not caught for taking something illegal (especially since he's a guy who's known for doing anything that he thinks helps, such as acupuncture and hyperbolic chambers)."

The existence of hyperbolic chambers sure explains a whole lot about sports writing these days.

(Bonus joke: if they put mirrors up on the inside walls of the chambers, you could have one of those kids-museum-fun-mirrors exhibits!)

/Quits comedy

by SteveNC (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 8:42am

You'll notice when the Best Chamber award comes out later this year, that the voting will be unanimous. There's no way the winner will be anything other than the hyperbolic chamber. Those things are clearly the most amazing invention in the history of the world, and it's literally impossible to overstate how great they are.

by Vicious Chicken Of Bristol (not verified) :: Thu, 02/03/2011 - 10:19am

The epitome of hyperbolic chambers?

And if the OP hasnt caught on yet, the term is hyperbaric chamber.

Hyperbolic is something quite different.