Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Troy Polamalu vs. Clay Matthews: A Hairy Defensive Battle

(photo courtesy of Baltimore Sun)

In the wake of the Defensive Player of the Year voting, it's time for a battle between the Steelers' Troy Polamalu and the Packers' Clay Matthews. By the way, is it any coincidence that the league's two best defensive players in 2011 are about to face off in the Super Bowl?

1. Who has better hair?

Personally I'm partial to brunettes, which makes you think I would vote for Polamalu in the battle of the hair. But I'm also partial to straight hair over curly hair and Polamalu needs more Head & Shoulders. And some straightener. Anyway, I'm going to stop using my preference for female hair to pick who has the better male hair. I swear I'm straight.

But I will take Matthews' hair any day. It's straight, long and lion-esque which should intimidate any offensive player, particularly quarterbacks. Matthews is as much of a beast as his jungle counterpart, wreaking havoc on opposing offensive tackles with his speed off the edge and lethal spin move.

Polamalu's hair is longer and a lot more of it is outside his helmet. It doesn't make much of a difference for a defensive player, as rarely are they able to be tackled by their mane. But Matthews' hair just looks more presentable on the field and seems more well-kempt. That's why I'm taking the Clay here.

Now for the serious and more sports-related question...

2. Who should have won the Defensive Player of the Year Award?

Since I gave Matthews the hair advantage, I'm taking Polamalu on the field.

Seriously, I am. But not because of the hair. Polamalu really is the most impactful defensive player in the league today, when healthy. I said in my AFC Championship preview that the Steelers allow almost a touchdown more per game and 40 more rushing yards per game without Polamalu in the lineup over the past two seasons.

For evidence, look no further than the New York Jets two games against Pittsburgh. In the regular-season matchup, the Jets ran for 106 yards on 27 attempts and scored 22 points in a VICTORY. In the playoffs, they gained just 70 yards on 22 attempts and scored 19 points, a difference of 36 yards and 3 points. But the biggest difference? They LOST.

That's the difference of Polamalu, not to mention his seven interceptions this season and game-changing plays. His biggest may have been forcing a Joe Flacco fumble in the team's second matchup that set the Steelers offense up with a short field, which they turned into a touchdown and a win that set them up to win the AFC North. Does Pittsburgh make the Super Bowl as a Wild Card? If not, then that one play by Polamalu can be considered the reason they are playing on Sunday.

Matthews is in just his second year and his 13.5 sacks were a huge breakthrough for a player who was unheralded before the season. His time will come but this year, it's Polamalu's trophy. While the 17-15 vote showed respect for Matthews' performance, I don't think it was as close as the tallies say.

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