The Jets avoided Troy Polamalu in Week 15. The All Pro safety missed the game with an Achilles injury. He will be in there in the AFC Championship Game in all likelihood. That presents a challenge.
There are guys like Terrell Suggs for who an offensive line must always account as a pass rusher. There are guys like Darrelle Revis for whom a quarterback must always account as a cover man. There are guys like Ed Reed for whom a quarterback must always account as a threat to jump a play and pick off a pass. There are guys like David Harris for whom a running back must always account as a tackler.
Polamalu does it all. He lines up all over the place. His range is so big that it doesn't matter where he lines up. He is always a guy who can make a play, whether it is jumping a route to make an interception, blitzing a quarterback, or flying up against the run.
Pittsburgh has a different defense when he is in the lineup. His injury last year changed the complexion of the team. When Polamalu is in there, Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator, can get really aggressive because he has a guy with such incredible range ready to cover a good chunk of the field as a safety net in case what he tries does not work out. He loses that luxury when the safety is not there.
Polamalu looked rusty against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional round. He whiffed on a few big plays he normally would make, including a missed open field tackle on Ray Rice that would have ended a Baltimore drive. His partner, Ryan Clark looked more like Polamalu, making some good plays while displaying range, than Polamalu did. Troy will be limited all week in practice, which might make getting his timing back more difficult. I will always assume, though, that a guy this good will be in top form on Sunday. He'll have to prove otherwise for me to believe it. He has a potential to impact every play in every way imaginable. He can also fool an offense. His speed is so good that he can line up in one spot and fly to another across the field once the ball is snapped.
Everybody must know where he is at all times and keep him in their mind. That is part of what makes this Pittsburgh defense such a challenge. With one eye on Polamalu at all times, which is necessary, you lose focus on other playmakers.