Comparing Steelers Troy Polamalu to the best safeties of the 2000s

Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /

Troy Polamalu was a fantastic football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here’s why he may have been the most complete safety of the 2000s.

Whether you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers or not, there is one thing all football lovers should be able to agree upon: Troy Polamalu was an exceptional defender who deserves to be considered among the best safeties of all-time.

Unfortunately, not all fans and NFL analysts share this view. Despite Polamalu’s lengthy history of Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, his Defensive Player of the Year award, and his utter dominance on the football field nearly every time he was healthy, there are still those who believe that he can’t hold a candle to former Ravens safety, Ed Reed.

Former Baltimore linebacker, Bart Scott, was one of the most recent to express his opinion on social media. In a recent interview with Bleacher Report’s Adam Lefkoe, Bart stated “to mention Troy Polamalu in the same breath as Ed Reed” was disrespectful.

With Scott being a former teammate of Reed and opponent of Polamalu, there’s obviously some bias here. But what does the data have to say?

Here’s a look at some of the top safeties to play the game in the 2000s and their stats per game started in their careers:

In my comparison, I used the four safeties widely considered to be the best the NFL has had to offer in the 2000s. Defenders who played cornerback most of their careers, like Charles Woodson, were excluded from the conversation.

While Polamalu doesn’t necessarily run away with every statistical category, he finished at the top of more areas than any other safety and wasn’t last in a single per game stat among these All-Pro athletes. In approximately the same amount of games started as Earl Thomas, Polamalu has outpaced him in every single statistical department – including pass deflections and interceptions.

Polamalu and Brian Dawkins often stir up debates as two were considered among the best strong safeties to ever play the game. Though Polamalu didn’t have nearly as long of a career (142 starts compared to 221), Dawkins is still bested by Polamalu in 10 of 13 measured categories when it comes to per game statistics, Pro Bowls and All-Pros per 16 games, Super Bowl wins, and Defensive Player of the Year honors.

As far as Ed Reed is concerned, this is a debate that will continue to live on between Reed and Polamalu. I have no issue with anyone wanting to say that Reed was better, but this is one that we should just agree to say both players were the best at what they did in very different roles.

Reed’s job was to play deep in the back end and, break on routes, and make plays on the ball. On the other hand, Poalamu was a defensive X-Factor who wasn’t pigeonholed into one specific role. The Steelers star could line up just about anywhere on the football field and was asked to use his remarkable instincts and unmatched athleticism to make plays.

These two safeties owned the most per game statistical categories measured among the top safeties of the 2000s, and their film, in my opinion, makes them a cut above the rest.

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While the Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu debate is something that could play on for decades, NFL fans and analysts should come together to agree that these were two of the best safeties to ever play that game. That should be enough.