Football

Woodson and Polamalu are game-changers

DALLAS -- Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Green Bay’s Charles Woodson see a different game and have the nerve to act on what they see.

Not only do their brains and their boldness stamp them as unique players, the combination also won the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award for Woodson in 2009 and for Polamalu in 2010.

Each has the cunning, the vast experience and the athletic gifts to emerge as the most valuable player in the 45th Super Bowl on Sunday. By the same token, each could be the goat.

Two years ago, when Todd Haley was the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive coordinator, he and quarterback Kurt Warner watched film together before the 43rd Super Bowl and found themselves fixated on the man with the No. 43 jersey and the hair flowing from beneath his helmet.

Late in the game, the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald beat Ike Taylor badly at the line and then found the middle of the field wide open partly because Polamalu chased Anquan Boldin too far toward the sideline.

The result was Fitzgerald’s majestic 64-yard touchdown that gave Arizona the short-lived lead in its 27-23 loss to Pittsburgh.

The tape-watching habits of Woodson and Polamalu are the stuff of legend in their respective camps. By kickoff, they are as prepared as a player could be.

Woodson preferred being backed off 4 or 5 yards from the slot receiver so he had more space to read and react to the ball. But, by doing so, the coaches determined that it created too many gray areas for the safeties.

They asked Woodson to play closer to the line, which in turn enabled him to re-route his man and permit more definite reads behind him. Woodson’s interception total slipped to two, but Whitt says his unselfishness played a pivotal role why the Packers trimmed their yield of touchdown passes to 18 in 19 games.

When Polamalu entered the league in 2003, he ran 40 yards in 4.49 seconds. The 207-pound Polamalu probably isn’t that fast now, but everyone has seen how rapidly he moves from point A to point B when the scent is strong.

In the 12th game, Polamalu blitzed when he was supposed to cover and the result was a 61-yard catch for Baltimore’s Boldin.

In the secret game Sunday, that’s precisely what Aaron Rodgers will be trying to do with Polamalu. Rodgers is well aware that Polamalu will be watching his eyes. It’s up to Rodgers to look him off while dealing with the Steelers’ rush.

When the team met late last season, Polamalu was on the sidelines in street clothes with a knee injury and the Packers torched the Steelers for 436 yards and 36 points. Now they must deal with Polamalu.

“That defense with him in there is 1,000 times better,” said Jones. “A 1,000 times better.”

The same surely would ring true for the Green Bay defense with and without Woodson.

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