By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The debate has raged on for several years now: Who’s the best safety in the NFL, Troy Polamalu from the Pittsburgh Steelers or Ed Reed from the Baltimore Ravens?
Each could be the difference-maker when the Steelers face the Ravens in the season-opener Sunday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. like Polamalu was last year in the same venue.
Polamalu was left uncovered on a blitz, and he hammered Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and forced a fumble that the Steelers recovered. That play set up the game-winning touchdown in a 13-10 Steelers victory that clinched the AFC North title and AFC’s second seed in the playoffs.
“I recall giving up a couple big plays, so our memories of that game might be a little different,” Polamalu said. “To be honest, it’s one of the many plays that were made. Situational football games are big, but it was just one of the many plays in that game.”
Polamalu weighed in on the safety debate as well.
“Regarding comparisons, I’ve always considered Ed Reed to be the best safety in the NFL and perhaps ever,” Polamalu said. “So, we can clear that up right away. But the truth about it is that defenses always come down to how the secondary plays. So, it’s all on the defense, I think.
“Whatever defense plays best in this game, usually comes out with the win. But Baltimore is like any other team, as far as our preparation. And Ed Reed has an incredible feel for the game. He might completely gamble on a play, but he probably doesn’t think it’s a gamble. He sees the game differently than everybody else.”
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis had his own opinion about Polamalu and Reed, and his response was about as politically correct as he could be. And Lewis isn’t really known for being politically correct.
“I’m always going to be biased to a little extent, but I’ve watched that kid and have watched Ed,” Lewis said. “And I have total respect for both of those guys, because they play the game the way the game is supposed to be played. So, you can talk about which one is better than the other, but Troy is damn good for Pittsburgh, and Ed is damn good for Baltimore.
“And that’s the only way you can look at it, because when either one is out of a game that defense isn’t the same as when they’re in there. That’s for both players. So, it’s not which one is better than the other one, but I just think both play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Polamalu was told about the Lewis comments, and he remained as humble as ever, somewhat to a fault.
“I definitely appreciate that answer coming from possibly the best linebacker to ever play the game,” Polamalu said. “But I could answer that question easily. Ed Reed might be the best safety to ever play the game.
“I believe he’s better than me, and I have so much respect for him and believe he’s the greatest. So, I’m honored to even be compared to him.”
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor had a quick response when asked if there was a point this year when he knew that Polamalu was finally back.
“He didn’t ever go anywhere,” Taylor said, somehow keeping a straight face. “Sure, he missed a couple games, but the games he was in there he had like seven picks in six games. So, Troy is Troy. We call him baby Jesus, and there’s a reason we call him that.
“(But) you really can’t describe Troy. He’s a future Hall-of-Famer, a game-changer and a guy who makes plays, a very unselfish guy and a guy who plays hurt with different injuries. He’s a leader by example, for sure.”
Taylor also had an interesting take on the Lewis comments.
“That’s one Hall-of-Fame talking about two other Hall-of-Famers, so that sounds about right,” Taylor said. “But Troy’s my guy, and I’ll take my guy every time. But all three of those guys, you’re talking about all three walking into the Hall of Fame someday.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wideout Hines Ward, with all due respect to Reed, also put Polamalu — the reigning NFL defensive player of the year — ahead of Reed as far as being the top NFL safety was concerned.
“Troy, because he’s my teammate, but they’re 1A and 1B,” Roethlisberger said. “If you pick Ed, Troy’s right behind him. I’d pick Troy, but Ed’s right behind him. And you have to be aware of where Ed Reed is on the field. He’ll trick you. He’ll make plays, and he’s always one play away of changing the game.”
“Sometimes, Troy anticipates the game so much that he might get beat on something, but 99.9 percent of the time Troy is right,” Ward said. “He’s in the right place at the right time or getting a sack at the right time. So, Troy is at his best when he’s running around out there and making things happen.
“We have so many weapons out there, and Ben does a great job of looking away. He really doesn’t tip a lot of things, so Ed hasn’t had a lot of success against us because of that. But we know where he’s at every time he lines up, and Ben does a great job making things happen for us.”
Notes: Taylor said he got the pin out of his left thumb and has no pain now. However, he only remembers waking up after the procedure and feels pretty good right now. … Taylor was uncertain what type of protective covering he’ll wear for the game, but he was wearing a glove-like brace Wednesday.
Polamalu was asked about his health and said: “I can’t see myself feeling any better than I feel right now, so I feel pretty good.” But he punted when asked about his current contract situation, as it was revealed that the Steelers and his agent were still discussing an extension before the season begins.
“We’ll leave that between the Steelers and my agent,” Polamalu said. “I’ll leave all contract discussions between the Steelers and my agent. It’s just better that way, so that things don’t get misconstrued.”
Steelers offensive guard Ramon Foster has appealed a $15,000 fine for an illegal hit in the first preseason home game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Foster slammed into the back of linebacker Jamar Chaney’s legs and originally was penalized, but the flag eventually was picked up.
The NFL is supposed to fine players 25 percent of their weekly salary, and Foster makes $30,000. So, the fine probably will be reduced to $7,500.