The Steelers long have followed a winning formula that is unique and proven, but they veered off course last season and must embrace it again in 2010, according to Troy Polamalu.
"We have a pretty good formula here how to win," said Polamalu, finishing up the week of spring practices and meetings with his teammates after returning from more than a month of training in California. "That doesn't change from year to year or from decade to decade. We've had our formula here and it's been good to us."
The formula is neither secret nor difficult to understand, Polamalu said. If not followed, however, you get 9-7 and look at the playoffs from the outside. It involves an electric, smothering defense that needs its offense to turn the clock so it can rest, and for special teams to do their job and not give up large chunks of yardage or touchdowns.
It is not something usually seen in the NFL, Polamalu said.
"I think it's unique no question. Especially in today's game. People don't think that you can, for the most part, have a really smothering defense. But, with the smothering defense, you can't have a pass-happy offense. For example, you would think you could take a great defense and mesh them together, but our defense would not work well with a New England Patriots offense or Indianapolis Colts offense. They may put up a lot of points, but it takes a lot more energy to play our defense than a Tampa 2-type defense."
The Steelers' passing offense ranked seventh in the NFL in yards last season while their ground game, often in the top 10, ranked 19th. New England's passing offense ranked third and the Colts trailed the Steelers at No. 9.
Also, the Steelers' time of possession on offense last season was 4 1/2 minutes more than its opponent on average, at 32:13, fourth best in the NFL. There seems a dichotomy somewhere in the formula for those trying to interpret it because the Steelers' pass-happy offense allowed the defense to rest.
Polamalu, though, noted that the special teams did not hold up their end; they allowed four kick returns for touchdowns, and the offense also had two interceptions returned for touchdowns. And also part of that formula is for the defense to mitigate the number of big plays. That did not hold true last season when the Steelers allowed nine pass completions longer than 40 yards compared to two in their 2008 Super Bowl season.
"Whether it's offense, defense, there's a third phase there, too, and they all have to mix together," Polamalu said. "You can't give up big plays on defense, you can make people drive, you have to control the clock on offense and you just can't give up big plays. If one part of that breaks down, our whole team breaks down."
Polamalu broke down twice last season, in the opener when his MCL was sprained and later when the PCL in the same knee was sprained. He missed 11 games as did defensive end Aaron Smith.
The key, then, for the Steelers to become the type of dominant defense they were in 2008?
"Health, for one," Polamalu said.
He does not blame his two knee injuries on anything other than being in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
"Anytime I've sustained any injury, the only thing that could have stopped it is wearing a straight-leg brace."
He plans to wear no such brace in 2010 and wore none in practice Wednesday because it is too confining and does not allow him the freedom to move the way he must. He also does not agree with most everyone else that the Steelers' defense suffered without him.
"We did pretty well last year," said Polamalu, overlooking the many admitted communications mistakes and the fact that he tied for the team lead with three interceptions in just five games.
The cornerbacks combined for none until the finale.
"We were a top-five defense. We were a play here and a play there from making the playoffs and maybe getting a higher seed in the playoffs. We didn't get blownout at any time that I remember."
And they finished 9-7.
Rain prompted coach Mike Tomlin to move practice from Heinz Field to the team's indoor facility. He hopes to hold his final spring practice today at Heinz Field. ... Ben Roethlisberger continued to run the first-team offense at quarterback while Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon shared the other snaps.