Head-to-head: Steelers S Troy Polamalu vs. Buccaneers TE Kellen Winslow
No matter what he does, tight end Kellen Winslow likely will be remembered as the player the Cleveland Browns drafted in 2004 instead of Ben Roethlisberger.
The Browns had a chance to take Roethlisberger, who played at Miami (Ohio) University, with the sixth overall pick that year. But they passed on him because they had signed quarterback Jeff Garcia in free agency.
Instead, the Browns selected Winslow, and the decision, on many fronts, never proved to be the right one.
Injuries, discontent and bad publicity were as much a part of Winslow's career in Cleveland as the 219 catches, 2,499 yards and 11 touchdowns in 44 games, and he was traded after the 2008 season to Tampa Bay -- a decision that looks to be the right one for the Buccaneers.
In his first season with the Buccaneers, Winslow set team records for a tight end with 77 catches and 884 receiving yards. In two games this season, he has become a big-play target for quarterback Josh Freeman and leads the NFL with eight catches and 115 yards on third down, despite playing with a sore knee.
"He's been that way since he's been in the league," said inside linebacker James Farrior, captain of the Steelers' defense that leads the NFL in fewest points (20), fumbles recovered (4) and takeaways (8). "He's one of the top athletic tight ends who can stretch the field and catch the ball like a receiver."
That's what the Steelers (2-0) will have to guard against when they play the Buccaneers (2-0) at 1 p.m. today in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
And among the players who will guard Winslow is safety Troy Polamalu, who called Winslow "the most athletic tight end in the league" when Winslow was with the Browns.
"He's a very athletic and physical matchup for linebackers and a big, powerful matchup from a coverage standpoint for safeties," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Polamalu has interceptions in each of the first two games, but he was employed almost like a linebacker last week in Tennessee to help stop running back Chris Johnson. Against the Buccaneers, he will probably be asked to help more with Winslow, especially on third down.
"On third down, you better be looking for him and know where he is on the field," Farrior said.
Of course, the Buccaneers will have to do the same with Polamalu, who seems to be everywhere on the field -- and in the air.
His diving tackle over the line of scrimmage on a goal-line sneak attempt by Titans quarterback Kerry Collins has been an Internet video favorite. That play overshadowed what Polamalu did on the next snap, too -- pushing guard Leroy Harris into the backfield and allowing linebacker Lawrence Timmons to stop Johnson for no gain at the 2.
"He's like the Where's Waldo -- you got to know where he is on the field," Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said. "He does a bunch of different, dynamic things. He can blitz; he can play man-to-man, he can shut down a guy, he can be used in certain situations to do different things. You better account for him, and you better know what you need to do to deal with him."
First Published September 26, 2010 12:00 am