Standard Bearers for Excellence

The Steelers aren't comfortable without their key players, but they have no other option but to master the situation. Mike Prisuta explains.

Come Sunday in Oakland it looks as if it'll be another day and another game that will involve Troy Polamalu and James Harrison watching rather than playing.

Polamalu wouldn't go as far as to say the Steelers are getting used to this type of challenge. But comfortable or otherwise, Polamalu knows it's one they have no choice but to master.

They did so against the Jets, Troy explained, by not allowing themselves to become "personnel aware."

Doing that in the midst of a healthy defense is a bad thing, Polamalu insisted, because players who become too "personnel aware" might find themselves waiting on someone else to make a play.

Doing so in troubled times such as these can be equally risky because of a potential tendency to try to do too much.

"It's all about just trying to get your job done and trying to help everybody out after you get your job done," Polamalu said. "When you become really personnel aware you start thinking abut trying to make up for deficiencies before you get your job done.

"You definitely have to be smart about it. You definitely have to be aware of matchups, whether it's a mismatch, a linebacker on a wide receiver or whatnot. That's your job as a safety, if you see your defense is vulnerable in a certain place you have to make some internal and proper adjustments to make the defense work."

Ryan Mundy, a starter all season due to protracted lineup complications in the secondary, has been around here long enough to understand.

Chris Carter and Jason Worilds, sharing Harrison's position until further notice, are in the process of figuring that out.

There's an intangible factor that must be dealt with, as well. But the Steelers have coached themselves up over the years to the point where they never expect even the loss of a Polamalu or a Harrison to prevent the defense from doing what the defense has convinced itself it was born to do.

"To be honest the standard around here never changes," Polamalu said. "The 11 guys around here, whoever they are on defense, represent what this program has been all about. I know it's kind of a year-to-year thing, but there's still a legacy of Pittsburgh Steeler defense that you want to uphold.

"No matter who's out there, I think, there's a certain level of maybe pride but also a level of expectation that you place on yourself that's higher then I would assume anywhere in the NFL or in football. When you step on the field you have to have a physical and sort of an intimidating and dominating presence."

That may sound like such a cliché, but as Bill Cowher always maintained, perception is reality.

The Steelers will survive and thrive minus Polamalu and Harrison, the Steelers maintain, because those are the expectations. That's the approach the New York Football Giants took on Thursday night in Carolina minus the likes of Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon. And that's how the Steelers will engage the Raiders because that's how they respond in such situations.

In addition to stalking a seventh Lombardi, the current group is doing what it can to pass that procedural absolute along to the next generation.

"That's what you learn from guys like Joey Porter and Kimo (von Oelhoffen) and Aaron Smith," Polamalu continued. "And I think it's our job as veterans to try to impart that on younger guys

"The example is always the best. You don't want to say, ‘Hey man, we gotta dominate,' and you're 0-16 and getting run up and down the field. But yeah, there's a level of excellence you gotta play at and you try to impart that knowledge and that level of respect for the younger guys."

That process should continue on Sunday in Oakland.

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