'Best defensive player' struggling with pain

Troy Polamalu can't lift his right shoulder and neither can Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson. So why can't Troy just cover Chad? "I don't know," said Polamalu. "It's all about his legs anyhow." But Troy has the wheels. Just ask Carson Palmer.

PITTSBURGH – Troy Polamalu hurt his right shoulder tackling Miami's "offensive lineman of a quarterback and their stud running back" two weeks ago.

And then Polamalu went up against 245-pound quarterback Byron Leftwich and 225-pound "scat" back Fred Taylor on Monday night.

There'll be no reprieve this week for Polamalu and his injured right shoulder. He and the Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals with 230-pound quarterback Carson Palmer and 235-pound tailback Rudi Johnson.

They're not getting any smaller, are they?

"No. That's what sucks, man. That's what sucks," said Polamalu. "You just hope you can face a finesse offense every once in awhile. It's really physically easy on us to play a team like Indianapolis rather than a team like Jacksonville, then Baltimore, then Cincy, physical team after physical team, but that's our style of ball."

And Polamalu is struggling through it. He was asked what it was like to play Monday night's game with one arm.

"There are a lot of people playing with pain and with injuries on this team, which I'm sure you guys don't even know about," he said. "If it was up to me, you guys wouldn't even know about this injury. Unfortunately, I guess it's that obvious. But you just fight your way through it, just like everybody else on this team."

Polamalu expects the injury to heal, but right now he's playing with his right arm hanging loosely. He made three tackles Monday and broke up two passes, and one of those defensed passes nearly turned the game around.

The play occurred with 10 minutes left in the game. The Jaguars were backed up to their own 13 with a 3-0 lead and Leftwich attempted what the Steelers call a "now" pass to Reggie Williams in the left flat. Polamalu broke on the pass and came close to turning the game around with an interception and touchdown return, but he couldn't get anything more than his fingertips on the ball.

"I reached out with my right arm," he said. "I think if I would've had three or four more inches, which I probably could have healthy. Who knows if I would've even caught the ball anyway? So, it's time to move on."

And the one-armed bandit of the Steelers' secondary moves on to face Palmer, his friend and former college roommate. In a conference call earlier Wednesday afternoon, Palmer told Pittsburgh reporters that he watched Polamalu play Monday night and was impressed.

"Typical Troy, just making plays, physical," Palmer said. "In my eyes he's the best defensive player in the game. He's more than just the best safety. He's the best defensive football player."

Polamalu considered it an honor. After the gang of reporters walked away, he shook his head in disbelief at the compliment.

"Man, that's awesome," he said. Earlier, he said of Palmer: "He's probably the best offensive player in the league himself."

Neither player can be accused of hyperbole, or even of friendship, in making such remarks. It's obvious what Polamalu meant to the Steelers' Super Bowl run last season, and some argue the Bengals would've gone all the way had Palmer not left the playoffs after two plays.

"I think it's obvious that the key to their offense is Carson," Polamalu said. "Those [receivers] do a great job, and they could play exactly as they do on any team, but definitely the heart and soul is Carson."

Palmer explained his admiration for Polamalu.

"He consistently makes plays," Palmer said. "He leads that defense by example. He's a lot of fun to watch and not a lot of fun to play against."

Two years ago, Polamalu bowled Palmer over at the goal line to score a game-clinching touchdown off an interception return. But Polamalu's bruised shoulder may prevent any kind of "bowling over" this time around.

"It's just tough to let my arm hang in general," he said. "If walking's tough, tackling Fred Taylor, or any running back for that matter, is always going to be tough. But I'm just one of eleven guys on this defense, and it's one arm of 22."

But it's one valuable arm, perhaps the most valuable defensive arm in the game.

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