LeBeau: Troy's best season yet

One of Dick LeBeau's favorite all-time players is Troy Polamalu, who, according to the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator, is having his best season yet.

PITTSBURGH – Troy Polamalu missed Thursday's practice with a calf injury, but the NFL's leading interceptor doesn't believe it'll keep him from playing Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

That was good news to Dick LeBeau, because the Steelers' defensive coordinator believes Polamalu is playing his best football ever.

"I just couldn't name the amount of plays that he's cut off with his range and his diagnostic intuition in just getting to where the ball is," LeBeau said. "When the ball's breaking on him, he always shows up. And if he doesn't get the guy on the ground, he sure does slow him up long enough for the posse to get there.

"He's invaluable to us back there. He's done a great job all along, but this probably is his best year."

It's showing up in the team statistics, where the Steelers rank first in several categories, foremost being overall, run and pass defense. Polamalu also leads the NFL with six interceptions.

"He's very unselfish and he's not blitzing as much as he has in the past," LeBeau said. "You look at the number of big plays that have gotten in there on this defense and a great part of the credit goes to our safeties and where they've been back there to keep those plays from hitting us deep. Troy and Ryan (Clark) together have been tremendous. Troy's range, it just hits me whenever a play's breaking. He always shows up, it seems like, and keeps it from going for a real big play."

The Steelers have given up only one play over 41 yards this season, and that 65-yard catch by Reggie Wayne was tipped by Ike Taylor.

Per play, the Steelers allow a league-low average of 3.88 yards. The NFL record in 16-game seasons is 3.89 yards per play set in 1979 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

GAY ON THE RISE

William Gay may have gone from No. 4 cornerback to a starting job after playing so well the last three weeks.

Gay assumed the starting left cornerback job three games ago because of injuries to Deshea Townsend and Bryant McFadden. But Townsend returned last Sunday in New England and Gay remained the starter. McFadden returns this week and has been rotating with Gay on the first team.

"Hopefully we can play both of those guys," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "You've got to acknowledge that it's been six weeks since Bryant has played football. But he has been practicing. We will continue to work that and see how it develops as the week goes on. Both guys have shown they are capable of playing and playing at a high level. That's a good problem to have. We will weigh those options a little later in the week."

BEN RETURNS

As expected, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice Thursday. He missed the final portion of Wednesday's practice after slipping in a muddy patch and twisting his right leg.

Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Marvel Smith were the only Steelers to miss Thursday's practice.

Missing practice for the Dallas Cowboys were WR Miles Austin (knee), RB Marion Barber (toe) and CB Mike Jenkins (hamstring).

Austin has been ruled out of Sunday's game at Heinz Field and Jenkins is doubtful. The Cowboys don't expect Barber to practice this week with his dislocated right pinkie toe, but hope he can play. OLB DeMarcus Ware was limited Thursday with a knee injury, but expects to play Sunday.


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