Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Most Valuable Player

I hate this award. The award is arguably the most mis-named award in sports. Not just in football necessarily, but it is particularly so in sports. To accurately state what this award is would be to call it the "Best Player of the Year" award, often given to the guy playing the most explosive position on the field. Only twice in the award's history has it been awarded to a non quarterback or non running back (not counting the strike-shortened '82 season). The two are completely different from each other. The problem is, the best player of the year is not necessarily the player that is the most valuable to his team.

A perfect example would be Tom Brady from '07 to '08. Tom Brady was almost unquestionably the best player of the '07 season. But was he the most valuable player to his team? In '08, he was injured early in the first game of the season. In comes pick #230, a guy that hadn't started a meaningful game at QB since high school. All he did was lead the team to an 11-5 record with the 5th ranked offense in the league.

Brady looks to be on his way toward earning his second NFL MVP, challenged probably only by Mike Vick. But neither are the player most critical to their team's success. No, the Most Valuable Player to his team is Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu is universally regarded as one of the best players in the game, regardless of position. He's been to five Pro Bowls, missing only his rookie season and last year when he missed 12 games. His knack for making game-changing plays, such as his strip-sack of Joe Flacco that was the pivotal play of a pivotal game, frustrates non-Steeler fans everywhere.

But it's time to look beyond just the plays he makes on the field. It's time to take a brief look over the last two years at the state of the Steeler defense with, and without Polamalu. Over the last two years, the Steelers have played 30 games. 18 have been with Polamalu, 12 without. Here are the very basic numbers in those games, shown as the average per-game with, then without him:

1st downs allowed
17.1 / 17.8 (4% decline with him)

Total yards allowed
287 / 317 (9% decline with him)

Total points allowed
14.8 / 23.1 (36% decline with him)

Turnovers force
2.4 / 0.9 (163% increase with him)

Won-Loss record
14-4 / 5-7

Allow the deltas of those final three numbers to really sink in for a moment. Those are simply staggering differentials! And one cannot really argue that most of his missed games were last year and the team was different. If you look at the limited sample of games with him last year and the game without him this year, his numbers hold up remarkably well.

The bottom line is, the Steelers are and have been for a long time a team built around great defense. They've lived and died based on how great their defense is. And their defense is a completely different unit with vs. without him on the field. Two days ago, the Steelers looked poised to lock up a bye week in the playoffs. But at this point, despite playing two fairly lightweight opponents in the final weeks, it's not unreasonable to think they lose one of those games, watch the Ravens win out and end up a Wild Card team. And if it happens, it's likely due to the injury to Polamalu

In my mind, no man is more critical to his team than Troy Polamalu. He may not be the best player on the field this year. But he's very close to it, and he far better fits the title of the award.


  1. You can make the same argument for Vick. {I'm fine with voting for Troy, btw}

    PHL was 2-2 in games Kolb started [scored under 21 2x], 8-1 in games Vick started and finished, and 0-1 where Vick started and left injured in H1 v Was.]

    That's a massive differential - 2 Giant wins, Indy, late-season at Dallas, the Was demolition, at Jax - those are some huge wins. [Avg *40* pts points scored last 6 games post-bye week.]

    The DVOA splits would be interesting.


  2. Honestly I don't have all that much of a problem with Vick or Brady getting it. They're the two best players at the most critical position in the game. It could easily be argued - like you do - that they're as or more critical to their team's success.

    The biggest issue I have is that NO ONE is even mentioning Polamalu's name as league MVP. While you can mount arguments for the other two, certainly I think I've got a viable argument for why Troy should be a strong candidate for the award. Yet not one breath about him? Really?

    The award should just be called "The Best QB or RB in the League" since essentially that's what it seems to be. That annoys me.

  3. Doug Farrar agrees with you about Polumalu as an MVP candiate:

    (scroll to bottom)


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