PITTSBURGH, PA. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's arm-waving, finger-pointing and nonstop gesturing at the line of scrimmage seemed especially frantic against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and for good reason.
After all, what quarterback possibly could be prepared for the sight of a 5-foot-11 defensive back, especially one whose chaotic yet passionate play and free-flowing hair have earned him the nickname of the Tasmanian Devil, lined up at nose tackle?
That's right, nose tackle.
Troy Polamalu, an All-Pro defender who hits like a miniature-sized linebacker but can drop into deep pass coverage, presents the most problematic matchup for the Denver Broncos in Sunday's AFC championship game, just as it did for the Bengals and Colts before them.
How do they prepare for a one-of-a-kind defender - a man who is never out of position because he doesn't really have one? A player so disruptive that coach Bill Cowher compared drafting him in 2003 to a child opening a special package on Christmas - he didn't know for sure what he was getting, but he knew it would be good.
"It was like getting a new toy," Cowher said. "You start putting him everywhere and anywhere."
Polamalu, a Pro Bowl player in each of his two seasons as a starter, didn't have any of the Steelers' five sacks of Manning in Indianapolis yet was one of the players most responsible for the 21-18 upset that sent them to Denver - even though his fourth-quarter interception was wrongly overturned.
The Steelers used Polamalu in so many ways - bringing him off the edge as a rush linebacker, slipping him into pass protection or blitzing him up the middle - that Manning could be seen looking for him on nearly every play.