FOXBOROUGH — To get a feel for how instinctive Troy Polamalu can be, visit YouTube and find clips of the Steelers safety judging the opposing team’s snap count perfectly and flying over the lines and into the quarterback a split-second after the ball gets hiked.
When game planning for a difference-maker such as Polamalu, it would be easier if teams had some idea where he’ll be lining up or what his role might be. But when it comes to the 32-year-old, known for his hair and his seven trips to the Pro Bowl, that’s rarely the case.
“He’s not really in a system where there are clearly defined roles,” Tom Brady said Wednesday. “He’s just a playmaker for them.
“You have to account for him on every play. You can’t just go, ‘Well, he’s going to be here.’ He may have half the field and he’s 2 yards from the line of scrimmage and making a play in the backfield.
“You have to keep your eyes open for him and hope that we can get a guy to block him.”
Polamalu’s flair for free-styling hasn’t necessarily helped the Steelers this season; they’re 2-5 heading into Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium, in last place in the AFC North. But the way he goes about playing defense, while maybe not textbook, sure is entertaining. Or exasperating, if your team is facing him.
“There are times where you look at it and say, ‘That’s not really where you’re supposed to be,’ ” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “But where he is . . . is the right place to be. He’s right in the middle of the play or he’s doing something that’s disruptive to the offense. However that’s orchestrated I don’t know, but you can’t just let him run free and ruin the game.’’
A 10-year veteran, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on pace for a 4,400-yard passing season, which would be a career high. At 6 feet 5 inches and 241 pounds, the 31-year-old is still a load to bring down, able to extend passing plays because he’s physical enough to take plenty of contact and yet find a way to throw to a downfield receiver.
Roethlisberger also is difficult to replicate in practice. Who plays him on the scout team?
“Let [Nate] Solder take some plays back there at quarterback, let him be the scout team quarterback for a few plays. That’s what it’s like,” Belichick said of his starting left tackle, a physical specimen who goes 6-8, 320. “You see guys hanging all over [Roethlisberger], hanging on his legs, hanging on his waist, and he stiff-arms them and still throws the ball 40, 50 yards downfield.
“He can throw without his legs. You can be draped on his legs and he doesn’t need to step and throw. He has the arm strength to let it go more than half the length of the field.
“There have been a bunch of times where guys have gotten a clean shot on him and it’s almost like he looks out there and knows that they can’t bring him down. It’s a hard thing to simulate in practice.”
Gang’s all here
For just the second time since the start of the regular season, the Patriots had perfect attendance at practice. Everybody on the 53-man active roster was healthy enough to participate, as were all eight members of the practice squad.
That means defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) were back on the field. Each has missed the last three games because of injuries.
Shane Vereen also practiced, the first time the running back was spotted working out with the team since breaking a bone in his wrist during the season-opening win at Buffalo. Vereen was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, and can’t play in a game until Nov. 18 at Carolina. He was eligible to resume practicing last week.
Despite the full house, there was some injury news that emerged from the workout. Brady once again was listed with a right shoulder injury. There was no mention of any hand issue, and Brady was able to participate fully.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski has a new injury. He was listed with a hamstring, to go along with the back and forearm injuries he’s dealt with all season. Gronkowski was limited in practice, as were 10 others.
With today being Halloween, Brady was asked about the team’s annual costume party on Tuesday, at which he dressed as the Lion from “The Wizard of Oz” (his wife, Gisele Bundchen, was Dorothy). Brady passed along his trick-or-treat candy likes and dislikes. “The people who give the full-size bars, those are the best,” Brady said. “The worst is like the raisins and [stuff] like that. You want the candy.” . . . The Steelers are again near the best in total defense (they rank fourth), but one area where they’d like to improve is turnovers forced. Only San Diego has fewer than Pittsburgh’s five takeaways (four interceptions, one fumble recovery). “I think it’s a lot of things,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Obviously, game circumstance has a lot to do with opportunities given, and sometimes we’re just not making those plays. We definitely need more of them.” . . . Injured linebacker Jerod Mayo was briefly spotted in the locker room after practice.